Fractured scenes of crispy flat dough circles flickered in and out of my head. One right in front of me. Basil leaves, vibrant and green, scattered across its top. Steam billowing upwards towards the skies. Cheese swimming on the surface, bubbling from its rest in the wood-fired oven. I lifted a slice and half of its melted mozzarella began to slip off, revealing a bright, almost fire engine red sauce made from last summer’s smashed and stewed tomatoes. The crust was thin and had blackened and charred bumps on its edges, which only revealed empty bubbles of space when my teeth sank into their crisp outer shells.
I opened my eyes and pulled myself out of my delightful reverie. I longed for the cheesy neapolitan-style pizza that had danced through my mind so innocently as I slumbered. And then I felt instant annoyance when I came to the realization that none of it was real. There was no pizza in my near future, only avocado smoothies and a piping hot cup of French Roast. Ridiculous lyrics from the one and only Nelly filled the now vacant space in my mind, a space that was once occupied by Naples’ finest pizza, “I open my eyes, and it was only just a dream…”
Weeks later, I’d resolve to give in to the dream that had so sneakily crept into my mind and tortured me that morning. That’s the beauty of being a food blogger, you see. We can indulge in our guilty pleasures and write about it in our blog spaces…as long as they pertain to food, anyway.
So this past Saturday morning I began work for this blog post, starting with the Olive Oil Dough from Ashley’s Date Night In. I watched as the dough thumped around in my stand mixer, making a loud clunk with each pass of the dough hook. It sputtered small sprinklings of flour up and out of the mixer, which speckled my countertop like tiny stars. I monitored it with a watchful eye as it rocked back and forth, ready to drop the dishes I was washing in the sink adjacent to it should it rock itself right off of my unusually petit turn-of-the-century countertops. After five minutes, the copper mixer was still where it should be and my pizza dough was smooth and supple. I plopped it in a bowl, covered it with plastic wrap, and left it in the refrigerator for the yeast to begin its greedy sugar feast.
I continued on with my day as usual and went to bed that night, thinking about what I’d write about for this post. Dreaming was to be the topic. You see, I sometimes write in my head as I fall asleep. I forget most of it by the time I wake the next morning, but I like to think the main pillars remain, buried deep within my subconscious, when I sit down to write in the morning. I’m not sure how far I got in my mental write up as I went to sleep that night, but in the morning, just before my brain made the transition from dream world to real world, I found myself, again, lost in a pizza-filled reverie…
Only this time, I was holding my camera in my right hand. I looked down at the pie, sliced up and picked apart. It was ovular, misshapen, and half-eaten. I was angry in my dream. Mad at myself for lacking the necessary restraint of a food blogger. On shooting day, you never eat the finished product before photographing it. And I’d eaten half of it…sloppily, I might add.
I opened my eyes on Sunday morning and breathed a sigh of relief…Nelly’s annoying lyrics now taking on new meaning, providing some bit of comfort. It was just another dream. Another dream about pizza. I hadn’t actually devoured my pizza mid-shoot. I still had a full pie ready to be baked, photographed, and, eventually, eaten.
I padded my way downstairs, still groggy and longing for my morning cup of coffee. But first, I had to check on my precious dough ball, just to confirm. I found her just where I’d left her, chilling in the refrigerator and twice the size she was the day before. She grew fast. I looked down at her like a proud mamma. Thankful my real-life self had more restraint than my dream self so that I could finally photograph this Fontina, Spicy Fennel Sausage, and Dandelion Greens Pizza for you here. And the good news is I managed to finish the entire shoot without eating a single bite. Well, except for the lowly piece of sausage below. My real life self is clearly much more dedicated than my dream self…
- 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast
- ½ teaspoon of granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- ¾ cup of warm water
- 2 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons of kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped roughly
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
- ½ teaspoon of dried oregano
- 1 28-ounce can of whole peeled roma tomatoes, with tomatoes broken up with hands and juice reserved
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- ½ teaspoon of pepper
- ¼ pound of ground spicy Italian sausage
- ¼ teaspoon of dried fennel seeds
- 1 large handful of dandelion greens* (leaves only), about 1-2 loosely-packed cups
- ½ tablespoon of olive oil
- salt and pepper, to taste (about ¼ teaspoon of each)
- 1 handful of cornmeal
- 1 handful of flour
- 6-8 ounces of fontina cheese, broken into small pieces and divided into two parts
- extra olive oil, for brushing crust
- flaky sea salt, for sprinkling on crust
- Being making the dough for the pizza at least 18 hours before you’re ready to cook the rest of it.
