Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fontina, Caramelized-Onion and Pancetta Pizza

Recipe modified by You Want Me to Cook? on February 6, 2011.
For a commentary-free and printer-friendly version of it, please click here.

Recipe originally published by Cooking Light daily e-zine on Thursday, March 5, 2009.

I’ve always loved pizza.  My mother used to make her own pizza dough and pizza sauce from scratch.  She had special bricks and pans that she used to cook them.  In fact, we had this large antique oven in the basement just for cooking pizzas (it may still be there for all I know).  Sad to say, I was only ever in charge of stirring the sauce and chopping some of the toppings.  To this day, I still have no idea how she makes her pizza dough.

This recipe was one of those dishes that sounded absolutely delicious, but every time I read through the ingredient listing and directions, I would say, “yum, but not this week… too much going on.”  After having dinner with my uncle and aunt who made us the most delicious pizza with their own homemade pizza dough, I was inspired.  I pulled this out and decided this would be my pièce de résistance of our Super Bowl Sunday meal.  Besides, if I was going to put a lot of effort into a dish, why not do it for guests?  I did have the phone number of our favorite pizza joint out, just in case.

By the way, it is a three-smoke-alarm recipe.  Yeah, I needed to ventilate the kitchen when I was done.

My finished product:

© You Want Me to Cook?
Fontina, Caramelized-Onion and Pancetta Pizza
Picture published with recipe:

© Cooking Light

My pizza didn’t seem to be as piled high with “stuff”.  My crust definitely looks crispier and more golden – a trait that is a requirement for my pizza.  Overall, I wouldn’t turn away either pizza, and I was eager to try it.

for more details about what my ratings mean, go to Gretchen’s Rating System

MessYIKES – kneading dough is always a sticky mess.  There’s just no way getting around it.  Don’t let that deter you though… there isn’t anything better than homemade dough/bread.  Trust me.  I also had the distinct pleasure of having to chisel off burnt onions from the bottom of my Dutch oven.  That actually was (a) worse than the mess made by kneading the dough and (b) totally not the fault of the recipe, but the chef (me).

Start-to-Finish Time: WELL OVER THREE HOURS – Remember, most of this is letting the dough rise, but you’re still going to have to plan for it.  I also recommend giving this a trial run before attempting to make it for a party.  I was frazzled trying to get it out by half-time.

Prep Work: SLIGHT BLOOD LOSS – Just slicing (not even chopping) onions, but be prepared to cry – A LOT.

Ease of Recipe: MORE THAN I BARGAINED FOR – I can’t really blame everything on the recipe.  I was focused on several things – including entertaining – while I was cooking and unfortunately, my inattentiveness meant burning a little bit of food.  Also, I didn’t have optimum conditions for my dough rising, which took me a while to figure out, along with a couple extra hours.

OverallSORRY HONEY, NO LEFTOVERS – All the work was worth it.  It. Was. Delicious.  I would most certainly make it again and hide the leftovers from my husband.

Recipe Information:
Time estimates are from the original publisher of the recipe, not the length of time it took me to create it.  Look for my comments below.  Nutritional Information is based on original recipe.  Any changes I make to reduce the caloric, fat, cholesterol or sodium content are not reflected in the Nutritional Information.

Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Servings: 8

Nutritional Information (2 slices)
  • Calories 238
  • Total Fat 7.3g (Saturated Fat 2.7g)
  • Cholesterol 16mg
  • Sodium 300mg
  • Total Carbohydrate 34.8g
  • Fiber 3.1g
  • Protein 8.6g
  • Iron: 2mg
  • Calcium: 87mg

The recipes really didn’t have any time estimates on them, so I added up the working times of the recipe and added in some extra time for prep and active work.  Here’s how the time broke down when I made the pizza:
  • Prep: 10 minutes
  • Mixing dough: 30 minutes
  • First Rise: 60 minutes
  • Second Rise: 80 minutes (during which I made the onions and pancetta)
  • Assembling Pizza: 15 minutes
  • Baking Pizza: 13 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours 28 minute

The pieces aren’t that big, but if you’re eating the pizza with something else – I made this fried salami salad with breaded cheese – you’ll definitely have enough food for 8 people.  The nutritional information is pretty decent, but I got this recipe from cooking light, so I’d hope it would be.  I didn’t monkey with any of the ingredients.

