Saturday, November 12, 2016

Recipe of the Month: Butternut Squash Pizza with Fresh Sage

This month's Recipe of the Month is another original creation of Brian's—sort of. We've harvested a good crop of butternut squash from the garden this year (about 10 squash so far, and a few more still on the vine), and we were thinking it would be nice to make something new with it besides our standard butternut squash soufflé and lasagna. Brian recalled, or at least thought he recalled, that at one point we'd made a butternut squash pizza with fresh sage that was pretty good, so he started hunting through our cookbook collection for the recipe. But after a good 20 minutes of hunting, he couldn't find it in any book on our shelf, nor in the substantial file we have of recipes clipped out of magazines. Either we'd lost it somehow, or he'd just imagined it.

By that time, though, he was really hung up on the idea of butternut squash pizza, and he couldn't just let it go. So, being Brian, he decided to make up a new version on the spot.

He already had a basic go-to recipe for pizza dough, so he started with that. Actually, he modified the standard recipe somewhat: normally, when he makes pizza these days, he uses half white and half whole wheat flour, as a concession to health. But the butternut squash pizza recipe he remembered, or thought he remembered, had a plain white crust, so he used only white flour in the dough. He also threw in an extra tablespoon of gluten to compensate for the fact that he was using all-purpose flour rather than bread flour. As it turns out, this resulted in a considerably puffier dough than he's used to, so when he spread it into the pizza pan, there was a lot of extra crust around the edges. He's not sure why it turned out that way, but since I always think the crust is the best part of the pizza anyway, it was a happy accident as far as I was concerned.

After flattening down the crust as best he could, he brushed it with olive oil and then started adding toppings: mozzarella cheese, fresh sage, sautéed red onion, and thin slices of butternut squash, arranged in a single layer with no overlap. Then he sprinkled on a little salt and baked the whole thing until the squash was soft and the crust was browned—probably about half an hour. And, since it had that big, puffy crust on it, he also steeped some extra sage leaves and salt in melted butter and served that on the side so we could dip the crust pieces in it.

Although the recipe didn't come out exactly as Brian envisioned it, I think it was delicious just as it was. The softened butternut just melted in the mouth, and its sweetness blended with the piquant sage and onion was like the taste of autumn itself. I didn't even mind the extra-heavy crust, since it gave us built-in breadsticks for dipping. The only thing I'd do differently next time is to use olive oil in the dipping sauce, rather than melted butter.

So, since I think this recipe is gourmet quality already, I'm listing it here just as Brian made it. However, if you think you'd prefer it with a more normal-sized crust, leaving out the gluten and cutting down the yeast to a teaspoon would probably take care of that.

BRIAN'S BUTTERNUT SQUASH PIZZA WITH FRESH SAGE
  1. Dough: In a large bowl, combine 3/4 c. water and 2 tsp. yeast. Then add 3/4 tsp. salt, 2 tsp. sugar, 1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil, 1 Tbsp. gluten (optional), and about 2 cups all-purpose flour (add more flour if the dough is too sticky). Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Then put it back in the bowl and let it rise at least 1 hour. If it needs to sit longer before you're ready to use it, you can punch it down halfway through.
  2. Toppings: Coarsely grate 1/2 pound mozzarella cheese (you can use shredded cheese from a package, but it won't be as good). Peel a chunk of butternut squash and slice it into thin, half-round pieces. Pick 15-16 fresh sage leaves and cut them up into smallish pieces. Slice 1/2 red onion thinly and sauté in olive oil until softened and slightly brown.
  3. Assembly: Turn out the dough onto your pizza pan, adding flour to the pan and your fingers if the dough is sticky, and spread it out into the pan, leaving a thick, raised crust around the edge. Paint the crust lightly with olive oil. Spread the mozzarella, sage, and onion evenly over the top. Lay out the butternut squash slices in a single layer until they completely cover the flat surface, leaving only the raised crust exposed. Bake the pizza at 400°F about half an hour, or until the squash is soft and the crust lightly browned.
  4. To serve: Cut up a few more sage leaves and add them to a small bowl of olive oil, with salt to taste. Serve this on the side for dipping the crust.

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