Can you believe it? We’re halfway through Project Food Blog, and I’m still standing. There aren’t enough adjectives in the world to describe how amazed and excited and overjoyed I am to have made it to this point in the competition, especially since I’m in the company of 71 other fantastically talented bloggers.
Which brings us to Challenge #5, in which we remaining bloggers have been tasked to create their own unique spin on pizza. For the purposes of this challenge, anything goes, so long as the final product consists of a solid base topped with sauce and at least one topping.
Even though the challenge left a lot of room for interpretation, I decided not to stray too far afield for my entry. I’m a sucker for a proper old school pizza pie with a thin crispy crust baked in a wood-fired oven, so why not pay faithful homage to the classic rather than aiming for a complete re-boot of the franchise? More importantly, though, I wanted this pizza to be a reflection of the kind of food I love to eat and love to blog about… simple, homey, un-fussy, delicious food made from fresh seasonal ingredients.
So, with that in mind, I set out to an unabashedly fall-flavoured sort of pizza using a mix of un-traditional ingredients with traditional methods.
I first started with my toppings, beginning with two ingredients that I think embody the essence of October in Ontario: roasted pumpkin and fresh sage. I also switched out the traditional tomato sauce for a slow-roasted garlic paste to accentuate the sweetness of the pumpkin, and chose a smoked mozzarella to mimic the subtle smokiness of a wood-fired oven. Then, once the pizza came out of the oven, I topped the whole thing off with a handful of fresh peppery arugula to provide some much-needed contrast to all the rich flavours beneath.
Oh, and did I mention that I just happened to have a container of shredded smoked duck left over from our Thanksgiving feast? A little sprinkling of duck certainly couldn’t hurt, so onto the pizzas it went.
(Obviously, I don’t expect everyone to have leftover smoked duck kicking around in their fridge, but some chopped BBQ duck would be a dandy substitute if you’ve got a Chinese market nearby. Otherwise, smoked turkey or even plain ol’ leftover turkey would do just fine.)
Once I’d settled on toppings, the next step was to decide on the most important element of a good pizza… the crust. For this recipe, I’ve shamelessly borrowed from the patron saint of simple cooking, Mark Bittman, and adapted his recipe for a quick homemade pizza dough from How to Cook Everything. This lovely dough rolls out into the thin crispy crust that I adore, which in this case has been enhanced with flecks of finely chopped sage to go along with the toppings. Sure, you can buy pre-made pizza dough at the store, but homemade dough comes together in a few minutes and is ready to use after an hour or so of rising time. Besides, kneading dough by hand is a great de-stressing exercise after a frustrating day. :)
That said, even the most perfect dough recipe still needs a little help to achieve the perfect baked crust, which is where a baking stone comes in. Combined with a blazingly hot oven, a baking stone is what guarantees a beautifully crisp, slightly chewy crust instead of a limp and soggy one. If you don’t have a baking stone, I highly recommend going out and buying one… they’re not all that expensive, and make a world of difference.
Lastly, because I think duck is a rather elegant sort of ingredient, I decided to divide the dough to make four individually-sized pizzas, which I find makes for a far more attractive presentation than a single large pie. It also provides maximum outer crust for each person, because this crust is delicious enough to be more than just a delivery mechanism for toppings.
So, how did my little homage to autumn in pizza form turn out? Absolutely perfect. The flavours are a satisfying blend of smoky and sweet and rich, and the toasty brown of the crust and the cheese against the bright orange of the pumpkin and the vivid green of the arugula echoes the colours of fall leaves. There isn’t anything I would change about this combination, except maybe to add a small crumbling of Gorgonzola, if you’re a fan of blue cheeses (I am, but The Boy is not… so we left it out this time around).
In fact, you could say it’s a pretty ducking amazing pizza. :)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp finely chopped fresh sage
Roasted Garlic Sauce:
1 head garlic
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 cups diced smoked duck (or turkey)
1 cup diced roasted pumpkin or squash
2 cups shredded smoked mozzarella
4 tbsp chopped fresh sage
1 cup baby arugula
Start by preparing the dough. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, yeast and salt. Stir to blend, then add water, oil and sage. Continue stirring until the dough starts to come together. (If the dough is too dry, add more water, a tablespoon at a time, until it comes together)
Turn the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured working surface and knead until the dough is soft and elastic, adding more flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Shape the dough into a ball.
Lightly oil a large mixing bowl, and place the dough in the bowl, turning the ball over to coat the entire surface with oil. Cover with a clean dishtowel and set aside in a warm, draft-free spot to rise until doubled in size, about 1-2 hours.
While the dough is rising, prepare the roast garlic sauce. Using a sharp knife, cut away the top of the head of garlic to expose the individual cloves within. Place the garlic on a piece of aluminum foil, then drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil. Wrap tightly with the foil, and bake in a 400F oven for 45-50 minutes or until cloves are golden brown and buttery soft.
Set the garlic aside to cool until it can be handled, then extract the roasted cloves from their skins. Place in a small bowl with the remaining oil and mash with the back of a spoon until you have a smooth paste. If desired, season with a pinch or two of kosher salt.
By this point, the dough should be ready to use, so prepare the baking stone by placing it in the oven and preheating to 500F. (Always preheat your stone along with the oven, as the stone needs to warm up gradually – a cold stone put directly in a hot oven is likely to break)
Punch the dough down, then divide into four equal-sized pieces. Roll out each piece into a 6″ wide circle.
Spoon a dollop of roasted garlic sauce onto each dough circle, and spread into a thin layer using the back of the spoon. Top with a scattering of roasted pumpkin and smoked duck pieces, leaving a half-inch border of uncovered dough around the edges. Sprinkle with shredded cheese, distributing evenly between the pizzas, then follow with a scattering of chopped sage.
Using a pizza peel liberally dusted with flour, slide the pizzas onto the baking stone and bake until bubbly and browned, about 15-18 minutes. (If you don’t have a pizza peel, I find a flat cookie sheet or even the back of a rimmed cookie sheet does the trick quite nicely)
Garnish each pizza with a handful of arugula leaves as soon as it comes out of the oven, and serve immediately.