Friday, May 13, 2011
Sometimes, nature makes runts. In the barn, in our family (is it rude to call my preemie a runt?) and yes, in the garden. I don't know if it was lack of sun, or overcrowding, or both...but the fennel I had planted in my winter garden was a little on the lean side. Instead of the usual plump bulbs, I had supermodel-thin ones--long and leggy, with a glorious green and frilly crown. What they had in looks, they lacked in substance (I'll refrain from getting too metaphorical here...but it's hard). I was really hoping to be able to grow some sturdy stalks with a little junk in the trunk.
But I had waited long enough and needed to harvest what was left in the garden to make room for my tomatoes, and squash and peppers.
The carrots we scrubbed and ate raw--they were gobbled up in a matter of moments, as were the few peas left on the vine. With the fennel, I decided to use it to top Friday's pizza, along with some spicy Italian sausage.
Luckily, the thin bulbs did have quite a bit of sharp, anise flavor, as did the tops, which I sprinkled on as a garnish after the pizza came out of the oven. It was a delicious way to use up the last of harvest. Now bring on the tomatoes!
For best results, cook your pizzas in a HOT (500 degree) oven, and on a pizza stone. I like to cook it until the crust is crisp and blistered on the edges. Homemade dough is super easy to make (I promise), but store-bought, fresh dough can be good in a pinch. Look for it in one-pound bags sold at Trader Joes or other specialty markets....or try asking your favorite pizza joint if you can buy a couple pounds of dough.
Sausage & Fennel Pizza
When it comes to flavor and value, homemade pizza is the way to go. If you don't have a pizza stone (or pizza pan), don't fret--just cook it on a regular sheet pan. You may not have the same crisp dough, but it will still be light-years above the stuff that comes from your local pizza joint. You may find it so delicious and easy to make that you decide to invest in a pizza stone and pizza peel, which can be found in practically any kitchen supply store.
Prep time: 30 minutes (not including dough)
Total time: 45 minutes
Yield: serves 3-4
1/2 recipe pizza dough (or a one-pound ball of dough)
1 pound of spicy Italian sausage
1/2 cup of your favorite Marinara or pizza sauce
1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced (reserve some of the green fronds for garnish)
1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees one hour before you plan to bake the pizza if you have a pizza stone (which should be on the bottom rack of the oven). If you don't have a pizza stone, just heat it right before you bake the pizza.
2. Carefully stretch or roll the dough into a 12-inch round on a lightly floured surface. If the dough seems tight, let it rest for 5 minutes, then try stretching it again. Cover with a clean cloth and set aside.
3. Remove sausage from its casing and crumble into a hot skillet. Cook until sausage is browned, using a spatula to break up any large chunks. Remove from pan and drain on a paper towel.
4. If you're cooking the pizza on a pan, lightly flour it and place dough in the pan at this time. If you are using a pizza peel, lightly flour the peel and set the dough on top of it now.
5. Spread the sauce over the dough, leaving a one-inch border all around the edge. Sprinkle the cheese over the top, again leaving a border. Top with the cooked sausage and fennel slices.
6. If using a peel, carefully shake the pizza back and forth over the peel to make sure it will easily slide into the oven. If it seems stuck, carefully lift the edge in a few places and blow some flour under it. Carefully shake it again. It should slide easily. If not, repeat with the flour. Slide the pizza into the oven directly on top of the stone. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the crust is crisp and blistered. (If you're using a pan, just place the pan on top of the pizza stone).
7. Use the peel to remove the pizza from the oven. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with reserved, chopped fennel fronds. Slice into 8 slices and serve immediately.