Tinky Weisblat, food blogger and author of The Pudding Hollow Cookbook, recently put out the call for variations on squash pizza. Here’s one you might try: winter squash with salmon, blue cheese, pine nuts and fried sage leaves.
I first encountered this pizza in Ashland, Oregon at the Standing Stone Brewing Co. and I have made it many times since then. It can be made with the ubiquitous acorn or butternut varieties, but it simply defies gravity if made with blue hubbard squash.
Growing up in New England we often had blue hubbard at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. The blue hubbard is an heirloom cultivar of Cucurbita maxima, which originated in South America. Stories vary, but it seems likely that the squash was introduced to coastal Massachusetts in the late 1700s.
They are quite large and have a rind so tough that you’ll use a hatchet to open them up, or just as often, drop them from a roof. This is why it will keep for months in a cool cellar. In exchange for the difficulty of accessing the interior, one is rewarded with the creamiest, sweetest, and most carroty-colored winter squash.
A few days after Ashland, my companion and I stopped in Chico, California. Substantively, we were there to visit the famed Sierra Nevada brewery. But in the morning, after breakfasting in the restored Hotel Diamond, we stumbled upon the farmers’ market.
A young couple just starting a dairy operation was selling homemade cheese. A gentile farmer was selling fall root vegetables and winter squash. In the center of his big display was a ‘gourdious’ blue hubbard weighing eight or ten pounds, but by no means as large as they come. I marveled. He said he hardly grew them anymore. They were so big that people didn’t know what to do with them.
I imagine you’d need to be deft at canning or have a lot of hungry people at your disposal. Then again, you could be a fellow like me, struck by the scent of autumn leaves and the almost unnatural color of that knobby squash, images that triggered deeply embedded melancholy of shorter days and wood stoves. He dug it out of the arrangement and sold it to me for five bucks. I drove all the way back to Nevada with it sitting beside me. Then I made this pizza.
Blue Hubbard & Pink Salmon Pizza
Ingredients for Two 12-inch Pizzas
- 1.5 – 2 lbs fresh pizza dough (many grocery stores now carry it, or make your own according a favorite recipe)
- 2 cups blue hubbard squash in large rectangular blocks, say 1 x 1 x 2 inches
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 teas shallot, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp flour
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- pinch nutmeg
- salt and pepper
- 8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 8 oz. fresh salmon cut into 1/4 in thick slices
- 8 oz. crumbled blue cheese
- 2 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
- 12-18 fresh sage leaves
- 1/4 cup canola or peanut oil
Open the blue hubbard by your preferred means and remove the seeds and membranes. The seeds can be cleaned, salted and toasted for a great snack. Cut the squash into workable large chunks and, with all due safety in mind, hack the rind off with a cleaver. Reduce a portion of the squash to rectangular blocks for this recipe, and store the rest of the squash in the refrigerator until unexpected company arrives. Your goal with the squash blocks is to steam them until al dente, then you will slice them into domino-shaped pieces to put on the pizza. This will take about 15 minutes in the steamer.
Prepare the cream sauce by sautéing the shallots and garlic in the butter over medium heat in a small saucepan. Soften but do not brown them. Stir in the flour with a whisk and continue to stir until no longer smelling like flour. Slowly add the cream while stirring to create a smooth consistency. Still over medium heat, reduce slowly with occasional stirring until mixture coats the back of a spoon. Stir in the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.
Arrange your mis en place: prepare the cheeses, salmon, and pine nuts and have ready. Heat the oil in a small pan until a sage leaf placed in it crisps up in about 5 seconds. Fry the sage leaves and set on absorbent paper.
Preheat your oven to 450ºF, or hotter. Roll or hand stretch the pizza dough into two rounds, each about 12 inches in diameter and possessing a raised edge to help retain sauce. Place the dough on a pizza peel or cutting board that has been sprinkled with a little corn meal to make transfer to the oven easier.
Dress the pizza as follows: spread the cream sauce evenly over the surface, followed by mozzarella cheese. Generously arrange the sliced, par-cooked squash over the surface, then the same with the salmon. Sprinkle the pine nuts over all, then lightly crumble the sage leaves on top. You can either put the blue cheese on at this point, it will disappear during cooking, or sprinkle it onto the hot pizza a minute or two before removing from the oven (better option).
Bake in a hot oven for about 12 minutes, until the crust is crusty, the sauce is bubbling, and the salmon is opaque. Serve with a malty, yet hoppy autumn ale, such as Sierra Nevada Tumbler, Long Trail Hibernator or splurge for St. Bernardus Prior 8. Enjoy! TPJ