We were recently invited to a birthday "pie party", where the host asked us specifically to bring an "Italian dish with sausages". The request put me in a tough spot: Although sausages are a specialty of the Veneto region where I'm from, it is hard to find them in a dish that you can bring pre-cooked to a buffet-style dinner. Sausages in Veneto—peppery and coarsely ground, with no fennel seeds or other spices—are mostly grilled on the spot and served with polenta.
As I started thinking about a dish that would be appropriate for the occasion, I remembered the pizza dough from The Italian Store in the freezer, calling me hauntingly like Poe's tell-tale heart. I also remembered a recipe for "Escarole-Stuffed Pizza" in an old issue of Gourmet Magazine that sounded pretty fantastic. I knew what to do: a stuffed pizza with sausages, Swiss chard, and mozzarella.
The only problem was, I'm still completely terrible at stretching dough. I'm too clumsy and impatient, and I always pierce several holes in any dough (or fabric, actually) that passes through my nervous hands. (Upon close inspection, you will notice that my pies are just a perplexing puzzle of broken pieces haphazardly thumbed together.) I needed help, and my very helpful and patient husband was happy to do the stretching with the lovely but fundamentally useless assistance of MiniBee, our oldest son. So I stood on the side and took the pictures, and begged my husband to write a little how-to for you coordinated and smart readers. (You'll find it below; keep on reading.)
3 sweet Italian sausages (about 1/2 lb)
1 crushed garlic clove
1/2 bunch Swiss Chard, chopped
1 C cubed mozzarella (drained for 10 minutes)
2 tbsp EVOO
1 pizza dough at room temperature (only best-quality dough—DC people, you can only use Vace or The Italian Store or make your own)
MAKE THE STUFFING
- Heat the oven to 500 degrees and put a large pot of salted water to boil.
- Blanch the Swiss chard in water for 2 minutes, then strain it and dump in ice water. Dry with paper towels.
- Squeeze out the meat from the sausages' casing. If you don't love doing this like I do, find someone who will.
- Cook the sausage meat, breaking up large lumps with a wooden spoon, in a large skillet for 8 minutes or until browned and cooked through. Transfer a large mixing bowl.
- Cook the crushed garlic in the rendered fat for 2 minutes. Discard.
- Add the Swiss chard to the skillet and cook for about 4 minutes.
- Mix the Swiss chard with the sausage, let cool for for a few minutes, and then add the cubed mozzarella.
- Sprinkle with one tablespoon of EVOO and salt and pepper to taste.
- Cut 1/3 of the pizza dough and stretch on a floured surface to a 9'' diameter.
- Place the dough in the cake pan, sprinkle with EVOO, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the dough is golden. Let cool for 10 minutes or until you can touch dough and pan with your bare hands without risk of erasing your fingerprints.
- Spoon the filling on the crust, keeping it about one inch away from the border.
- Stretch the rest of the dough to a 10'' diameter. Place the dough it over the pizza and carefully fold it underneath for about an inch. Press edges so that the stuffing is perfectly enclosed.
- Brush the top of the stuffed pizza with olive oil and sprinkle with additional salt.
- Cook in the oven for 10-12 minutes, or until your pizza looks like the one in the picture above.
HOW TO STRETCH PIZZA DOUGHWhether you have been a show-off and made your own pizza dough or simply bought it from your local pizzaiolo, you'll still need to transform that sticky ball of goodness into a soft, elastic, and impossibly thin disc. The first thing is, the dough should be room temperature. Too cold and you will actually feel it resisting your touch (insert joke here). Then, you should have plenty of flour on your working surface. Once you're ready, plop the dough on the flour and dust it liberally. Do not to fold the dough over onto itself: The time for kneading has passed, and all you would be making is a really crappy croissant. Instead, flatten the dough with your fingers, pushing it outward from the center, and flip it often in the flour. Soon the dough will begin to soften, and at that point you can start to stretch it—literally, pick up the flattened dough, hold it in front of you, and pull at it gently while turning it like a steering wheel. Eventually the dough's own weight will be enough to continue stretching it (that's why those guys flip it in the air!). You really want to make the dough almost paper thin, but without creating any holes. There are other tricks to making non-compliant dough more elastic, including dousing with olive oil, but really—flour is your best friend. —Alec