Fennel and Feta Pizza

I’m way too excited about the meal I just made/ate with my husband to think up a clever title for this post. There you have it; “Fennel and Feta Pizza.” Huh, you must be thinking, what on earth could they have made? Ah, well, save the wit for another time and let’s get down to business. This pizza was AMAZING! I just finished eating and could not wait to share it with you! First, let’s take a look at the beautiful finished product, then I’ll walk you through the steps.

Yum! I want another piece just looking at the pizza! My husband was unexpectedly free this evening (he’s a musician, so that’s a rare thing) and we knew two things: (1) we wanted to try out the pizza dough setting on the breadmaker and (2) we wanted to use fennel on our pizza. Tonight’s dish was adapted from this braised fennel pizza from Serious Eats and customized based on what we had in the house and the flavor profile we were in the mood for. To give you fair warning, this is a seriously savory pizza with some strong flavors, but it is delicious!

Before we started too much prep, we got the pizza dough going in the breadmaker, using simply the recipe that came in our owner’s manual. While the breadmaker was chugging along, I cut the stalks off our fennel bulb and peeled the outside. Yes, you read that right, peeled. The outer layer of a fennel bulb is very thick but also has very tough strings. By using a vegetable peeler, you can get rid of those strings without losing the entire outer layer. This step is completely up to personal preference. Next, I washed the bulb in cold water and chopped it as if I was chopping an onion:

Keeping the base on the bulb, I stood it up on the base and sliced to but not through the base in about 1/4 inch increments vertically and then horizontally. Then I laid the bulb on its side and cut off the base resulting in nice, small slices of fennel:

I think this is by far the easiest way to break down fennel. As you can see, I reserved one stalk with fronds for later. Next, I sauteed the fennel slices in 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet with a lid (keep the lid off for now). I sauteed the fennel for about 5 minutes.

Once the fennel was golden brown, I added 1 cup of chicken broth and covered the pan to let the fennel braise until it was soft. I love using Pacific Natural Food’s 1 cup sized chicken broth, because I don’t use broth very often and if I get a larger container, I always end up wasting about half when it goes bad. Plus, it’s cute. (On the left is my current favorite olive oil, California Olive Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil.)

So, here are the fennel slices beginning their braise:

I braised the fennel with the lid on for about 10 minutes over medium heat, then removed the pan from the heat. Using the cover, I drained the remaining braising liquid into a measuring cup. It came to about 1/3 cup. In the recipe from Serious Eats, they use a cream sauce flavored with Anisette liqueur. I thought that this braising liquid would give a nice dose of flavor to my own version of the cream sauce. Into a small sauce pan, I poured this remaining braising liquid and added an equal portion of heavy cream (in my case 1/3 cup). To this sauce, I added 1 scant tablespoon of cornstarch to help thicken it, a few gratings of nutmeg, and a few cranks of black pepper (probably about 1/4 teaspoon each). The sauce cooked down, reducing to about half of its original size, while the rest of the work was happening on the pizza.

When the dough came out of the breadmaker, it had to be kneaded for a few minutes then left to rest for 10 minutes in a ball.

The dough smelled amazing and was fabulously soft and stretchy, so I had a feeling we were in for a treat. After kneading and resting the dough, my husband took over the job of forming the crust as the oven preheated to 425 degrees. We like to make flatbread pizzas, for which you pre-cook the dough once it’s stretched directly on the middle rack of the oven just until it is cooked through enough that you can easily pick it up. For this type of pizza, you want to stretch the dough quite thin and be sure to spread it carefully on the rack in the oven. Half of the above dough ball turned in to a pre-cooked crust that looked like this:

This dough is about 2′ x 1′ and 1/8″ thick.

Once the dough had cooled for a few minutes, we topped it with chopped up fresh mozzarella, crumbled fresh feta, and the braised fennel. This then went back in the oven until the mozzarella was melted and slightly browned. While the pizza continued to cook, we separated the fronds from the stalks of fennel and chopped them into about 1 inch pieces.

Meanwhile, the sauce had finished reducing and had thickened up quite a bit. Everything was ready for the final assembly!

Once the pizza came out of the oven, we sprinkled it evenly with the chopped fennel fronds and drizzled a small amount of the sauce over the pizza using a ladle. I emphasize “small” because this is a very powerful sauce. It is a significant reduction of the already-reduced braising liquid and could easily overpower the delicate flavors of the mozzarella and the braised fennel. Go easy at first…you can always add more.

This was a very unique and enjoyable pizza; the dough was ever so slightly sweet, the sauce and feta were salty, and the braised fennel and mozzarella were mild and creamy. All in all, quite a delectable treat and I highly recommend giving it a whirl!

Edited to add: If you are in the mood for more fun and exciting pizzas, be sure to check out the Facebook page for my sister’s pizza food truck, “Pizza Party Cart,” which is based in Oregon and features local, fresh, and delicious pizzas!

~CM

My Love Affair with Beets

I. Love. Beets. Truly, I do. My affair with beets began later in life. I never tried them until I was in my early twenties, but when I did, there was an instant connection. The subtle sweetness, the crisp texture, the vivid color; it all came together to form the perfect relationship with my mouth. Due to the late start, beets and I are making up for lost time. Basically, if I see beets on the menu, I order them, forsaking all other foods.

So, you can imagine my glee when I saw three perfect beets in our CSA share last Wednesday, and I was even more excited to see them left when I returned from the Midwest. I had big plans yesterday for making up some beet tzatziki, but I got a call from a fellow teacher for a beach day and said, “Yes, unequivocally, yes!” After the beautiful day at the beach, it was almost nine by the time I started cooking. Way to late to get too creative. In the freezer, I had a grilled pizza crust, so I put together a delicious flatbread pizza.

I started by roasting the beets. First I scrubbed the beets really well and put them in a tin foil packet with some olive oil and salt and pepper. I cooked them at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. After they cooled, I peeled them and sliced them thinly. I brushed the dough with olive oil, topped it with some slices of fresh mozzarella, the beets, and some leftover fresh ricotta from Monday’s pasta dinner. I baked all this at 450 degrees for 5 minutes. In the meantime, I roughly chopped the pea tendrils that were left and tossed them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. I topped the pizza with these and baked it for 3 more minutes.

The flavor combination worked very nicely. It was the perfect post-beach tasty treat. Plus, I love how neon pink the pizza dough turned!

Today, for lunch, I was working on clearing out more space in the fridge for this week’s CSA share. One thing that my husband hadn’t eaten while I was out of town was the Hakurei turnips. Now, I’ve never cooked with (or eaten, I think) these so I wasn’t sure what to do. I read about braising them, stir-frying them, and putting them on salads. One suggestion that I really liked was to “just eat them.” After trying one turnip raw, I decided to make a giant salad, using a large bunch of lettuce, sliced up turnips, and my leftover roasted beet. I also added in some more ricotta and some dry roasted pepitas for a bit of nutty crunch. Dressed simply with olive oil, it was the perfect summer lunch (even though it was cold and rainy again today, ugh.)

All in all, a very satisfying day and a half with my beets. Good news: there’s more in today’s CSA! Check back tomorrow to see what else we got and what steps I take in my relationship with beets.

~CM