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Italian Sausage Pizza with Caramelized Onion and Fennel

Thursday, March 29, 2012

[Recipe makes two 12-inch pizzas].

I've been meaning to try some sort of pizza that includes fennel for quite some time.  After this weekend, I finally came up with a recipe that ties its flavor perfectly with other classic toppings.  By caramelizing the fennel alongside the onion, you're able to cut down on the strong licorice flavor that raw fennel is known for, bring out its natural sugars, and tie it in with some Italian sausage and a classic garlic béchamel sauce.  Winning?  I think so.

INGREDIENTS:

Pizza dough

1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 white onions, finely sliced
1 bulb fennel, finely sliced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar

1 pound Italian sausage, cooked

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

16 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

DIRECTIONS:

Two days in advance, prepare the pizza dough and let rest in the refrigerator.

On the day of, follow the previous directions for par-baking your crusts.  Cool on wire cooling racks and reserve.

In a Dutch oven, heat the butter and oil over medium heat and add the onions, fennel, thyme, and bay leaves.  After 10 minutes, stir in the salt and sugar.  The salt will help draw out moisture while the sugar will give the onions and fennel a head start on the caramelization process.  Continue stirring occasionally until the vegetables are deep brown in color, roughly one hour.  [Side note:  If you're ever worried that the onions are sticking to the bottom of the pot, add a tablespoon of water and deglaze any fond].  Reserve for assembly.

For the sauce, melt the butter and garlic over medium heat.  Once any bubbles have dissipated and the garlic is fragrant, whisk in the flour.  After one minute, add 1/4 cup of the cream and all of the salt, and whisk.  Once any lumps are whisked out, add an additional 1/4 cup of cream and whisk.  Add the remaining cream, turn the heat to medium-high, and continue whisking.  Once the sauce begins bubbling and thickening, remove from heat and whisk in the grated Parmesan.  Remove from heat and reserve.

Assemble the pizzas starting with the sauce, followed by the mozzarella, caramelized onions and fennel, sausage, and additional dried thyme.  Finish baking until the crust and cheese are browned to your liking, roughly 5 additional minutes.  Transfer to wire cooling racks.  Let cool for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

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