Spicy, fatty North African Merguez lamb sausage combined with caramelized onions, Bel Paese (semi-soft Italian cheese), mint pesto, and crispy kale, create a gobsmackingly good pizza.
I first posted a photo of this pizza on Facebook where it got several thumbs up, including one that came with a caveat: “but for the kale,” this person wrote. “I know it’s good for you but…” I get it. I might have said the same thing a few years back. After several attempts at a number of preparations, I finally learned to transform the tough, leafy green into some surprisingly tasty dishes, and I’m not turning back. When kale is good, it’s really good.
Oven-baked kale is one of my favorite preparations. If you roast it with oil, salt, and pepper, it crisps up nicely and tastes more like a potato chip. The slightly bitter flavor provides a nice counterpoint to the Merguez sausage, a combo that came to me while staring at my computer screen at the office, wishing I were in the kitchen instead of editing documents. I’ve been combining these flavors in various ways for several months now and the pizza seemed like a natural progression. I scribbled it down on a notepad and saved it for the weekend (despite how simple it looks, it does take some time to prepare). The experiment, partly improvised on the fly, proved so flavorful, I had to memorialize it on the blog so I could remember it for next time.
Merguez Lamb Sausage Pizza with Mint Pesto, Caramelized Onions, and Crispy Kale
1 whole wheat pizza dough recipe, below (or dough recipe of your choice)
1 mint pesto recipe, below
1 crispy kale recipe, below
2 links Merguez lamb sausage, casings removed, sautéed for 8 – 10 minutes, and then drained of excess fat
5 ounces or so of Bel Paese cheese, diced
1 red onion, thinly sliced and slowly cooked on low heat for 35 – 40 minutes
3 – 4 heirloom tomatoes (enough to cover the pizza), thinly sliced
½ cup balsamic vinegar, reduced in saucepan until it becomes a syrup
Whole wheat pizza dough
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons), such as Red Star
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour (plus more for kneading)*
1/2 cup warm water (120 – 130 degrees)*
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
*Start with the minimum amounts, then add and adjust until your dough is smooth and firm, not sticky.
In a food processor, blend the dry ingredients. Then, slowly drizzle in the water and the oil until the dough starts to clump together. If the dough is still crumbly, add slightly more water (about a tablespoon) until it starts to clump. Empty the dough onto a floured cutting board, form it into a ball, and knead for three minutes, sprinkling in more flour on the dough if it's sticky (you want a nice smooth texture that does not stick to your hand or the board). Grease a bowl with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for one hour. Once risen, knead for another 3 – 5 minutes, then roll out onto a pizza stone or cast iron pizza pan greased with olive oil. I love the pure whole wheat flour but if you like a more traditional pizza dough, add half whole wheat, half all-purpose or use an all-purpose recipe of your choice.
1 cup mint leaves
3/4 cup parsley leaves
1 small chunk (about 2 tablespoons) parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons of pine nuts
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients except for the oil and salt and pepper in a food processor. While blending, pour in the oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
1 bunch of kale, washed, stems removed, and sliced into strips
3 tablespoons canola oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Combine kale, oil, and salt and pepper. On a baking sheet, spread out in an even layer so the kale does not overlap. Bake for 30 minutes or until the kale is crispy and slightly browned.
Assembling the Pizza
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Roll out the dough onto a cast iron pizza pan greased with olive oil. Top the dough with slices of heirloom tomato, seasoned with salt and pepper. Bake for 7 minutes. Add the Bel Paese cheese, caramelized onions, and sausage. Bake for another 7 minutes. Top with a drizzle of mint pesto, crispy kale, and the finest drizzle of reduced balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately.
Oh, and P.S., my flash of inspiration coincided with National Pizza Month! How cool is that?