A few years back, when we lived in the neighborhood affectionately known as the Tenderknob, a friend of ours turned us on to Za Pizza. Or, I should say, turned us on to the Potesto pizza, because frankly I have no idea what any of Za’s other pizzas taste like. Why would I? Carbs topped with carbs, roasted garlic, and fresh pesto pretty much covered all my bases.
We moved out of Za’s delivery range three years ago, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that since then, we’ve been trying foolishly to recreate the Potesto for ourselves. We don’t do it consciously; it’s not an epic quest. It’s just that we’ll have pizza dough, and we’ll be wondering what to put on it, and inevitably someone will say, “how about some potatoes?” and someone else will say, “and we’ve got garlic…” and pretty soon, we’re making another knockoff Potesto.
This week, I was moving things around in the freezer and uncovered a forgotten ball of frozen pizza dough. And we had potatoes. Of course.
It’s appropriate that pizza would be one of the first posts on this blog, because if you want to talk about something I’ve eaten a lot of mistakes of, it’s homemade pizza. For people who really like pizza, we took our sweet time getting a pizza peel, and even with the peel, dinner can go from pizza to calzone with one false twitch of the wrist. Of course, this was the one time I actually got all of the pizza onto the stone instead of onto the floor or the bottom of the oven or some such. I could totally pretend that I’m some sort of home-oven-pizza genius. But I won’t, because that would be a lie.
No, the problem with this round was that I took on too much. I wanted to try slicing the potatoes with a mandoline for the first time, which — well, that’s a story for another time, but they came out super-thin, which was the whole point, and yet I still decided to toss them in the oven to pre-bake them a little. Bottom line, this was very nearly potato chip pizza. On top of that, I wanted to caramelize onions for the first time ever (yes, ever; re: not a cook), and I had no idea how long that would take, and so they also got a little crispy.
But it’s OK, because everything came right back to life thanks to this pesto (OK, the ball of mozzarella sliced on top of the pizza might have helped, too). As I learned, you really don’t need too much arugula to pull it off; I was using a fairly old bunch from our CSA, and once I thinned out all the yellowing leaves, I worried it wouldn’t be enough. (After blanching, rinsing, and squeezing, I had a ball about the size of my fist.) Lesson learned: it’s fine. And if it’s not fine, just add more olive oil.
I’ve made versions of this pesto a couple of times now; I think Michael Chiarello’s was my original base, but the vitamin C thing scared me off, so I merged it with a basil pesto recipe from our CSA and a little bit of “thaaaat looks right” and came up with something pretty tasty. Still room for improvement, though, so let me know if you’ve got any favorite arugula pesto tricks. Meanwhile, here’s what I’ve got so far:
2-ish cups arugula leaves
1/4 to 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2-3 smashed garlic cloves, depending on how much you like garlic
a small fistful of pine nuts (1-2 Tablespoons? I have tiny hands)
olive oil — probably 1/4 to 1/2 cup, but I add it straight from the bottle
salt and pepper to taste
1. Wash the arugula and place in a sieve/mesh strainer/whatever you’ve got.
2. Bring a small pot of water to a boil.
3. Blanch the arugula in the boiling water for a few seconds. Then rinse it under cold water until it’s cool enough to handle. (This step may be totally unnecessary, but I trusted Chiarello at first and now it’s habit)
4. Squeeze as much water out of the arugula as possible. If you’re anything like me, you will be bummed by how little arugula you have left. It’s OK. You can always add more olive oil.
5. Dump the arugula in a food processor (or chop it first if you’d like; my food processor is pretty awful but can generally get through wet arugula, so I just go straight there). Add smashed garlic, parmesan, and pine nuts, and give it a whirl.
6. Add olive oil (I do it in a steady stream while the food processor is still chopping) until things start to look good and pesto-y.
7. Give it a taste. Add salt, pepper, more cheese, more olive oil, whatever you need.
I like this on pasta, but it’s also a fabulous base for a faux-testo Potesto pizza of your own creation.