Pizza Party with Peter Reinhart

Early in the summer boyfriend and I started stocking our freezer with pizza dough from Wholefoods and throwing together little pizza parties for ourselves. After a long week, I’m not good for much on a Friday night, so tossing dough and throwing back a glass or two of wine together was my idea of a perfect night. Mid-summer nights had other plans for us, though, with its heat waves driving us out of the kitchen and into air-conditioned pizza parlors for the remainder of the season. Oh, the tragedy. Granted, the pizza is tastier at our favorites like Vezzo and Luzzo’s, but it wasn’t quite as fun. I missed floured noses and on-a-whim pizza concotions.

Now that it’s cooler and my oven can be cranked up to 500 degrees (how i wish it would rise higher for the sake of a crispier crust and moister toppings) the pizza parties can resume. And that dough from Wholefoods? Well, it occurred to me that if they can make it and freeze it for a rainy day, why can’t I? An internet search led me to Peter Reinhart’s pizza dough recipe. He’s not too shabby in the baking department, what with his James Beard Award and all– a little something otherwise known as the Oscars of the food world. If he makes award-winning bread, I figure he must make a decent pizza dough. He didn’t disappoint. Previously, when I tried to toss dough, I would end up with a sticky blob riddled with holes. This dough, however, is wonderfully elastic and supple and easy to handle, nothing like what I’m used to getting from the supermarket. The art of throwing dough makes so much more sense to me now.

After thinking long and hard on the toppings, I decided on a traditional pizza margherita which was classicaly delicious, but also tried something new and savory to jive with the season. I had some butternut squash on hand, destined for a different fate as a creamy soup. I opted to roast it with onions, instead, with lots of rosemary and sea salt, cracked pepper and olive. While that hissed and sizzled in the oven, I broke out some fresh whole milk ricotta cheese and whipped in some chopped rosemary and lemon zest. When the chunked butternut squash turned soft with crackly browned edges, the onions had caramelized, and my whole apartment smelled of rosemary, I spread the mixture onto a rectangle of dough, adding dollops of the herbed cheese, and let it bake for just 10 minutes more. Delicious.

The best part? One batch of dough makes enough for three meals for two people (or two meals for two people, if you’re really hungry, which *we* usually are). The remainder can be frozen for the next night you need a snappy meal that’s still homemade.

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Pizza

For the dough: Peter Reinhart’s Thin Crust Pizza dough can be found in his book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. His recipe there includes exhaustive tips and tricks for the best outcome. Lucky for me, you can find the recipe on this blog, and I have been saved from typing it out, nuggets of wisdom and all.
*Please take note that this recipe calles for instant yeast which is NOT the same as active dry yeast. I learned this the hard way. Although my first batch of dough tasted good, it crisped like a cracker and lacked a good dough-y chew that even a thin-crust dough should have.*

1 whole butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 large onion, cut into rings
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup fresh whole milk ricotta cheese
1 sprig fresh rosemary
8-10 fresh sage leaves
zest of 1 lemon
cracked pepper and sea salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove rosemary from stem and chop the leaves. Toss butternut squash and onion in a bowl with olive oil, rosemary, sea salt and pepper until evenly coated. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes or until butternut squash is browned and onions have caramelized.

Add the lemon zest to the ricotta cheese and whip with a fork until combined and light and fluffy. Increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees, or as high as your oven allows. Keep in mind that a typical pizza oven heats up to about 800 degrees.

Stretch out dough and place on a baking stone or parchment lined baking sheet. If using a pizza stone, a sprinkling of cornmeal on the stone will keep the dough from sticking. Spread the cooked butternut squash mixture evenly over the dough and add spoonfuls of the cheese mixture. Add a sage leaf on each dollop of cheese. Sprinkle the whole pie, especially the crust, with parmesan cheese. Bake for 10 minutes at 500 degrees or less at a higher temperature. Look for a browned crust to decipher doneness.

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