Back over the holiday break, friends of ours from New York City came up with their two children. They’d recently closed on a fixer-upper one town away, so we invited a bunch of neighbors and all their under-eights over to meet them over dinner. When half the group is little kids, Coq au vin just doesn’t feel right.
What does feel right? Pizza! Just one problem: we’d never made it before. Actually, that’s a lie. We’ve never made a good pizza before, but it was time to try again. Of course, I could have taken the easy route and bought ready-made dough. Okay, fine, I did. But only as backup. There was a recipe we were eager to try: butternut squash pizza with tallegio cheese, sausage and fried sage. It was in this cute little cookbook called “Post Fare by Chef Gen” that Bertrand brought home before Christmas. Chef Gen is the in-house chef at Fluid, a production studio Bertrand works with. Gen’s meals are so well loved, Fluid created a cookbook to gave it to clients as gifts.
Upon cursory glance, the pizza looked really easy to make, until I noticed “Use the dough recipe on page 41″ below the ingredient list.
Recipes that require making another separate recipe to complete the dish are such a bait and switch. Then again, if the separate recipe for pizza is the pizza dough, I suppose there is no way around it. Except, well, the aforementioned plan b.
If you’ve made pizza dough or regularly make pizza dough, well, good for you and please skip this paragraph. It is annoyingly arduous. You have to chill it for 24 hours, optimally (at least you have to with Gen’s recipe). Then you thaw it, let it rise, then let it rise again. Some thirty hours later, if you haven’t lost interest or given up entirely, you can finally put it to work.
I pounded my dough, stretched it, pinched it, did everything but make out with it, but it still looked nothing like that pliable stuff you see thrown up into the air at pizzerias. Fortunately, a chef was one of our first guests to arrive. Jeremy Stanton owns Great Barrington’s Meat Market, known for its fine cuts as well as its newest feature, Ramen (Saturday night is Ramen Night). Jeremy’s cooked at the James Beard foundation and also has a booming catering business, Fire Roasted Chef. The man knows what he’s doing. Every time he and Emily come for dinner, he seems most comfortable taking over where needed–whether it’s helping Bertrand with the steak on the grill, turning my lumpy polenta into silk or being a dough whisperer. He handily picked up my girth of flour, water and yeast and spun it and flipped it until it was, well, no longer putty in his hands. “You try,” he said, handing it over. I passed on the flipping maneuver, but started to spin it gingerly under my knuckles, as he stood by my side like an encouraging driver ed teacher, assuring me that it wouldn’t tear. It didn’t.
We started with the easiest topping: Margherita: A can of San Marzano crushed tomatoes, fresh basil leaves and buffalo mozzarella. Boom. Jeremy taught me how to rotate the pie mid-bake to ensure evenness on all sides. After rotation, I picked up dough #2 and knuckle-spun, then spread the butternut squash on, dotting it with cheese and sage and completely forgetting about pizza #1. Burned edges. Oh well.
The final pie had sauteed Cremini mushrooms, thyme and fontina. I think pizzas 2 and 3 were too ambitiously flavored for the kids. Then again, I wasn’t thrilled with any of them, mostly because of the dough. Both the store-bought and the homemade were too bready for us New Yorkers who grew up on super-thin crusts. “Easily fixable,” proclaimed Jeremy. “You like thin crusts? Cut them in half next time.” A’doy.
This past weekend, our daughter had a mini college reunion up to the house. They made pizza. Tapping their competitive spirit, they divided into three teams, each making different toppings: Astrid and Hilary’s was mushroom, pesto and egg; Divya’s and Nina’s was pear, arugula and gorgonzola; and Emma and Amanda made theirs with butternut squash, sage, carmelized onion and gorgonzola. It was hard to pick a favorite because they were all delicious! (mushroom).
And the crusts were thin and perfect. Smart girls: they bought their dough. Next time, so will we. Hey, we never claimed to be purists.
Chef Gen’s Butternut Squash Pizza, tweaked by me Yield: 1 pizza
- fresh sage leaves
- 1/2 lb Italian sausage meat, out of casings
- 3/4 lb of Taleggio cheese [we used Fontina]
- 1/4 cup grated Grana Padano [we used Parm]
- 1 large butternut squash [we bought already peeled and cut]
Preheat oven to 425. Coat squash with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in oven until tender and lightly browned (about 25-30 mins). Let squash cool, then smash into a smooth paste. In a heavy pan, heat 4-5 t of grapeseed oil and add the sage when oil is hot. Stir to prevent burning. Once sage has turned hunter green, remove from pan with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Season with salt. Turn oven up to its highest temperature. Spread squash mixture onto prepared pizza dough, then dot with pieces of sausage and Tallegio/Fontina. Sprinkle half of the Grana Padano/Parmover the pizza. Bake for about 10-15 minutes, then gingerly slip pizza peel under the pizza stone and rotate is 90 degrees (Jeremy taught me that). Bake another 10 minutes more or until crust is golden brown. Sprinkle with remaining Grana/Parm and garnish with sage leaves.
AND NOW, THE PIZZA DOUGH RECIPE (again, me-modified)
- 3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- kosher salt
- 1 tsp rapid rise yeast
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups of water
Put all dry ingredients in a bowl. Mix the oil with the water, and slowly pour into a standing mixer, using the paddle attachment on medium low. After the dough has come together, switch to a dough hook and mix on low for five minutes. (If you don’t have a standing mixer, use the handle end of a wooden spoon to stir in the water and oil.) Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and knead by hand for five minutes. Place in a sealed Tupperware-type container and place in fridge to chill for 12-24 hours. Take dough out of fridge and let it warm up for an hour. Scrape dough onto a floured surface and fold it a few times until you can form a ball. Coat its exterior with olive oil, place on a baking sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise for another hour (see what I mean???). After, using your knuckles to stretch the edges, spread the dough out to fit an 18″ x 13″ greased dish. Let it rise for another hour or two. Finally, its reading for toppings and baking.