Here's what you're going to do this weekend: Scope out a nearby farmers' market or fall festival, bring home a beautifully dimpled heirloom-variety pumpkin, and make a big batch of pumpkin purée to last until Thanksgiving and, perhaps, beyond. It will take some time and effort, but just like squirreling away Christmas gifts throughout the year or freezing a batch of cookie dough for "emergencies," it's more than worth it. When the purée has finished draining and is completely cooled, freeze 3 cups of it for your 100%-from-scratch T-day pie, reserve 1 cup for this week's pizza, and pack away the rest in the fridge to make smoothies, pumpkin bread, cookies, or soup. (Also, make sure you roast the seeds for snacking.)
For my purée, I brought home a 10-pound Jarrahdale pumpkin from the farm stand. (In John's words, its scrunchy shape made it look "like a grumpy old man.") If you don't feel like schlepping home a 10-pound pumpkin, just pick up a 5- or 6-pounder or a few smaller pumpkins or winter squashes. One 4-pound pumpkin makes about 3 cups of drained purée; you can do the math from there.
Jarrahdales are known for their dense, smooth flesh and concentrated flavor, which make them especially good for pies . . . and also, I learned, pizza sauce. Riffing off of a recipe by Martha Stewart, I used 1 cup of the pumpkin purée to make a creamy, sage-infused sauce, which I topped with crumbled sweet Italian sausage and pecorino cheese. When the pizza was done, I dressed it up with thin ribbons of fresh sage, and the result was homey-yet-sophisticated, earthy and sweet.
TO MAKE PUMPKIN PURÉE: Preheat the oven to 375°F and spray 2 baking sheets lightly with cooking spray. Hack the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, and cut the pumpkin into manageable wedges (about 2 to 3-inches thick). Place the pumpkin wedges on the prepared baking sheets in a single layer, and roast for 45 to 60 minutes, until the flesh is tender and the skin is easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Remove the pumpkin from the oven. When it is cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh into a food processor and process until smooth. Then transfer the purée to a colander or fine-mesh sieve, set a plate directly on top of the purée to weigh it down, and let it drain over a bowl for at least 45 minutes, until the purée is as thick as custard. Reserve the pumpkin juice to use in place of water in other recipes.
Pumpkin, Sausage, and Sage Pizza
Makes one 12-inch pizza
- 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 5 fresh sage leaves, 2 left whole, 3 rolled up and cut into thin ribbons
- 1 cup pumpkin purée (or canned pumpkin)
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1½ teaspoons white wine vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, divided
- 1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese, divided
- 1 (14- to 16-ounce) ball Basic Pizza Dough (or pre-made dough)
Place your pizza stone (if using) on an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 500°F and let it heat up for at least 30 minutes while you make the dough and/or prepare the toppings.
To prep the toppings: Cook the sausage in a small skillet over medium heat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until it is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the sausage to a paper towel–lined plate to drain.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat and add the 2 whole sage leaves. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the sage begins to curl, then use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove the sage from the butter. Stir in the pumpkin, garlic, cream, vinegar, 1/8 teaspoon of the red pepper flakes, and 1/4 cup of the pecorino. Stir until the sauce is heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. If the sauce is too thick, stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons of water or reserved pumpkin juice. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cool.
To stretch/roll out the dough: Dust the ball of dough with flour and place it on a well-floured work surface. Using your hands or a rolling pin, gently stretch or roll the dough into a 12-inch disk.
If you’re using a pizza stone: Dust a pizza peel or the back of a baking sheet with flour or cornmeal. Place the dough disk on the prepared peel.
If you're using a baking sheet: Spray the baking sheet with cooking spray. Place the dough disk on the prepared baking sheet.
To top the pizza: Spoon the cooled sauce onto the dough disk and spread it evenly, leaving a 1/2-inch border of dough. (You will need about 3/4 cup of sauce to cover the dough, but you'll have plenty more if you want a saucier pizza.) Scatter the cooked sausage over the sauce, and top with the remaining 1/4 cup of pecorino cheese and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon of red pepper flakes.
To bake the pizza: Slide the pizza from the peel (or inverted baking sheet) to the hot stone using quick shimmying movements. Bake the pizza for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the cheese has melted. Using the peel or inverted baking sheet, transfer the cooked pizza to a cutting board.
If you're using a baking sheet, place the baking sheet on the rack in the middle of the oven and bake at 500°F for about 10 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the cheese has melted.
Remove the pizza from the oven and let it cool for at least 5 minutes, then scatter the sliced sage over top; slice and serve.