~ Mel's Caramelized Onion & Gruyere Cheese Pizza~
Pizza -- the pie that won the West. Pizza has been in America since the first Italian immigrants arrived on our shores in the early 1900's, but, we have the GI's returning home to the States from Italy during and after World War II for pizza's induction into the American mainstream. Because they had a hankering for the pizza they had eaten while stationed overseas, its popularity soared. We adopted it, glorified it, gave it a place of honor, and, made it our own.
Few foods are more comforting than a "za" or a "slice", and, we Americans buy over three billion pizzas a year -- salty, savory, toppings piled high onto crusty, chewy bread -- it's portable perfection. Take your pick: California-, Detroit-, Greek-, Hawaiian-, New Haven-, New York-, Sicilian- or St. Louis-style. There are bar pies, grandma pies and tomato pies too. There are thick crusts, thin crusts, cracker crusts, and, their shape can be round, rectangular or freeform.
The original pizzas of Ancient Greece in Rome were flatbreads topped with oil and herbs. Pizza as we know it today, in its stereotyped form, the ones made with cheese, tomatoes and crust, made their debut in America's first pizzaria, Lombardi's, in NYC, in 1905. We've come a long way baby, and nowadays, pizza-lovers like myself are emboldened enough to put whatever we want on our pizza without risk of criticism. Enter: caramelized onions and gruyère cheese.
My favorite pizza is a classic Margarita in all its splendor -- a chunky San Marzano tomato sauce (with bits of garlic), buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil and a drizzle of EVOO on a thinnish, crispy, air-hole-blistered crust. That said, I like pizzas without red sauce (or any sauce) a lot -- I find substitutions like homemade pesto refreshing and "bianca sauces" ("white sauces") like Alfredo or garlic-white sauce a pleasant change-of-pace. I don't like pizzas with forms of bacon or ham, salami or pepperoni on them -- high-quality sausage is AOK. I love pizzas piled with fresh, sautéed or blanched veggies -- broccoli, mushrooms, tomatoes and onions are my favorites. A homemade pizza, customized to suit oneself is a thing of beauty. Behold, my beautiful recipe:
Pizza-with-a-French-twist deserves the proper herbes, and, my choice is herbes de Provence: a mixture of dried herbs typical of the Provence region of southeast France. It's easy to make your own, but, I started buying high-quality commercial blends back in the 1970's. They typically contain savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sometimes, a bit of lavender too.
Note of importance: Since it takes 40-45 minutes to adequately caramelize onions for this pizza, I "make up the time" by putting one of my favorite pizza dough recipes in the bread machine. It mixes itself in 55 minutes. No matter what pizza dough recipe you decide to use (mine or your favorite one) add some herbs de provence to it and let it proof while you caramelize the onions.
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon each: garlic powder, herbes de Provence & coarse-gound black pepper
1 packet granulated dry yeast
2 additional tablespoons olive oil, for preparing baking pans
~ Step 1. To prepare the dough, place all of the items in pan of bread machine in the order listed, except for the yeast. Using your index finger, make a small indentation ("a well") on top of the dry ingredients, but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer. Place the yeast into the indentation. Insert the pan into the bread machine, plug the machine in, press the "Select" button, choose the "Pizza Dough" cycle, then press "Start". You will have 2 pounds of dough, ready to use, in about 55 minutes.
~ Step 2. Remove dough from bread machine pan and divide it in half. The best way to do this is with a kitchen scale. The dough will be slightly sticky, yet very manageable.
Place one piece of dough on each pan and let rest for 10 minutes. Pat and push dough evenly into the bottom of, into the corners, and, up the sides of each pan, to form a rectangular-shaped pizza crust. Top pizza as directed in Part Three.
