Friday, January 6, 2017

Winter Squash, Apple & Sausage Pizza

My first thought as we ate the pizza I made for dinner the other night was that it was really good and maybe I should post it to my blog.  My second thought was that even though it was good, it was just a simple pizza...and I had posted other pizzas...and well, maybe I would just let it pass.  Then I thought about the comment I made in my final post of 2016 about sharing more of the simple and basic dishes that appear on my table day in and day out...even if they aren't unusual or "chef-y".  And suddenly this simple pizza seemed like a good way to kick off the year.

Since Christmas, I have not been as focused as I usually am on food.  I have had a little extra time off and have been trying to use that time to attend to things that have fallen by the wayside for too long.  Dinners have been simple, hurried, pantry affairs almost every night.  I make a trip to the store occasionally to make sure I have some basics (seasonal vegetables, fruit, bacon/sausage/ham, grains/pastas, canned tomatoes/beans, eggs/dairy/cheese) and wing it from there to make a pasta, a soup, a salad, a pizza.....  

If pizzas aren't on your list of easy, weeknight meals, they should be.  Because they can be topped with almost any cooked ingredient, they are a great way to use up odds and ends of vegetables and cheeses.  If you have foods on hand that you like to eat, odds are you can come up with a flavorful combination for a pizza.  Just make your dough (more on that in a minute), choose a sauce (plain or seasoned olive oil, tomato sauce, reduced cream, seasoned ricotta...even a vegetable purée) and prepare/cook your toppings while the oven heats.

If you think your oven won't produce a good pizza, think again.  If you have a pizza stone and your oven will hold a temperature of 500° F, your oven is capable of producing a respectable pizza.  If you don't have a stone, you should take some of your holiday gift money (doesn't everyone get gift certificates these days?) and buy one.  It is a very small investment...and one that you won't regret.  While you're at it, pick up a peel (not strictly necessary—I made good pizza for years without one—but using one will produce a superior crust).  Then, stop at the grocery store on the way home and buy a bag of semolina flour (you can of course dust your peel with flour...but a semolina dusted peel is pretty much stick proof).  With practice you will be making consistently delicious pizzas in no time.

As for the dough....if you know how to use your food processor, you can make delicious pizza dough.  I have been making pizza dough for years the old fashioned way—mixing and kneading by hand.  But a couple of years ago I started to make it in the food processor because it's just so quick and easy.  I still occasionally make it by hand....but there is really no reason to other than that I occasionally want to slow down and enjoy the process of kneading.  (I give directions for both methods in the recipe.)  If you are still dubious about making your own, you can probably find a grocery store that sells freshly made dough in their prepared foods department.  I know that Whole Foods does this, and I'm sure there are others.

As I said, last night's pizza was particularly good.  And since it included ingredients that I always have on hand during the fall and winter months (a chunk of winter squash...a Pink Lady apple...shallots...sausage...Dubliner cheese....), I know I will be making it again.  I hope you will make it too...or better yet, come up with a new favorite of your own using the ingredients you like to keep on hand.

Winter Squash, Apple & Sausage Pizza

10 to 12 oz. butternut squash (half of a small to medium squash), peeled, seeded and cut in a 1/2-inch dice (you should have a scant 2 cups)
1 small sweet-tart apple (I like Pink Lady), peeled and cut in a half inch dice (about 1 cup)
Olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper
1 medium shallot, peeled and thinly sliced using a mandolin
pinch of pepper flakes
1/ 2 t. minced rosemary
1 3 to 4 oz. link cooked sausage (see note), halved and sliced 1/4-inch thick cross-wise on a slight diagonal
1 ball of pizza dough (see below), rested
5 oz. Dubliner cheese (see note), coarsely grated

Place the squash and apples in a bowl and drizzle with just enough olive oil to coat.  Season with salt and pepper and toss well.  Transfer to a small baking sheet (a quarter sheet pan is perfect) and roast in a preheated 450° oven until tender and beginning to brown—about 20 to 25 minutes.

When the vegetables are done roasting, scatter the shallots, rosemary, pepper flakes and sausage over and toss to combine.  Increase the oven temperature to 500°.

Build the pizza: On a lightly floured surface, roll or stretch the dough out into a 12-inch circle. Transfer the dough to a pizza pan, baking sheet or pizza peel that has been dusted with semolina (or flour...or cornmeal).  Spread a thin layer of oil over the crust. Scatter with half of the cheese, followed by the topping mixture, followed by the remaining cheese

If using a pizza pan or baking sheet, place the pizza in the pan on a pre-heated pizza stone in a pre-heated 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 crust, slide the pizza off of the pan and directly onto the pizza stone as soon as the crust is set (after 4 or 5 minutes). 

If using a peel, slide the pizza directly onto the preheated baking stone. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling—about 8 to 10 minutes. 

When the pizza is done, transfer to a cutting board and cut into wedges and serve.

  • I like Aidells Roasted Garlic & Gruyère Smoked Chicken Sausage, but any favorite cooked sausage that will go with the squash and apples would be fine. Kielbasa would be excellent. You could also cook a fresh Italian sausage link and cut it in a similar fashion. 
  • I love the nutty taste of Dubliner and I always have it on hand. It is a great snacking and melting cheese. It is particularly good with the squash and apples on this pizza...but there are other cheeses that would work well. A good, sharp Cheddar...Fontina...low-moisture Mozzarella...etc. 

Pizza Dough

1/2 cup warm water (100º-110º)

1 1/8 t. (1/2 package) active dry yeast

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 T. olive oil

1/2 t. salt


Combine the water, yeast, and 3/4 cup of the flour in a large bowl. 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. Sprinkle some of the remaining quarter cup of flour on a smooth surface. Scrape the dough out of the bowl 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 to 10 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size—about 1 hour. Punch down the dough. At this point you may use the dough immediately or cover the bowl again with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 12 to 24 hours. Pull the dough out of the refrigerator to let it warm up a bit, about an hour before baking the pizza.


When ready to make the pizza, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough 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 baked.


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


Food Processor Method:  Place the water and yeast in a small bowl and let sit until the yeast has dissolved.  Place 1 1/4 cups plus 2 T. of the flour and salt in the food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to blend.  Add the oil and yeast/water mixture and pulse until the dough is homogenous.  Begin to run the mixture in long pulses until the dough is smooth and elastic—it shouldn't take more than a minute.  If the dough seems wet and sticky, add some of the remaining 2 T. of flour a bit at a time, pulsing after each addition.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and give it a few kneads by hand.

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 (any whole wheat flour will work, but I like “white” whole wheat flour).

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