The ironic thing about recipes, a tool for home cooks, is that it is easy to get overwhelmed by them: too long, too many ingredients, too many steps. When I share a four-parter with someone, I am used to seeing them recoil.
But if I were to guide that same cook through the steps in their kitchen, they wouldn’t be as trepidatious. Besides, the best meals are often made off the page, conjured out of convenience or cravings. The written recipe attempts to capture some kitchen magic that can’t be exactly replicated.
I like to think of recipes more as guidelines, and indeed when I’m cooking from one, I almost never follow it verbatim.
I thought about that recently, when I adapted a recipe for a very autumnal pizza topped with butternut squash, bacon and blue cheese from the cooking blog halfbakedharvest.com. When I started writing out a version to share with you, my eyes began to glaze over.
So we’re going to break it down to one component at a time, the idea being that you could make all of these components on different days throughout the week, then assemble them the day you want to eat, and the workload will seem much lighter.
And it’ll pay off. I served the regular version of this pizza and a vegan version at a family birthday party recently to rave reviews. In hindsight, I wished I hadn’t served it as the appetizer, because the rest of the meal simply couldn’t stand up to the seasonal flavor bomb that is this pie.
Roast butternut squash
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Spread 4 cups cubed butternut squash on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon each olive oil and honey, then use your hands to toss everything together so the squash is coated. Add 1 teaspoon cinnamon and ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus salt and pepper to taste, then toss again.
Roast until squash is tender when pierced with a fork, about 25 minutes. You’ll want to stir it a couple of times during the cooking process so each side gets lightly browned. Remove from the oven, let cool and refrigerate for up to 3 days if not using right away.
Make caramelized onions
These onions get cooked in apple cider, a clever way to introduce the necessary sugar. Thinly slice 1 large white onion. Add 3 tablespoons butter to a large skillet over medium heat and, when it’s melted, add the onions. Stir, season with salt and pepper to taste, then let cook for 10 or so minutes, stirring so the onion softens and gets slightly darker.
Add ½ cup of apple cider to the skillet, stirring to loosen the onions and coat them in the cider. Let cook for another 15 or 20 minutes, until the onions are quite soft and caramelized. If saving for later, let cool then refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Place 4 to 6 strips uncooked bacon on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, then check and flip bacon to the other side. Cook for another 5 or 10 minutes, checking every 5 minutes until bacon is cooked to your desired crispiness. Let cool, roughly chop, then refrigerate for up to 3 days until using.
Assemble your pizza
For the pizza crust, you can store-bought or homemade. Go with an uncooked, unformed dough, then stretch it into a square or circle on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
Thinly slice 1 small apple and mince 2 garlic cloves. Drizzle some olive oil on the pizza dough and top with apple slices and garlic. Spoon your desired amount of caramelized onions on top, then add butternut squash.
Now, the cheese. Scatter 4 ounces crumbled goat cheese, 2 ounces crumbled blue cheese and about 2 ounces fresh Parmesan cheese atop the crust. Top pizza with bacon and a handful of freshly chopped sage. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste.
Bake in oven for about 25 minutes, checking at around 15 minutes to see how the pizza is progressing. It’s done when the cheese is melted and the crust is lightly browned.
Serve with more Parmesan cheese.