Part Two: Caramelizing the Onions
A bit about caramelizing onions (bypassing all scientific mumbo jumbo): Onions contain a lot of sugar and slowly cooking them on the stovetop draws out their natural sweetness. The longer and slower they cook, the sweeter they get. When lightly-browned or browned, they begin to take on a pleasant, nutty taste. When caramelized to a deep amber color, they get sweet. Caramelizing onions could not be easier, but, it can't be done in 15-20 minutes. You'll need to allow a good 35-45 minutes (depending upon how many you are making, how you regulate the heat on your stove, and, on any given day, how long you decide to cook them). Technically, any onion can be caramelized, but I personally think that sweet onions work best, with yellow onions being my second choice, and, I don't recommend caramelizing red onions at all. My three favorites are: Vidalia (from Georgia), Walla Walla (from Washington), and, Maui (from Hawaii). Also on my list of favorites are Texas Sweet (from Texas) and NuMex (from New Mexico). Before getting started, here are two important tips:
1) To insure even cooking, the onions must be sliced to a consistent thickness -- 1/4" is best.
2) Because the onions will loose most of their volume as they slowly caramelize, start out with a lot more than you think you will need.
For onion slicing instructions, read: ~ How to: Select, Slice, Mince, Dice & Chop Onions ~, which can be found in Category 15.
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons salted butter
3/4 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
2-4 tablespoons white wine, for deglazing pan (stock or water may be substituted)
Using a large slotted spoon or spatula, toss until the onions are evenly coated in the oil/butter mix.
~Step 2. Increase heat to medium-high. Continue to slowly cook, stirring occasionally. After 10 minutes, the onions will have lost a lot of their volume and will be limp and steamed through. ~ Step 3. At this point there will be no signs of browning. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, another 10 minutes. It's now that you are going to start to see what I refer to as light browning. ~ Step 4. Continue to cook, stirring almost constantly, another 10 minutes. Now the onions are nicely browned and they are truly beginning to caramelize. From this point on, do not leave the stove. The onions require constant stirring, and, can go from browned to burned quickly.
~ Step 5. Today, my onions cooked for another 10 minutes, with me stirring constantly, before I added the wine and deglazed the pan, or: for a total of 40 minutes. Deglazing the pan is an important step that takes caramelized onions from ordinary to great. These are some mighty-fine looking caramelized onions (if I do say so myself).
Part Three: Topping and baking the Pizza
dough (from above recipe)
garlic-infused olive oil or olive oil
1 pound grated gruyère cheese (6 cups)
all of the caramelized onions (from above recipe)
herbes de Provence and coarsely ground-black pepper
EVOO & freshly ground sea salt
~Step 1. To top the pizzas, using a pastry brush and a light touch, paint a thin coating of garlic-infused olive oil evenly over the surface of each crust. Sprinkle half of the cheese, 1 1/2 cups evenly over the bottom of each crust. Evenly distribute half of the caramelized onions, 3/4 cup, over the cheese on each crust. Sprinkle the remaining cheese (3 cups) evenly over the tops, 1 1/2 cups on each pizza. Lightly sprinkle with herbes de Provence and pepper.
Bake each pizza, one-at-a-time, in pan, 11-12 minutes. Using a long-handled spatula, slide pizza from pan onto stone and continue to bake 5-6 minutes. Cheese will be bubbling and lightly golden on top and crust will be golden and crispy on bottom. Using a pizza peel, remove from oven and place on a rack for 3-4 minutes prior to slicing and serving drizzled with olive oil.
Cool on wire rack 3-4 minutes prior to slicing & serving...
Mel's Caramelized Onion & Gruyere Cheese Pizza: Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups of caramelized onions and 2, 13" x 9" pizzas of 8-10 servings each, depending upon how you slice it.
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large slotted spoon or spatula; bread machine (optional); 2, 13" x 9" baking pans; pastry brush; pizza stone; long-handled metal spatula; pizza peel; wire cooking rack; pizza cutter
Cook's Note: Sliced and served cold, or hot right out of the oven, when I do have a hankering for ham, salami and pepperoni on a pizza, I put it in my pizza and make ~ Mel's Rotolo Di Pizza (Stuffed Pizza Rolls/Bread) ~. You can find my recipe by clicking into Categories 1, 2, 11, 12, 17, 18 or 22. It can be made ahead and frozen!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)