- Fit a dough hook to your stand mixer. In the mixing bowl, combine yeast, sugar, olive oil, warm water, flour, and salt. Mix the dough on low until combined and you notice it pull away from the sides of the bowl. Increase the speed to medium-low and continue kneading for 5 minutes, or until the dough becomes smooth and supple. If you’re kneading by hand, this will take a little longer, about 8-10 minutes.
- Place the dough ball in a large bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rest for 24-48 hours in the refrigerator.
- Once the dough has risen for at least 24 hours, you’re ready to cook the rest of the pizza. Take the dough out and let it rest at room temperature, covered, while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- In a saucepan or deep skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes, or until garlic becomes fragrant. Add the oregano, tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Use an immersion blender (or food processor) to purée the sauce until smooth. Leave to simmer on the stovetop for 20-30 minutes while you prepare the fennel sausage and dandelion greens.
- To prepare the sausage, mix together the ground sausage in a small bowl and then cook it over medium heat in a skillet until cooked through, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from the skillet and set aside.
- In the same skillet, toss the dandelion greens, olive oil, salt and pepper. Sauté over medium heat until just wilted, about 2-3 minutes. Set aside.
- Begin by heating a pizza stone or a large cast iron skillet the oven at it’s highest heat (around 500 or 550 degrees F.) Dust a work surface (ideally a pizza peel) with the mixture of cornmeal and flour. Using your fists, work from underneath the dough ball to stretch it out into a circle that is roughly 12-14 inches in diameter, or enough to cover the tray/stone you’re using to cook the pizza on. Place on the floured pizza peel and press down to finish shaping the pizza until it reaches your desired shape.
- Remove the pre-heated pizza stone or cast iron skillet from the oven (carefully, it will be seriously hot!) Gently peel or slide the dough off of the pizza peel and onto the skillet/stone. If it doesn't land perfectly in your hot skillet/stone, grab a pair of oven mitts and gently shake the dough so that it settles back into its circular shape.
- Quickly top the pizza with a small circle of the tomato sauce and use the back of a spoon to spread it gently around, stopping just 1 inch from the edge of the crust. I only used approximately 7-8 tablespoons of the pizza sauce, but you can store the leftover sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week for later use. Top the pizza with three quarters of the broken up pieces of fontina cheese. Brush the crust of the pizza dough with olive oil and sprinkle with flaky finishing salt.
- Cook in pre-heated oven for 8-9 minutes or until you see the crust beginning to rise and the cheese melt. Open the oven door and carefully add the fennel sausage and the remainder of the cheese. Continue to cook for another 3-4 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the cheese is melted. Remove from the oven, top with dandelion greens, and eat hot!
Dandelion greens are relatively easy to find. Throw a rock and you’ll probably hit a patch of them. Try to gather young weeds that haven't flowered yet as they'll have superior flavor. If you’re having trouble finding them in your own neighborhood, sometimes they are available for sale at groceries. Some alternatives to using dandelion greens include broccoli rabb or arugula. Prepare them the same exact way as I have here.
If you plan to freeze the pizza dough before using it (a great idea if you want to make double or triple batches for later use), I would let the dough rest in a warm place for 2-3 hours to give it a chance to rise before you plop it in the freezer. Once it’s risen, wrap it in plastic wrap and place it in the freezer for up to 2 weeks. When you’re ready to use it, remove it from the freezer and place it in the refrigerator for 6-8 hours to thaw and then bake it as usual.
Pizza dough recipe adapted from Ashley Rodriguez’s Date Night In (2014).