Blue Hubbard & Pink Salmon Pizza

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.

The underappreciated Blue Hubbard squash (Source: Harlem Community Farm Share)

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

Cream Sauce

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 teas shallot, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • pinch nutmeg
  • salt and pepper

Toppings

  • 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

Preparation

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.

Cream sauce nicely thickening.

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.

The colorful toppings ready for assembly.

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).

Blue Hubbard Squash and Pink Salmon Pizza.

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


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Pear and Lamb Moussaka

Recipes are made to be broken, and I broke this one good. Moussaka, in case you’ve never had the privilege, is something of a shepherd’s pie indigenous to the Mediterranean region. The name comes to us from the Arabic word for a chilled salad, though most Americans are more familiar with the Greek variation of the dish which is served hot.

Versions of moussaka are served in countries ranging from Greece and Turkey to the Middle East to North Africa. The dish is seasoned with cinnamon, among other spices, which harken back to the days of the Ottoman Empire and the related spice trade. It has been said that moussaka is a national dish of the Ottoman Empire, but that may be an overstatement, since the versions of moussaka are so varied they bear little resemblance to one another.

The once mighty land of moussaka.

And what is this dish? Well, the Greek version is a three-layered casserole, with cooked sliced eggplant on the bottom, seasoned ground lamb in the middle, and a cheesy sauce Béchamel on top. Other versions may employ potatoes, zucchini, or other types of ground meat. I had been reading online recipes for the dish when certain posters were disclaiming this recipe or that with such epithets as “This is not moussaka, potatoes are a New World food and would never be used…” That was just enough motivation for me to make my anti-recipe-Nazi moussaka. Besides, I was already thinking about how cinnamon and cumin would pair with pears… what to do?

Pear and Lamb Moussaka

Ingredients for 8 Servings

  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 cups onions, chopped finely
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 lbs ground lamb
  • 2 teas ground cinnamon
  • 2 teas ground cumin
  • 1 teas ground coriander
  • 1/2 teas curry powder
  • 1/2 teas sea salt
  • 1/4 teas ground black pepper
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup fruity red wine
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 ea Red Bartlett or Anjou pears
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 cups cooked mashed potatoes
  • 8 oz feta cheese, finely crumbled
  • 1/2 teas paprika or dried oregano

Preparation

Lamb, onions, tomatoes, and spices simmering on the wood stove.

In 1 tbsp of oil, sauté the chopped onions over medium-high heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic for 1 minute, then add meat, breaking up into small bits. Continue cooking until meat is no longer pink. Drain away extra fat from the meat, if desired. Stir in the six seasonings and tomato products. Bring back up to a simmer, add wine and water, then simmer for about 10 minutes to slowly thicken mixture.

Meanwhile, peel and core the pears. Slice into 1/4 inch slices. Coat a 9x13x2 glass or 3 qt. pottery baking dish with 1 tbsp of olive oil. Sprinkle with half of the bread crumbs. Arrange the pear slices over the bread crumbs and top with the remaining bread crumbs.

Prepare the topping by heating leftover mashed potatoes and stirring in the feta cheese. Add a little milk or water, if needed, to loosen potato-cheese mixture to the consistency of applesauce. As an alternative, make 2 cups of instant potatoes according to manufacturer’s directions, adding the feta cheese to the boiling water just before adding the dried potatoes.

Assembly. Spread the cooked lamb-tomato mixture over the pears. Spread the potato-cheese mixture on next. Sprinkle the top with paprika or dried oregano. Bake at 325°F for about 45 minutes, or until juices are bubbling up around the outside and the topping is golden brown. (If you’re really scared of the pears, you can revert back to a more traditional version by substituting two medium eggplants, peeled, sliced, and oven-roasted.)

Serve by itself or with rice and sautéed seasonal vegetables. My beverage recommendations here normally veer towards wine, such as an Argentinian Malbec or a Spanish Tempranillo. Beer will work very well, too. You can’t go wrong with a malty brown dubbel or bockbier. I especially recommend the Moretti La Rossa!

A great fall dish to warm the insides.

Epilogue. Breaking with recipe traditions opens up whole new doors of flavor. It reminds me of the time I had a business lunch with a group of suits. It had been my job to source the restaurant, and I chose Donna Nordin’s Cafe Terra Cotta. CTC was one of the greats in the New Southwestern style.

One of the guests asked, “What’s good here, Matt?” I replied, “They’re famous for their goat cheese stuffed prawns.” And he says “Why would anyone ever stuff a prawn?” He had a steak. I had the prawns. The business deal never materialized. Food is the great lie detector. Cheers! TPJ

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