I rounded out of winter with a serious hankerin' for dandelions. It's not just that they sounded sortakinda good. I had a bone-deep craving for them. January and February didn't cooperate. They were very dry and the plants weren't feeling the love. Then a weekly pattern of snow and cold set in, which further delayed the plants emerging. But you've gotta believe that when those first tender dandelion leaves poked through the dirt, I pounced on them (I was going to make the analogy, "like a mountain lion on a jogger," but I guess that probably wouldn't go over very well. If I only make the bad joke within the safety of parentheses, it doesn't count).
The first thing that struck me when I started harvesting the dandelion leaves was how much the leaves smelled like the dandelion flowers we all know so well. That surprised me. Had I forgotten it over the off-season? Was it something I simply took for granted in the past? After a long winter, that smell was downright bliss-inducing.
I guarded my little dandelion brood with great care. Each time the snow and freezing temps would revisit, I'd head out to the garden and cover them with a few inches of straw. When the sun returned again, I'd clear the straw away. My neighbors laughed at the attention I gave those silly "weeds." But those weed were to me like honey to a bear (see, a nice safe analogy).
At first, I'd just stuff the leaves into my mouth raw, delighting in their fresh greenness after eating pickles and preserves for so many months. Next, as they became more abundant, I'd saute up big pans full of dandelion leaves. I was still so hungry for them that I'd burn my fingers trying to sample bites right from the pan.
Eventually, as my dandelion cravings became slightly less desperate, I came up with this recipe. I'm pretty sure that I could get anyone to declare that they enjoy dandelion greens with a slice of this pizza. Imagine, the slight bitterness of dandelion greens set off by a garlic-y white sauce, smoky bacon, sweet onions, and spicy pickled peppers. It's so good that I'm tempted to describe it in an embarrassingly cliche way like, "it's a party in your mouth." Oh yeah, I went there! Don't worry, though. I won't go so far over the line as to start saying words like foodie or yum-O.
1 batch of your favorite pizza dough
1 batch of white sauce (recipe follows)
2 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces
1 shallot, cut into thin half moons
4 handfuls of dandelion greens, cut into 2" pieces
a splash of white or red wine vinegar
6-8 pickled peppadew peppers, sliced into slivers
1/2 c. shredded melty cheese (I used queso oaxaca, but mozzarella would also work)
1. Roll your pizza dough into a 14" circle.
2. Spread the white sauce over the raw pizza dough.
3. Heat a heavy bottomed over medium heat. Add the bacon, and let it cook until the fat has rendered out, and the pieces become crispy. Fish the cooked bacon pieces out with a spoon, and reserve them for later.
4. Add the sliced shallot the the pan, along with a pinch of salt, and stir it around to get it coated in bacon grease. Let the shallot cook in the pan until it becomes translucent and starts to take on a little bit of brown. Add the dandelion greens, and stir them until they are also coated in the bacon grease. Add another pinch of salt. Cook the dandelion greens until they have wilted and turned a deep green.
5. Turn off the heat, and add a generous splash of vinegar. This is very important, as it will help to tame the bitterness of the dandelion greens. Plus, it just tastes stinking fantastic.
6. Sprinkle the cooked dandelion/shallot mixture over the pizza. Use your fingers or a fork to make certain that the dandelions are evenly distributed.
7. Next, add on the pickled peppers (the sweet tangy heat of these peppers is key to the flavor balance of this pizza, I get mine from the local grocery store olive bar), the cooked bacon pieces, and the melty cheese. Press down lightly on the whole works.
8. Cook your pizza in the hottest oven possible until the crust is cooked all the way through. Look to your original pizza crust recipe to see how long this will take. All of the other ingredients are cooked, so you only need to bake the pizza long enough to cook the crust and make the cheeses bubbly.
White Pizza Sauce
1 T. butter
1 bulb wild onion, grated (or use garlic)
1 1/2 T. sorghum flour (or use wheat flour)
1/8 tsp. salt
several grinds of black pepper
1 tsp. dried herbs of your choice, I used Monarda fistulosa
1/2 c. whole milk
1/4 c. grated hard cheese, such as Romano or Parmesan
1. In a small heavy-bottomed pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat.
2. Add the grated wild onion, and let it sizzle until it becomes fragrant.
3. Add the flour, stirring to combine it with the butter. Continue stirring, and let the mixture cook for a minute or two.
4. Stir in the salt, pepper, and herbs.
5. Slowly whisk in the milk. Continue to gently whisk the sauce as it continues to cook. Let it remain on the heat until it thickens to the consistency of pudding.
6. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the hard cheese.
7. Let the white pizza sauce cool to nearly room temperature before using it on raw pizza dough.