Saturday, November 27, 2010

Winter Squash Pizza with Caramelized Onions & Goat Cheese (and How to Roast a Winter Squash)

While I was working on my Winter Squash & Sweet Potatoes class earlier this month I ran across a pizza recipe that used winter squash purée as its "sauce". Since I'm a fan of pizzas that are sauced with something other than the same old tomato sauce base, this one caught my eye. It was touted as part of a vegetarian Thanksgiving spread—and I'm sure it would be excellent served in that way—but we enjoyed it as the center piece of a light evening meal.

Since you, like me, may still be feeling the effects of the Thanksgiving feast, I thought now would be a good time to share my version of this light, seasonal pizza. For our dinner, I served it with a simple spinach salad. But, if the recipe seems a bit fussy (there are a few steps involved) for a weeknight meal, you could serve it as an hors d'oeuvres at a holiday party. I'm sure it would be a hit—it has a nice balance of sweet and salty tastes and it is easy to eat out of hand. All of the pieces (dough, squash purée, onions) can be made ahead, so it is easy to assemble at the last minute. It doesn't have to be served hot right out of the oven, making it appropriate for setting out for people to nibble on. To serve as an hors d'oeuvres, simply cut it in narrow wedges to make small two or three bite portions. The same quantity of ingredients could be made into two small pizzas so that the smaller portions could be cut into short fat triangles instead of long thin triangles.

The original recipe did not include any goat cheese, but the pizza seemed a bit austere without it. After sampling this pizza I think that it would be amenable to endless substitutions and additions. Crumbled or diced cooked Italian sausage, caramelized apple slices or sautéed mushrooms would all be good compliments for the squash and onions. Thinly sliced fresh fennel, added to the onions and cooked down with them, would be good too.  Once you begin to think of the squash purée as the sauce base, the possibilities for variations begin to multiply.

Since the pizza only needs 3/4 cup of purée, the next time you roast winter squash for something else—soup or risotto, for example—roast a little extra and freeze what you need for the pizza (or make the pizza the next day). Winter squash purée freezes well—there is no reason not to roast a large quantity at one time. If you have never roasted a winter squash before, this pizza would be a good reason to give it a try.  

To Roast and Purée a Winter Squash:  Halve the squash. If the squash is very large, cut it into uniform wedges. Winter squash can be very hard and it is necessary to take some care when cutting one. Before you begin, make sure that your hands, the knife handle and the cutting board are clean and dry. To make the first cut into the squash, rest it on the cutting board and with a firm grip on a large sharp chef's knife, place the blade (not the tip) against the flesh. With your open palm or a mallet, strike the back side of the knife at the point where it is touching the squash in order to sink the knife into the squash to anchor it. Then, place a thick towel over the tip end of the knife (to protect your hand from the tip of the knife) and using steady pressure, rock back and forth slightly as you press down on both ends of the knife. Use the strength of your arms—do not lean over the squash to use your body weight—if the knife or your hand were to slip, you could stab yourself.  Be very careful!

Once the squash is cut, scoop out the seeds and discard. Place the squash on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil or melted butter. Season with salt and pepper. Place the squash in a preheated 375° to 400° oven and roast until very tender when pierced with a fork and caramelized in spots—about 40 minutes to an hour.

When the squash is cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh away from the skin with a spoon. Depending on the intended purpose, the flesh may be puréed in the food processor, run through a food mill or mashed coarsely with a fork. A two pound squash will produce a scant two cups of purée, or about a pound.

Depending on the desired use of the purée, the butter or oil with which the squash is brushed prior to roasting may be augmented with any number of things—honey, molasses, maple syrup or balsamic vinegar—alone or in combination.

If for some reason you prefer that the squash not caramelize during the roasting process, either cover loosely with foil or oil the pan and roast the squash with the cut surfaces down. Allow the squash to cool uncovered and with cut surfaces up so that the squash can steam a bit as it cools. For most uses, this should be sufficient to rid the squash of any excess moisture. If however, the finished purée seems thin or watery, dry the purée further by spreading it in a shallow pan and baking at 300°, stirring occasionally, until the desired consistency is reached—it will darken a little and will no longer "bleed" water. I usually find it necessary to do this for pumpkins, which tend to be quite watery. A medium-sized pumpkin (2 1/3 to 2 1/2 lbs.) will produce a 10 to 12 oz., or about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups, of purée. If preparing pumpkin for a sweet baked good—such as pie or a cake—don't season or oil it before baking it cut side down.

Winter Squash Pizza with
Caramelized Onions & Goat Cheese

Olive oil
2 medium yellow onions (12 to 16 oz.), halved & thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 t. each minced sage and rosemary
3/4 c. coarsely mashed winter squash (I prefer Carnival Squash, but Acorn, Butternut or any favorite variety would be fine)
nutmeg, salt & pepper, to taste
Pizza dough (see below)
1 1/2 T. untoasted pine nuts
2 oz. crumbled goat cheese
3/4 oz. finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino

Warm 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil in wide sauté pan set over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, herbs and a pinch of salt and toss to coat with the oil. When the onions begin to sizzle, reduce the heat to very low and cover. Cook until the onions are tender and translucent and beginning to collapse—about 30 minutes.

 Uncover, increase the heat to medium and continue to cook, until the onions are reduced in volume and well-caramelized—another 20 minutes or so. As the onions cook, stir regularly to release the accumulating caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan.

Cool briefly before using.

While the onions cook, season the squash to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.

Roll the rested dough out into a 12- to 14-inch round and transfer to a baking sheet or pizza pan that has been dusted with flour or cornmeal. Brush the dough with a little olive oil. Spread the squash purée over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Spread the onions over the squash and scatter the pine nuts and then the goat cheese evenly over the onions and squash. Scatter the Parmesan evenly over all.

Place the pizza in its pan on a pre-heated pizza stone in a pre-heated 450° to 500° oven. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling, about 12 to 15 minutes. To insure a crisp, fully cooked crust, slide the pizza off of the pan to finish cooking directly on the pizza stone for the last 2 or 3 minutes of baking. When the pizza is done, transfer to a cutting board and cut into wedges and serve.

(Recipe adapted from The New York Times, November 9, 2010)

Pizza Dough:
1/2 cup warm water (100º-110º)
1 1/8 t. active dry yeast
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T. olive oil
1/2 t. salt

Place the water in a large bowl and add the yeast.  Let soften for a minute or two.  Add 3/4 cup of the flour and whisk until smooth.  Add the oil, salt and another half cup of the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough that holds its shape. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and sprinkle with a bit more flour. Knead the dough, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, until the dough is smooth and springs back when pressed lightly with a finger—about 5 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled in bulk—about 1 hour. Punch down the dough. Turn it onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a ball. Cover with a towel and let rest for 10 to 20 minutes. The dough is now ready to be shaped, topped and cooked or frozen.

Variation for a Whole Wheat Crust: Instead of unbleached all-purpose flour, use 3/4 c. bread flour and 1/2 to 3/4 c. whole wheat flour (the new “white” whole wheat flour is a good choice).

(Recipe adapted from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins)

1 comment:

R said...

luv the details in the recipe! great alternative to pizza minus the same old pizza sauce.