Changes denoted by red text

Pizza Dough:
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dry yeast (about ½ package)
¾ cup warm water (105°F to 115°F)
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
Cooking spray

Pizza Toppings:
1 teaspoon olive oil
1½ ounces pancetta (Italian-style bacon), chopped
8 cups sliced onion (about 3 large)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
¾ cup (3 ounces) shredded fontina cheese, divided
Thyme sprigs (optional)
Cracked black pepper (optional)

Ingredient Notes:
Warm Water – I didn’t have to heat my water to get it to 105°F to 115°F.  I had my tap around medium heat and used my meat thermometer, of all things, to test the heat.  Once I found a setting that was in the range – I tried to stay on the high end in case it cooled down quickly – I filled my glass measuring cup and was ready to go.

Olive Oil – this particular case has two different uses for the olive oil.  It is part of the pizza dough and also brushed on the dough to help it brown.  I used my less expensive oil for it and it still tasted delicious.

Pancetta – you can find pancetta (pronounced pan-SHEH-tuh) in the deli department in the same area as the “fancy” cheese and meats.  You can substitute prosciutto (in the same place) or bacon if you can’t find it.  The stores where I shop sometimes don’t have it on hand and I don’t always feel like waiting at the deli counter to have them cut it.

Thyme – I was going to use fresh herbs for this dish, but I couldn’t find fresh thyme.  I ended up using dried in its place and it still tasted great.

White Pepper – black pepper has a little more flavor, but both can be used interchangeably.  According to Cook’s Thesaurus many cooks use white pepper to avoid “black specks” in their dishes.  I honestly have no idea why Cooking Light selected white instead of black pepper, but I had it on hand, so I used it.

Fontina – I had to really search for fontina (pronounced fon-TEE-nuh) cheese.  It was with the fine meat and cheese in the deli department and I had to dig around in the cheese section.  It should be with the semi-firm cheese.  It melts well and is mild.  You can substitute provolone if you can’t find it.

Thyme Sprigs & Cracked Black Pepper – these were optional and I didn’t use them.

Equipment Needed:
Pizza Dough:
Thermometer - temperature of water
(2) Large bowls
Spoon - mixing
Spoon - dry ingredients
Knife with straight side (leveling)
Plastic Wrap

Pizza Toppings:
Cutting Board
Sharp Knife
Dutch Oven / Large Skillet
Large Spoon
Rolling Pin
Large Baking Sheet
Small Bowl
Pastry Brush
Pizza Cutter

Equipment Notes:
Thermometer – I am fortunate to have a meat thermometer that is digital and can even register the temperature of the room – it is that sensitive.  I used it to make sure I had the right temperature of water for the yeast.

Dutch Oven / Large Skillet – the original recipe stated to use a large skillet, but 3 large onions is A LOT to put in my largest skillet.  If you don’t have a skillet that is large and deep, use your Dutch oven.

Large Baking Sheet – make sure the baking sheet is at least 9x9 since that will be the size of the pizza.  I baked mine in two batches so I didn’t have to try to find one that would fit both.

Ordinarily, I have you prep all your ingredients prior to beginning the recipe, but since there is a lot of resting time with the dough, I changed things around a little.  The prep work will be noted in the recipe.

(1)  Get out the ingredients for the dough and measure the sugar and yeast.

This is imperative since you are going to mix the yeast and sugar in hot water that can cool down quickly.  You want to get the water you need and be able to immediately add these ingredients.

(2)  Using the thermometer, get the ¾ cup of water between 105°F and 115°F.

(3)  Prepare the pizza dough:
(a)  Dissolve sugar and yeast in ¾ cup water in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes.
(b)  While the yeast is activating, lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups, and level with a knife.

