06/3/2010



Fennel, Sweet Onion, and Sausage Pizza

One of the major reasons I’ve been able to be successful with weight loss is that I’ve done it on my terms. I wasn’t about to cut a lot of my favorite foods out of my diet. I still have pizza, mac and cheese (like this), ice cream, etc. The biggest difference is that now, I just go about it differently. I eat a LOT less overall (I can’t eat as much as I used to, even if I try), and I’m more adventurous when it comes to foods that should be bad for me.

For example, when I first saw this recipe in Cooking Light, I thought it sounded horrifying. I like my pizza with pepperoni, sausage, or Canadian bacon. I’ve always been disgusted by the idea of putting vegetables on pizza. Don’t ask me why. I was a weird kid, food-wise, and I’ve maintained some of those weird kid ideas about what’s gross into adulthood.

However, through this whole weight loss experiment, I’ve realized that “unhealthy” foods can be healthy (or at least less unhealthy)—it’s all a matter of how you make it. So, I put aside my ideas about what pizza should be and made this. And it was a very good decision indeed.

I had never tried fennel until I made this pizza. I didn’t even know what it would taste like. I knew what it looked like from my constant watching of Food Network, but I had no idea what it was supposed to taste like. My grocery store only had fennel in the organic section, and it was only sold as a WHOLE plant—bulb to fronds. Many stores sell fennel just by the bulb (or so I’ve heard), which is much more efficient and cost-effective. Anyway, I spent way too much on a whole organic fennel plant, and when the attendant rang it up, it appeared on the screen as “anise.”

I thought, “Anise…where have I heard that before?” Then I remembered making Pan de los Muertos for Day of the Dead in Spanish class, and we used anise in it. And it tasted like licorice…which is good in bread, but on pizza?! I was at once intrigued and disgusted. But, I tread on.

Don’t be afraid. This pizza is delicious. And fennel is surprisingly delicious. The pizza doesn’t taste like licorice. It is very sweet and savory at the same time. The sweet, soft onions and fennel with the sweet and spicy sausage over warm, smoky cheese and topped off with the kick from the chives? Unexpected and extremely tasty. Be adventurous! Try it!

A few notes—I’m posting the original recipe, but:

1) My grocery store did not have chicken apple sausage. It was nowhere to be found. I used lean sweet Italian turkey sausage instead, and it was amazing, as well as being lower in calories and fat.

2) They also did not have fresh chives. I used freeze-dried chives (in the spice section) and they were just fine, although I’d use fresh if I could.

3) I decided to use smoked gouda cheese instead of regular. It was a wise choice. Do whatever your heart desires. It’s cheese—you can use pretty much whatever you want.

4) The recipe suggested Mama Mary’s 12-oz. (7-inch) pizza crust. My grocery store (it sounds really awesome, doesn’t it?) only had one brand of pre-baked pizza crust, and it was 12 inches and 14 ounces. But hey, it was lower in calories and fat per serving than the suggested option, and it was very good. Also feel free to make your own pizza crust; I’m sure it’d be lovely.

Now, at long last, onto the recipe!

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 2 wedges)

Ingredients

  • 3  ounces  chicken apple sausage, chopped (such as Gerhard’s)
  • 2  teaspoons  olive oil
  • 1 1/2  cups  vertically sliced Oso Sweet or other sweet onion
  • 1  cup  thinly sliced fennel bulb (about 1 small bulb)
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1  (12-ounce) prebaked pizza crust (such as Mama Mary’s)
  • 3/4  cup  (3 ounces) shredded Gouda cheese
  • 1  tablespoon  chopped fresh chives

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 450°.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage to pan; sauté 4 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Remove from pan.

3. Add oil to pan. Add onion, fennel, and salt; cover and cook 10 minutes or until tender and lightly browned, stirring occasionally.

4. Place pizza crust on a baking sheet. Top evenly with onion mixture; sprinkle with cheese, and top evenly with sausage. Bake at 450° for 12 minutes or until cheese melts. Sprinkle evenly with chives. Cut pizza into 8 wedges.

Your cast of characters. Only five main ingredients for the pizza (I don’t count olive oil and salt because I always have those on hand). Amazing.

Chop your fennel. If you’ve never used fennel before, this might be confusing. If you had to buy a whole plant (like me), cut off the bulb right where the stalks connect to it. Make sure you wash it thoroughly (especially if you buy it organic). Then, if the outer layer is kind of tough, stringy, or rubbery, you can peel it with a vegetable peeler. Then, just slice it as if you were slicing an onion. As you can see from the cast of characters photo, my fennel bulb was HUGE. I only used half of it to get a cup.

Now slice your onion thinly. I only had to use about half of my onion too. I used a yellow onion, which are a sweet variety. Use any sweet variety of onion you choose.

Brown your sausage. I’d suggest using some nonstick cooking spray here.

My sausage got VERY brown VERY fast. I think my non-stick pan is shot; everything I try to cook in it gets burned lately, no matter how long I cook it! I should buy a new one. Or maybe my stove gets too hot. Anyway, the little bit of burning did not make the dish suffer.

Now, heat up your oil and toss in your fennel and onion. Then sprinkle with your salt. Don’t forget the salt; it’s actually very important. It causes the onions and fennel to “sweat” and get soft. Cover and let them sweat for a few minutes. The recipe says 10 minutes; mine took about half that to get soft and translucent. Some of them even got too brown in the five minutes (ok, it has to be my stove, right??), so just watch them instead of going by the recipe.

While that’s going, shred your cheese. This smoked gouda was sooo delicious.

Now, put your crust on a baking sheet and top with your onion and fennel mixture, cheese, and sausage. Put it in the oven!

Then, obviously, take it out. Top it with chives and slice into 8 pieces.

I absolutely LOVED this pizza. And this is coming from a cheese-and-pepperoni gal, so you know I wouldn’t lie to you.

Here are Cooking Light’s nutrition facts for the original recipe:

Nutritional Information

Calories: 420 
Fat: 18.9g (sat 6.1g,mono 5.4g,poly 5.6g)
Protein: 16g
Carbohydrate: 48.4g
Fiber: 3.4g
Cholesterol: 40mg

And here are mine, accounting for my ingredient substitutions:

Calories: 294
Fat: 7.7g
Saturated Fat: 4.6g
Cholesterol: 27.8mg
Protein: 13.5g
Carbohydrate: 32.2g
Fiber: 2.7g
Sugar: 3.6g

Remember, portion control is the most important thing. These nutrition facts are for two slices. Don’t go overboard! Serve this with a nice big helping of salad with low-fat or fat-free dressing and you won’t need seconds.

I would recommend this pizza to anyone except people who don’t like onions. You really do have to like onions to appreciate it, so use your discretion. And those of you who like or love onions—you will LOVE this pizza! Happy eating!
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