Why It Works
- Baking the pizza on a pre-heated baking steel under a broiler maximizes crispness and gives you pizzeria-quality charred edges.
- Slow-roasting pumpkin enhances its sweetness and intensifies its flavor.
- We incorporate pumpkin in two ways: as tender sweet dollops of mashed pumpkin, and sautéed in butter.
- Sautéing cubes of apple along with the pumpkin enhances its flavor without distracting.
Pumpkin and pizza are not the most common bandmates, but I'm gonna try and convince you that they should get together and jam out a bit more often. For the past few weeks I've been experimenting with different ways of incorporating pumpkin and other fall flavors onto a crisp dough crust. I knew I wanted a pizza that was strongly pumpkin-y with gentle warm spices and a light sweetness, but it had to be something that was still undoubtedly savory enough to eat for dinner.
Here's how I got there.
Step 1: Roasted Pumpkin for Best Flavor
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: those pumpkins that you carve into Jack-o-Lanterns? Forget about them as a food source. They're bland, watery, and stringy. What you really want to use when making a pumpkin recipe is something smaller, denser, and more intensely flavored. Sugar pumpkins or the closely related kabocha squash (sometimes sold as "Japanese pumpkin") have a much more intense pumpkin-y flavor with denser flesh that doesn't get stringy as it cooks.
Like sweet potatoes and other squashes, the key to intense pumpkin flavor is a good, slow roast. Not only does this improve sweetness through browning and caramelization—the breakdown of complex sugars into simpler, sweeter ones—but it also promotes a second kind of sweetening. See, in their normal stored state, pumpkins are packed with bland starches. However, they also contain enzymes that will break these starches down into sugars. As you slowly heat a pumpkin, these enzymes kick into overdrive, making the flesh turn sweeter and sweeter until they finally deactivate as the pumpkin continues to heat up.
I quarter my pumpkins, toss them in olive oil, season them with salt and pepper, then slip them into a 325°F (160°C) oven until they're completely tender (for this recipe, I roast three out of four quarters, reserving the fourth for later on). You should then be able to easily scoop out the soft, sweet flesh.
I tried incorporating that roasted squash flesh in a number of ways, from puréeing it with olive oil and using it as a sauce for the pizza to cutting it into chunky pieces and dropping it on top.
The most effective method of getting a good mix of pumpkin flavor and interesting texture was to make a rough mash. I mashed up the pumpkin flesh with a whisk, adding a drizzle of olive oil, a little honey for extra sweetness, and a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg.
This stuff is good enough to eat with a spoon right out of the bowl, but hold up! We're gonna need it for the pizza!
Step 2: Sautéed Pumpkin for Texture
One form of pumpkin is good, but two forms of pumpkin are even better. I decided to try sautéing cubes of pumpkin in butter until nicely browned, then adding some chopped sage leaves to the mix. Unfortunately, the flavor of the sautéed pumpkin paled in comparison to the roasted.
The solution? Add some apples to the mix. When sautéed together, the apple complements the pumpkin's flavor, making it sweeter and somehow more pumpkin-y without actually tasting overtly of apples.
Step 3: Putting It All Together
Now comes the fun part: assembly. I knew that this was going to be a tomato-free white pie from the start. No point in adding too many extraneous flavors when pumpkin is meant to be the star.
A combination of cheeses worked well. I used shredded Gruyère as the base, along with a few dollops of fresh mozzarella and a grating of Parmesan. I applied the mashed pumpkin in rough spoonfuls, then scattered on the sautéed pumpkin before finishing it with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, and some torn sage leaves.
I popped it under a broiler with a pre-heated baking steel and cooked it for a few minutes until charred. It's really damn tasty. The smashed pumpkin kind of melts together with the cheese while getting these nice crispy, craggy edges. Some sliced scallions added on post-bake are the only garnish it needs.
This year I think I'll be serving a different kind of pumpkin pie.
1 pound homemade or store-bought pizza dough, divided into two 8-ounce balls
1 small kabocha squash or sugar pumpkin, quartered, seeds discarded
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons honey
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1 pinch grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 crisp baking apples such as Golden Delicious, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 tablespoons minced fresh sage leaves, plus 1/4 cup roughly torn leaves, divided
Flour for dusting
8 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese
6 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese
2 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 scallions, white and pale-green parts only, thinly sliced, divided
Place each ball of pizza dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside.
Adjust oven rack to center position and preheat oven to 325°F (160°C). Toss 3 pumpkin quarters with 1 tablespoon olive oil and coat thoroughly with hands. Season with salt and pepper. Place in a cast iron skillet or on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and roast until a knife meets no resistance when poked into the flesh around the stem, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.
Scrape pumpkin flesh out into a large bowl. Add honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Mash with a whisk until a rough purée is formed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
While pumpkins are roasting, cut remaining pumpkin quarter into 1/2-inch dice. Melt butter in a large skillet over high heat, swirling until foaming subsides. Add diced pumpkin and apple and cook, tossing and stirring frequently until tender and browned on most sides, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper; stir in minced sage. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
When toppings are ready, adjust oven rack to top position under broiler and place a baking steel or pizza stone on top. Preheat oven to maximum heat setting. Allow to preheat for 30 minutes.
Transfer one ball of pizza dough to a bowl of flour and turn to coat. Transfer to a lightly floured wooden pizza peel and stretch or roll into a thin circle. Top with half of shredded Gruyère cheese, half of the mozzarella applied in dollops, and a light sprinkling of Parmesan. Add mashed pumpkin in rough dollops around the cheese. Add half of sautéed pumpkin and apple. Sprinkle with torn sage leaves and half the scallion whites. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt. Turn broiler on to high and launch pizza onto baking steel. Bake, rotating occasionally, until puffy and charred around the edges, about 4 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with half the pale-green scallions, and serve. Repeat with remaining dough and toppings.
Wooden pizza peel, metal pizza peel, baking steel or pizza stone
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 3 to 4|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 60g||77%|
|Saturated Fat 25g||125%|
|Total Carbohydrate 80g||29%|
|Dietary Fiber 5g||18%|
|Total Sugars 22g|
|Vitamin C 5mg||27%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|