The other day, a friend of mine described these early spring weeks as the hungry season. She was nearing the end of her storage vegetables, potatoes, squash and onions. She’d used most of them and those left were starting to grow sprouts or show rotten spots. Mine are the same. And in my kitchen garden the new growth on the hardy greens has begun but is not abundant yet.
What sort of meal do these hungry season vegetables suggest? Pizza! Really! These vegetables would make delicious frittatas or tart fillings, pasta sauces or side dishes but friends were coming over and we wanted to make pizza.
We have a wood fired oven and make a lot of pizza year round. Summer pizzas with fresh sliced tomatoes, grilled eggplant, roasted peppers or some combination of these three are classic. But this time of year the last potatoes and squash, sliced and roasted, and kale tops and leaves make fabulous pizza toppings. No tomato sauce needed. A good crust, a little flavorful cheese and really any topping will make pizza, even toppings from the hungry season.
I make a medium crust pizza that cooks quickly on the 650-degree wood-fired oven floor. The simple dough of flour, yeast, salt and water, rounded after mixing into individual balls, rises slowly over about five hours, each ball becoming soft and pliable and stretching easily into a 10-inch pizza round that still shows the air bubbles of the dough.
Because the dough is on the lighter side, these pizza crusts can’t support a lot of weight. About a third of a cup of cheese is plenty. I sprinkle the cheese on the dough before adding the toppings. The cheese helps glue the toppings to the dough and the toppings protect the cheese from toughening and burning. A final dusting of grated Parmesan adds a toasted cheese flavor.
On two recent pizza nights, the toppings were roasted slices of Delicata Squash, roasted slices of potatoes, both Rose Finn Apple and Yellow Finn, and raw Lacinato kale flower buds. With the squash and potato pizzas, we used crumbled Gorgonzola cheese and a final dusting of grated Parmesan cheese, great flavor combinations of sweet squash, nutty potatos and pungent, slightly salty Gorgonzola.
For the raw kale topping, we used grated Trugole cheese, a mildly tangy semi-soft cow’s milk cheese from Italy that melts well. I rubbed the kale flower buds with a little olive oil just before arranging them on the grated cheese and dusting them with Parmesan. In the heat of the oven, the kale buds softened then crisped quickly. Beautiful to look at and amazingly tasty in its combination of crispy kale, melted cheese and chewy crust, this pizza was my favorite but all three were delicious and a perfect way to make the best of the hungry season.