Potatoes on pizza? Yes, please
Potatoes on pizza are gaining popularity in a lot of America’s pizzerias. Yes, this lowly tuber may seem an unlikely companion to pizza. But once your customers experience its broad flavor and textural horizons it can become a real crowd favorite and a real food cost hero in your menu matrix.
Ten years ago, a farmer named Bill Shores convinced me to put his local potatoes and local garlic on my menu. I didn’t know what to do with them so I just cut and passed them through my ovens as a chunky topping accompaniment for my ribeye steak. My customers went crazy for them and this got my attention.
At this same time, other great bakers turned me on to wonderful potato pizzas. In 2009, I tasted the Pizza Patate made by Jim Lahey at his Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. The simple thin and crisp crust with loads of Yukon Gold potatoes, rosemary, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper was a true eye-opener that something so simple could be so good and made me in to a true pizza-potato lover. No wonder Jim was just named the 2015 James Beard Award Winning Best Baker.
In Florence, Italy, my friend Alessandro Ricciardi, who owns Pizza al Taglio Ricciardi, makes a fabulous Roman-style pizza with the “pasta gialla” or yellow-fleshed Razza Acria potato from Avezzano. His secret is a double layer of treccia fior di latte mozzarella in between the boiled and sliced potatoes with just extra virgin olive oil and salt before baking.
MORE on ways to use potatoes across your menu.
Fresh potatoes can be easily cut, cooked and frozen for future use. Some equipment and precautions are important for any pizzeria to prep safely and efficiently. I use a top-loading professional slicer for potatoes. Large 22-inch steel prep pans are sufficient to cook firm, fleshed potatoes as long as you oil the bottoms first.
If I am slicing potatoes thin, a long bath in salty water (think sea water) takes a lot of the moisture from potatoes, making them a lot easier to cook.
If you have prep people cutting potato rounds, teach them to use a very sharp knife and take a small slice from the side of each potato then turn the spud on that side so the potato doesn’t roll off. This may save you a trip to the emergency room and workers’ comp office.
While passing potatoes through a pizza oven, make sure to toss the potatoes halfway to ensure they don’t stick and cook evenly. Large pans tend to cook hotter along the edges. If your chunks are large, take them out to “rest” like a roast, check for doneness and then pass through again.
Oven-ready French fries can be had for the same as oven-ready potato chunks at only eight cents an ounce. I was surprised at the popularity of this thawed product on pizza. (Besides, it’s fun to ask, “Do you want fries with that?”)
As with cheeses, potatoes of different types and shapes can be perfect for certain types of pizzas depending on texture, starch and moisture content (and even skin type).
- Russet potatoes. These are very popular for baking because of the sweet and earthy taste. But they can be a real pain for pizza because they crumble easily and have that thick, chewy skin that needs to be removed before mashing. Still, this potato mashed or as fries on pizza is great and always screams for butter, ricotta, chives, leeks, dill, fennel, garlic, hot sauce, aged mozzarella, chevre, chilies, Fontina and Swiss cheese.
- Yukon gold potato. Like the yellow-fleshed Sieglinde potato grown in Apulia and Sicily, this potato takes very little time to cook and its skin is thin, which makes for a great slicing potato. The wonderful buttery, medium starches in this potato create a nice browning effect — especially in conveyor ovens. I serve these potatoes with genoa salami, lardo, guanciale, chicken, apples, chives, spinach, sorrel, rosemary, chervil, cilantro, cumin and curry. Cheeses that work well include Gruyere, goat and Pecorino.
- Peruvian purple. Sometimes called the “Blue,” its best asset is the purple color that is spectacular on pizzas. Some larger blues can be crumbly and the smaller, oblong-shaped purples can be paler depending upon the soil they have been grown in. The nutty, buttery flavor and firm texture is great for slicing. Slicing cold and holding in citrus tends to keep the color before cooking. These are great with shallots, bacon, parsley, corn, chives, artichokes, thyme, beef crumbles and cheeses such as cheddar, pepper jack, cotija and my fave –– provolone.
- Red Bliss (or “New”) potato: A throwback to the 1980s fine dining restaurants, this usually smallish potato is slightly sweet with a creamy texture. The skin comes off easily when slicing, but quartered red bliss looks fabulous on pizza especially with dill, olive oil, lemon, mustard cream, scallions, horseradish and garlic. These do not fry well.
- Fingerlings. My all-time favorite, especially when right out of the ground. These wonderful orbs are sweet, rich and cook easily with one horizontal cut down the middle. Fingerlings sit like islands in the sea of melting cheese on any pizza with any topping.
These fabulous little nuggets are ridiculously easy to make and present a charred visual effect like a lava rock because miso carbonizes easily. We’ve had this on pizza with chicken and a gorgonzola cream to delight of many a customer but I love it with ribeye steak, red onion and provolone.
John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio and has a pizza blog called Pizza Goon. He is an award-winning pizzaiolo, baker, teacher, speaker and author.