The trouble with designing a pizza, or perhaps the beauty of it, is that there’s just so much choice.
Like a painter who has no subject before them to guide their work, the pizza creator is limited only by imagination – and, one hopes, a good sense of taste – in choosing the canvas, colours and textures of their design.
So it was that I found myself pondering endless possibilities for the latest five star makeover mission, to spruce pizza up with our own particular brand of spit and polish. Bewildered somewhat by the choices, I did, in the end, what I often do – I lead my pizza down an Irish road.
Soda Bread Pizza a.k.a. Irish Cheese & Potato Pizza
I could have called this an Irish four cheese pizza, for it is that, among other things.
It features some of our wonderful Irish farmhouse cheeses: salty, pungent Bellingham Blue, Swiss-style St. Gall, Irish buffalo mozzarella (yes, there is such a thing and it is available in Fallon & Byrne) and the hard, intensely-flavoured Desmond cheese. Somewhat amazingly for an Irish cheese pizza, there is not a lump of cheddar in sight.
The base uses a soda bread dough, and, in addition to the cheeses, there are potatoes (naturally) along with leeks and another vegetable familiar to Irish tables, the yellow-fleshed turnip (known as swede in England and rutabaga in the US, its sweetness here contrasts well with the salty blue cheese). I threw in some of my home-grown cherry tomatoes for good measure, and there’s also a kick of garlic and thyme. All in all, I’d say it’s a design I’m pretty happy with.
For the topping:
- 150g potato
- 100g yellow turnip (swede / rutabaga)
- 1 tblsp butter
- 150g leek, white and light green parts finely sliced
- pinch of salt
- 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 50g St Gall cheese (or substitute emmental), grated
- 150g cherry tomatoes, halved
- 50g Bellingham Blue cheese (or substitute gorgonzola), crumbled
- 150g fresh buffalo mozzarella, thinly sliced
- 3 tblsp grated Desmond cheese (or substitute parmesan)
For the dough:
- 200g plain flour
- 0.5 tsp baking soda
- 0.5 tsp salt
- 25g butter, softened
- 100-125ml buttermilk
- a little cornmeal to scatter on the baking tray
You’ll also need:
- A large frying pan plus a large baking sheet, around 30cm x 40cm (or, if you have them, you can use a pizza peel and baking stone)
- Preheat your oven to 200C. If you’re using a baking stone, place it in the oven to heat.
- Scrub the potato and, leaving it unpeeled, slice it as thinly as you can (using a mandoline if you have it). Rinse the sliced potatoes in several changes of cold water, so that most of the cloudy starch is washed off, then drain and pat dry.
- Peel the turnip and slice thinly (again, using a mandoline if available).
- Place your frying pan over a medium heat. Add the butter and, when melted, add the leeks, a pinch of salt and the thyme leaves. Stir and fry for about 4-5 minutes, until just starting to soften. Add the garlic, stir and fry for about a minute more, then remove from the heat.
- Now, to make the dough, in a medium-sized bowl, add the flour, baking soda and salt. Whisk well, then add the butter and rub in until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Make a well in the center and add most of the buttermilk. Mix gently with your hands until it just comes together as a dough, adding a little more buttermilk if necessary.
- Gently roll out the dough into an approx. 30cm round.
- Scatter your baking sheet with some cornmeal and transfer the rolled-out dough to the sheet (or transfer to a pizza peel if you want to use a baking stone).
- Spread the softened leeks over the dough base. Add the turnip slices in a single layer, followed by half of the potato slices. Scatter over the St. Gall cheese (or emmental), followed by the rest of the potato slices. Finish with the cherry tomatoes, blue cheese and sliced mozzarella, then top the lot off with the grated Desmond cheese (or parmesan).
- Place the pizza in the oven (transferring from pizza peel to baking stone if using). Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the dough is browned, the cheese is bubbling and golden and the potatoes and turnips are cooked through. Now slice, serve and enjoy
- You could, of course, use a regular pizza crust here and change the selection of cheeses, based on what you have available.
- One approx. 30cm round pizza, serves 4-6
By the by…
All this talk of cheese reminds me that plans are afoot by our Irish government to ban the sale of raw milk here before the end of this year. The Campaign For Raw Milk, however, believes that drinking raw milk should be a consumer’s choice and wants regulations rather than an outright ban. There will be a public debate on the issue in Dublin’s Sugar Club on Tuesday 6th September, starting at 7.30pm sharp. Tickets €5 and all are welcome.