Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pizza with Caramelized Fennel, Onion, and Olives

Last night I used fennel raw in a creamy white bean spread. But I've always liked fennel best when slow-roasted or caramelized until golden. This fennel topping for pizza fits the bill, and it's elegant but easy.  To streamline preparation, prepare the topping while the dough is rising..

For the dough:
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 2/3 cup warm water (between 100 and 110 degrees)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 teaspoons yellow cornmeal
For the topping:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cups thinly sliced fennel bulb
  • 2 cups thinly sliced onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
For the remaining ingredients:
  • 1 cup bottled tomato-basil pasta sauce (such as Organicville)
  • 1 cup shredded Daiya mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup pitted and coarsely chopped kalamata olives
1. To prepare the dough, dissolve the yeast in the warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer and let stand for 5 minutes.  Lightly spoon the flour into dry measuring cups and level with a knife.  Add 1 and 3/4 cups flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the yeast mixture; beat with the dough attachment of the stand mixer until smooth.

Note: This is only the second time I've used the dough attachment of my stand mixer, but I was quite pleased with the results. Despite the whirling, unfocused image below, that dough hook was actually turning rather slowly, and it gathers up all the bits of flour into a nice soft ball.

2. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.  Add the remaining 1/4 cup flour as needed, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands. The dough is quite tacky at first, but I only needed an extra 3 tablespoons of the flour.

3. Place the dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning so the top is coated as well.  Cover and let rise some place warm and free from drafts (such as a closed oven) for 45 minutes - the dough should be doubled in size.

4. Punch the dough down and knead about 5 times; let rest for 15 minutes.  Roll into a 12-inch circle on a floured surface, and transfer to a pizza pan or baking sheet coated with cooking spray and sprinkled with the cornmeal.  Crimp the edges to form a rim and set aside.

5. Meanwhile, prepare the topping: heat the olive oil in a large skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat.  Add the fennel, onion, 1/2 teaspoon salt, oregano, thyme, and black pepper; cook for 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the fennel is golden.

6. Spread the tomato-basil sauce evenly over the crust, leaving a 1/2-inch border.  Top evenly with the fennel mixture, and sprinkle evenly with the mozzarella and olives.

7. Bake at 450 degrees for 18 minutes, until browned. Cut into 6 wedges to serve.

Nutrition Info:
6 servings (1 wedge), Calories 296 

Tasting Notes:
The topping is piled high, making this like a Chicago-style deep-dish pizza - fantastic. This may be heresy to vegan cheese lovers everywhere, but honestly, the sweet caramelized fennel and salty olives were so good that the Daiya mozzarella was almost superfluous. Don't get me wrong; the gooey cheese was still yummy, but I might try this particular pizza without it next time. The crust had a nice crispness, but was a touch too floury and cornmeal-y, so I'd go easy on the flour during kneading next time.

Update: As should be the case with any pizza worthy of the name, leftovers were equally delicious served cold from the fridge the next day.


Vegan extra:
An extra note about fennel: because all parts of the plant are edible, including the stalks and fronds, don't discard the unused portions after you slice the bulb for this recipe. Here are just a few of my favorite frond ideas:

Chop as you would fresh herbs like parsley, and stir into a traditional tabbouleh salad for a novel twist.

Stir into any Italian tomato sauce (such as marinara) towards the very end of cooking - the licorice hints are fantastic over pasta, and fennel fronds will become your new tomato sauce secret ingredient.

Because the fronds are similar in texture to dill, use where you would chopped dill, particularly Scandinavian-themed dinners like Tofurky beer brats and beets.

Leave the fronds unchopped and add to any dinner as a pretty garnish, as shown here with baked tofu.

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