Friday, March 16, 2012

Pizza with caramelized onions, goat cheese, and bacon

It's a shame that this picture is so gloomy, but the last time I made this pizza, it was dark when it came out of the oven and I had to hold back a pack of ravenous, excited beasts (you know who you are, Mike, Sebastian, and David) to get even these moody photos. But let me assure you: This pizza is delicious, by far the best-loved pizza in my household. I think the original idea for this pizza came down from Wolfgang Puck; I am sure it has been bastardized since his original, but the main concept is the same: sweet and slightly bitter caramelized onions balanced against the acidity of the goat cheese and the salt of the bacon. It is a beautiful thing.  

Making the Dough
A good pizza consists of two major parts: the dough and the toppings. Let's start with the dough. Now, I make pizza dough from scratch, but when I first started making this pizza, I would use purchased pizza crusts. Problem with those is that, like many commercial breads, they tend to have a lot of nearly unpronounceable mystery ingredients, so now I make my own dough. It definitely takes more time and a bit more effort, but I think it's worth it. I've found two pizza dough recipes that I like: The one used in this delicious broccoli rabe, potato, and rosemary pizza from Food52, which comes out crispy and beautiful, and Deborah Madison's basic pizza dough from her book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which is also excellent and takes less time but is a bit less crispy. Here are the directions for Deborah Madison's pizza dough:
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 2 teaspoons (about one packet) dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 to 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3 to 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Note: I sometimes replace 1/4 cup of the all purpose flour with a 1/4 cup semolina flour, which I think make the crust a little crispier, but that's completely optional.

  1. Add the yeast to 1/2 cup of the water and let it stand until it gets foamy (about five to 10 minutes). 
  2. Add the rest of the water, the salt, and the oil to the foamy water.
  3. Then add the whole wheat flour and enough all purpose flour to make a shaggy dough. 
  4. Pour or scrape the dough out onto a floured board or counter and knead until the dough is smooth. Add enough flour to keep the dough from sticking but no more. The dough should be slightly tacky. 
  5. Let the dough rise in a covered, oiled bowl for about 40-60 minutes. (Keep the dough in a somewhat warm place.) 
  6. Turn the dough out on the counter and divide it into the number of pizzas you want (you can make four 10-inch pizzas or two 12- to 14-inch pizzas). Shape the pieces into balls, set them on a lightly floured counter, cover with a slightly damp towel, and let them rise for 20 to 30 minutes. 
  7. About half an hour before you want to put the pizzas in the oven, pre-heat your oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and start shaping the dough. Take one ball at a time, flatten it into a disk, and start pushing the dough out toward the edges until you achieve the size you want. It's helpful to have a baking board with diameters. When you have achieved the size, shape, and thickness you want, let the disks rest for 15 minutes before adding any toppings. (The thinner you can get the dough without tearing, the crispier your final product will be.)
Preparing the Toppings
When you make this pizza, start the toppings at about the same time you start the dough. That way, all you will have to do is add the toppings to the pizza disks just before you put them in the oven.

The toppings for this pizza are caramelized onions, crispy bacon, and goat cheese. You will also need some grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
  • 3-4 large yellow onions, thinly sliced (get ready to cry)
  • 4 Tbsps olive oil
  • 8 slices bacon, sliced into 1-inch pieces (or you can just crumble the slices after they have cooked and cooled)
  • 1 8-oz log of soft goat cheese (Chevre), crumbled (do this with a fork in a bowl and you will eliminate a lot of mess)
  • grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • dried thyme
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
The most difficult thing to do here is to caramelize the onions properly. I've seen lots of recipes add salt or sugar to the onions, but you need nothing but time, patience, and olive oil. The onions will produce their own sugar, and they will be delicious.

To caramelize the onions, bring 4 tablespoons of olive oil to medium heat in a large pan with tall sides (you will start off with a large volume of onions that will cook down to a very small amount) and then add the onions. Stir the onions to coat them completely with the oil and then basically leave them alone for up to an hour, stirring perhaps once every five to 10 minutes. Don't worry if they get a little crispy around the edges, but don't let them burn either. They should look like this when you are done:

When they are done, sprinkle in half to a whole teaspoon of dried thyme and a pinch of red pepper flakes if you are using them. Set the onions aside.

For the bacon, just cook it until it's nice and crispy and let it drain on paper towels. Set aside.

Not much to do with the goat cheese except to break it up with a fork. Set it aside.

Now, when it comes time to make the pizza, here's what to do. First, make sure your oven is on (500 degrees, remember?). If you have a pizza stone and a peel, now is a great time to use them. If you don't, line baking sheets with parchment paper and set your pizzas down on them.
  1. Sprinkle grated Parmigiano Reggiano all over the pizza dough. 
  2. Add half (or a quarter, depends on how many pizzas you are making) of the caramelized onions and spread them evenly around the pizza. 
  3. Sprinkle half (or a quarter) of the goat cheese over the onions. 
  4. Sprinkle half (or a quarter) of the crumbled bacon over the goat cheese. 
  5. Grate some more Parmigiano Reggiano over the top and slide the pizza into the oven. Tip: If you are using a peel, rub some corn meal or flour into the peel to prevent sticking.  
  6. After seven minutes, check the pizza. If it's a little golden brown on top, the pizza is done. If not, leave it in for a few more minutes. 
Voila! You've got an amazing pizza. And, you've also got a basic dough recipe so you can experiment with your own pizza toppings. Have fun with that.  

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