While working as a dining room captain at Le Ciel Bleu restuarant at the Mayfair Regent Hotel in Chicago, Illionois, the most requested soup on our menu was the vichyssoise. Its rich, creamy potato and leek combination was to die for, and with all the heavy cream the French chefs poured into the soup, it was sure to send you on your way.
I took an opportunity to replicate the savory, creamy and sharp combination these two mid-summer vegetables offer, thanks to all the great farms around this area. I’ve got fresh leeks and Mr. Stripy tomatoes from the Chesterhill Produce Auction; organic Corolla Potatoes from Rich Organic Gardens in Shade, Ohio; locally aged, whole milk white cheddar from Athens’ Own; and fresh chrevre from Integration Acres in Albany, Ohio.
The most fun in putting this pizza together was bidding on veggies at the Chesterhill Produce Auction. It’s 28 minutes away from Athens, through the winding route 550. I drove through the wilds of Ohio, passing through Amesville (famous for its “coonskin library” where in the wild days, they traded skins for books) and into Morgan county and Chesterhill, where many Amish and other productive Ohio farmers live.
The auction is a study in etiquette and aggression. The chef on your right may be a good friend but during the auction, he’s your worst enemy. He disgusts you as he eyes those baby pattypans or ripe smelling cantalopes with envy. That stuff should be yours. Needless to say, I try to limit the amount of coffee I consume and stay away from heavy metal music on the way there.
Here is a video of what the Chesterhill Produce Auction had to offer this last Monday.
Once the bidding starts, the fun begins.
The potato and leek pizza is for my lunch today so I am going simply, even though I will layer the potatoes like a Tortini di Patate, the Italian version; or the French Tourte aux Pommes de Terre. I’m starving! Let’s go.
Preheat oven to 475 degrees and put an upturned heavy cookie sheet or a really great pizza stone in there. Make the 2 dough balls in the Easy Dough Recipe and set one aside in the freezer for later.
2 medium yellow potato such as Corolla or Yukon Gold
2 tablespoons salt
2 medium leeks
1 large garlic clove
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large Mr. Stripey summer tomato
1 cup aged white cheddar (preferably whole milk cheese)
1/2 a round of chevre, or 3-4 tablespoons of your favorite goat cheese
Fresh dill sprigs
Pour 2 cups water into a medium bowl and whisk in 2 tablespoons salt until it melts. Using a mandoline, shave the potato into slices thinly, but not so thin that you can read through them. They should still stand up on their own. Place them in the water and stir, making sure to separate the slices. This salt water bath will pull the starch out of the potatoes and “cook” them, leading to a crispier bake. Keep potatoes in this water for 15 minutes.
When the potatoes are limp and the water is smoky with starch, pull them out and strain. Dry the potatoes on a cloth or paper towel. Rinse out the bowl and dry it. Pour in 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Place the potatoes in the oil and toss with a couple turns of cracked black pepper. Set aside.
Start the leeks just after you put the potatoes in the salted water. Cut the leeks 3 inches above where the green starts. Measure to make sure they will fit the pan. Reserve the top of the leek for sauces or soups. Do not cut off the bottom of the leek, where the hairs or roots are. They will hold the leek together. Just trim them, as shown above.(Some chefs tie the leeks so they don’t fall apart, but the presentation is not important here and they will be under the potatoes.) Wash the leeks thouroughly.
Place 3 cups of water in a pan over high heat. Add a large, crushed clove of garlic and the leeks. When the water starts to boil, turn the heat down to medium, add the butter and simmer with a lid on for 20 minutes, or until the leeks are easily penetrated with a fork. Put the leeks in the refrigerator to cool. Cut them into 1/4- inch slices and set aside.
For the tomato:
Cut the tomato in quarters. Cut out the inside, leaving the outside flesh and the skin in a “flower petal” shape. Cut lengthwise two or three times, then turn and cut into cubes. Put in a stainer and reserve.
O.K., let’s make the damn pizza!
“Bang out” (pizza industry term for making a round pie shape) the pizza dough on the counter. Place on parchment paper.
Place the cheddar and chevre on the dough. Then the leeks.
Fan the potato slices over the leeks, overlapping a quarter to a half of the one under it. This may take some time and even longer of you have a hook for one of your hands, but be patient: the result is spectacular.
Place on the hot pizza stone or upturned pan for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the bottom is dark brown and the crust is golden brown. You may have to turn the pizza for an even bake.
When the pie is out of the oven, garnish with the tomato dice and fresh dill sprigs. Enjoy hot or cold.