How you measure your flour can make or break a recipe.  The reason why they suggest to spoon and level the flour is to make sure you don’t pack the flour into the measuring cup as you would if you were scooping out the flour with your measuring cup.  You’ll get the least amount of flour into the measuring cup with the spoon and level method than you would any other way.

(c)  Stir oil and salt into yeast mixture and then 2 cups flour to form a soft dough.
(d)  Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes).

I know it goes without saying, but make sure you wash your hands and make sure the area you are going to knead the dough is CLEAN.  You’re going to be mixing the dough with your hands and pushing it into the counter, so anything on either of those things is going to be kneaded into the dough along with the flour.  And make sure you don’t wear any jewelry – you’ll be picking dough out of your rings for weeks.

Make sure you have the first tablespoon of flour (see next step) ready because you will have VERY sticky hands.  You’re not going to want to touch your tablespoon measure or put your hand in the flour.  Don’t worry; it will clean off as you knead the dough.

(e)  Add enough of remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time (4 tablespoons = remaining ¼ cup), to prevent the dough from sticking.
(f)  Place dough in large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning dough to coat top.

When I put the dough in the bowl, it sizzled.  A quick Google search revealed nothing about why this would happen.  Just know that it doesn’t hurt the dough.

(g)  Cover dough, and let rise in a warm place (85°F), free from drafts, 40 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

This step made me laugh.  It’s the dead of winter in the Midwest during the tail end of snowpocalypse (after the snow falls and then it gets brutally cold so all the snow freezes into ice on the roads – fun times).  It is only 67°F in my house!  My trick was to use my oven’s “warm” setting.  I turned it on and put the covered bowl in front of the vent on the top of the stove.  Worked like a charm – just make sure you don’t get the bowl too hot!

(h)  Punch dough down. Cover and let rise 40 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

(4)  While the dough is rising the second time, prep your ingredients and put them in the refrigerator until the dough is almost ready.

(5)  As it gets near the end of the rising time, prepare the pizza topping:
(a)  Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; add pancetta, and sauté for 2 minutes.

And this marks the first time my smoke detector went off.  I’m not sure if the olive oil got too hot or the pancetta cooked too quickly, but I was actually shocked when the smoke alarm started to blare.

(b)  Add onions, thyme, salt, and white pepper; cook 15 to 25 minutes or until onions are browned, stirring frequently.

The original recipe stated 25 minutes of cooking time, but I only went around the 10-15 minute mark.  It may have been because I had the heat too high.  Whatever the case, WATCH IT CLOSELY!  And you guessed it, this set off the smoke detector as well, and the burnt mess on the bottom of the pot was a pain in the rump to clean.  I literally gained muscles, I had to scrub the pot so hard.

(6)  When the dough is complete, preheat oven to 475°F.

(7)  Assemble and cook the pizzas:
(a)  Divide dough into 2 equal portions; roll each portion into a 9-inch circle on a lightly floured surface.

Before you start rolling, punch and stretch the dough into a circle to help keep it round.

(b)  Place dough circles on a large baking sheet coated with cooking spray.
(c)  Brush each prepared pizza crust with 1½ teaspoons oil; top each with half of onion mixture.
(d)  Sprinkle half of cheese over each pizza.
(e)  Bake at 475°F for 9 to 13 minutes or until crusts are crisp.

The recipe said 9 minutes, but it took me 13 minutes to get the crust crisp the way I like it.  This also marked the third time that my smoke detector went off.  This time it was from the cooking spray burning on the pan where there was no pizza.

(8)  Cut each pizza into 8 wedges.

(9)  Garnish with thyme sprigs and sprinkle with black pepper, if desired.

So let’s cover the disasters that occurred:
  • I had a difficult getting the dough to rise
  • I ended up with a smoke filled kitchen not once, not twice, but three times
  • I had a horrible burnt mess on the bottom of the pan I cooked the onions.

But it was all worth it.  The sticky dough, the smoke detector, the frustration of wishing it was the middle of summer to help my dough rise… all of it.  My advice is to try this when you don’t have company waiting to eat.  It will probably make it much less stressful for you.

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