Fennel and Sausage White Pizza
When I want pizza, I usually order in. There’s something so magical about a classic slice with that squishy yet crisp crust, and the perfect sauce to cheese ratio. Not having to do the work to make it is always a plus, too. The only exception I have to the ordering pizza rule is if I’m craving something different that pizza shops don’t typically have, or if I want to whip up something fun and impressive for whatever occasion life throws at me… it could be a random Saturday and I want a fun project, or it could be a virtual dinner party with friends (or a real one, when that time comes.) Regardless, this pizza is a great *non-pumpkin* fall recipe and its extremely easy to make. I made my own crust which I don’t have an exact recipe for because I’m still perfecting it, so either make your own with another recipe (there are tons online!!) or go with a store-bought crust in the can! I have absolutely no judgement against anyone who gets the crust from the can. I love it and honestly, prefer it’s doughiness sometimes. If you do decide to make your own crust, I would go with a recipe that uses instant yeast, just because it makes life a little easier. Or, you could even go with a nice hearty cauliflower or chickpea crust, which goes beautifully with the fennel and sausage flavors. That was actually my original idea but then I decided to go for classic carbs, because carbs.
Now let’s talk toppings. That’s really what this recipe is all about. I was vibing fennel because, well, it’s now officially fall and fennel is in season. To be honest with you, I used to not like fennel because of its licorice flavor. BUT, not all fennel tastes like licorice. I mean, it does, but the level of that licorice intensity depends on how you prepare it. For instance, if you decide to eat fennel raw in a salad, it will give off that strong licorice aroma and flavor. If you decide to caramelize the fennel, that licorice flavor kind of dies down and becomes an element in a new type of heartier, slightly sweet flavor.
If you are making your own crust, make this filling while the dough rises. It will take about 10-15 minutes. First, we’re cooking the sweet Italian sausage, then removing it and any excess fat from the pan. We will leave about 2 tsp in the pan and then cook our fennel in the rendered fat (yum.) This fat will give our fennel a nice hearty, meaty flavor, and it goes beautifully with that licorice-y vibe but also subdues it a bit. After this filling is done, we are going over to our pizza and topping with ricotta, mozzarella, raw shallot slices, our new sausage and fennel mixture, more raw fennel stalk slices, salt and pepper. We then bake it and let it come to life.
My husband isn’t a fennel person, but he loves this pizza. It just has so many flavors that compliment and balance each other out. The ricotta is creamy and slightly sweet while the mozzarella adds some saltiness. The fennel compliments the hearty, meaty sausage (which also contains fennel seed) and the shallot adds that last punch of savory flavor. Just trust me on this. Let’s get cooking.
If you’re new to cooking with fennel, check out this article explaining the anatomy of a fennel. This will just make it easier for you during ingredient prep!
|Olive oil, for the pan and dough|
|1lb sweet Italian sausage, removed from the casing so it's like a ground meat|
|3cups fennel bulb slices, sliced into half rings or strips (save frond and stalks for later)|
|3cloves garlic, minced|
|whole milk ricotta, to taste|
|whole milk mozzarella, to taste|
|1large shallot, sliced into thin rings|
|1lb pizza dough, of your choice|
|Fennel fronds, to taste, for topping|
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees, or if using store bought pizza dough or pre-made flat breads, preheat the oven according to the package.
Lightly season a skillet with olive oil over medium high heat. Add the sausage and break the meat apart with a wooden spoon or spatula. You don't want to add too much oil because the sausage will render a lot of fat during the cooking process.
Cook the sausage until it is golden brown on all sides. Remove the sausage from the pan and set it on a plate. Also remove any excess fat from the pan, leaving about 2 tsp behind in the pan. You can save the sausage fat in a jar and use it for roasted potatoes or veggies, or you can toss once it cools down.
Adjust the heat to medium and add the sliced fennel to the pan.
Sauté for 5 minutes, until the fennel begins to with and become slightly caramelized (AKA golden brown.) Add the garlic and sauté another 2 minutes, until fragrant. If you have a lot of golden brown bits on the bottom of the pan, pour 2 tbsp of water into the pan and scrape them off until they combine with the water.
Let the water cook off and then add the sausage back to the pan, tossing all of the ingredients together for one minute. Remove the mixture from the heat.
Put the pizza dough onto a sheet pan or pizza pan and prepare according to the recipe or box instructions.
Sprinkle mozzarella cheese onto the pizza according to taste.