I had the weirdest dream last night. (Wait; don’t run away! You’ll notice I did not start out with “Dear Penthouse Forum, I never thought this would happen to me…”). After a snowy afternoon of baking beet brownies and watching Kitchen Nightmares, I went to bed and had a dream about Gordon Ramsay. (Did I not just tell you that Penthouse Forum was in no way involved? Get your mind out of the gutter. Take mine with you.)
In my dream, apparently GR had hired my husband as an ice climbing guide. (Hey, it could happen.) And following a successful day of not killing one of the world’s top chefs, my husband naturally brought him home to dinner. Without telling me. As a “surprise.” (This is the point where Dreamland definitely diverged from Reality, as I did not kill said husband the moment he walked through the door.) As it turns out, my subconscious was more than up to the challenge of feeding Chef Ramsay. Conveniently, I had already planned a spectacular dream dinner: caramelized fennel & bacon pizza.
Oh, I hear you. “Pizza?” you say. “One of the world’s great chefs walks through your door and you feed him pizza?” Pizza. And not only because the thought of handing Gordon Ramsay a beautifully-chefy plate of food and then asking him to plop down on the couch to enjoy it, because we don’t have a dining room table (or a dining room), is apparently too much for even my subconscious to consider. This pizza is spectacular. Dare I say: Ramsay-worthy.
Fennel is not quite as soft as onion, so it takes a long time to caramelize, but the results are oh-so worth it: rich, sweet, complex, with just a lingering hint of licorice bite. Caramelizing in bacon grease adds layers of smoky and umami flavor to the already fabulous fennel. Add in three types of cheese, crumbled bacon and red onion on a whole wheat crust? Spectacular. Try this one out, please. Just in case Gordon Ramsay goes tripping through your subconscious anytime soon.
Inspired by Fontina, Fennel, and Onion Pizza by Martha.
- 4 slices thick-cut bacon
- 2 bulbs fennel, halved, washed and very thinly sliced
- large pinch sea salt
- ½ recipe Whole Wheat Pizza Dough or par-baked crust
- 1 cup grated smoked gouda
- ½ cup grated sharp cheddar
- ½ cup grated Parmesan or other hard grating cheese
- ½ of a small red onion, thinly sliced into rings
- freshly ground black pepper
- fennel fronds, to garnish
- Make pizza dough. Punch down for a second rise if time allows.
- Cook bacon. In a medium-sized heavy skillet, fry bacon over medium heat, turning once or twice, until crisp. Reserve bacon. Strain bacon grease into a small bowl, wipe out skillet, then return bacon grease to the pan.
- Caramelize fennel. Add sliced fennel to hot bacon grease over medium heat. Sprinkle with salt. Stir to coat fennel in grease, then reduce heat to the lowest setting and, stirring occasionally, cook fennel gently until it turns a rich caramel color, about 60 – 90 minutes. Add a little olive oil as necessary to prevent fennel from burning.
- Preheat oven to 550o F (or as hot as it will go). Shape pizza shell and position on a baking sheet, or, if using a pizza stone, on a peel lined with parchment or well-coated in cornmeal.
- Assemble & cook pizza. Sprinkle the shaped pizza shell lightly with Parmesan cheese and a few grinds of black pepper. Spread the caramelized fennel evenly over the crust. Sprinkle about half of the grated gouda & cheddar, then scatter onion rings and three slices of bacon, crumbled. Sprinkle remaining cheese, and crumble the remaining bacon slice over the top. Dust with remaining Parmesan cheese and bake in the preheated oven until cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown, about 7 – 9 minutes. Garnish with chopped fennel fronds. Slice & serve.
Serves 4. Or 2 normal people and 1 World Famous Chef.
- I used a mix of gouda, cheddar and Parmesan cheese here, but any good melting cheese will do. Something with a little tang will offset the sweetness of the caramelized fennel, so think goat’s milk, aged semi-sharp, or smoked. A mix of cheeses, some mellow & melty, others sharp or grassy, will add a layer of complexity to the final flavor.
- While bacon takes this pizza over the top, the caramelized fennel is richly flavored enough to stand on its own: for a vegetarian version of this pizza, simply omit bacon and caramelize the fennel in olive oil instead.
Refrigerated for up to 5 days. Reheat in a 350 degree F oven.
Late fall, winter, early spring.