acorn squash, arugula, asiago, balsamic vinegar, butternut squash, cheddar, cheese, dairy, dough, gorgonzola, lemon, main dish, maple syrup, MontAmore, mozzarella, New World, olive oil, parmesan, pizza, red pepper flakes, squash, vegetarian, vinegar
Sam and I recently attended a couple of cheese tastings/classes at our local natural foods store, where we learned all about European, or “Old World,” cheeses, and “New World” cheeses, as in cheeses produced in the U.S. based on those traditional, timeless techniques. Working our way backwards, we started with the New. In this first class, we tasted four different cheeses from the Wisconsin cheese company Sartori: Parmesan, Asiago, MontAmoré (a Sartori original), and Gorgonzola. Sharing “tasting notes” and recipes while munching on cheese, fruit, bread, and wine got me thinking about one of my favorite recipes involving one of my favorite cheeses: Roasted Squash, Gorgonzola, and Arugula Pizza. Okay, all of my recipes involving Gorgonzola are among my favorites, but this one might be at the top. I thought I’d also share my class notes in addition to the recipe.
The first two cheeses we tried are two I think are pretty familiar, and, to me, fairly similar. Parmesan and Asiago are both hard, aged cheeses, and the particular ones we tried from Sartori were really nice. I’m no aficionado, but the differences I noted were that Parmesan was drier, crumblier, where the Asiago was a bit moister and creamier. Personally, I preferred the flavor of the Parmesan; it had that classic, complex Parmesan nuttiness that the Asiago lacked. Perhaps the simpler flavor of the Asiago however is what makes it so great and versatile for so many different uses. Some of the suggestions made were: pasta, cheese plates, sandwiches, soups, casseroles, and fondue. So, pretty much anything—I venture to assume that the texture of the Asiago makes it a creamier melting cheese, and I will turn to it more often as an all-purpose cheese now that I know a little more about it.
The next cheese we tasted was even creamier, the MontAmoré. This was my favorite cheese of the four we tried that night, which is saying a lot because they were all good. Sartori actually created this “hybrid” cheese from a cross of Parmesan and Cheddar cultures. I should have taken better notes when they were talking about cultures, because that’s all I remember, oh and something about different cultures being integral in the production of different cheeses. I consulted Sam to see what he remembered about cultures from the class. “Well, the Italians liked cheese because of their Mediterranean culture,” he said with a smirk.
A little internet research and I’m reminded that there are many different kinds of cultures (living microorganisms), originally native to a particular environment, and that is what is meant by “New World Cheeses,” that is, that the cheeses are made in the New World, but from cultures originally found in the Old World (Cheddar from England, Parmesan from Italy, etc.). “New World” also refers to the cheese’s literal place of origin, as the land, the climate, the air and water, the cows and what the farmers feed them, all play an important role in the terroir of the final product.
For MontAmoré, that final product is fruity, creamy, tangy cheese flecked with tiny, delightful calcium crystals. I once tried a cheese that had these crystals and unknowingly found them off-putting. At this class I learned they are actually a difficult-to-achieve, desirable natural effect of the aging process, but it was not this knowledge that changed my mind about them but simply the wonderful intrigue they add to this semi-soft, easy-to-eat cheese. I loved the pairing of MontAmoré with a chewy, yeasty bread, so when someone mentioned it made a great grilled cheese sandwich, I ardently wrote that down.
Our last cheese of the night was chosen appropriately as it was the brashest, strongest-tasting of the bunch. It may not have the smooth seductiveness of the others, but I love Gorgonzola. That said, the Sartori Gorgonzola I found to be a bit too salty for my preference. Upon reflection I would say this one might be better enjoyed in small quantities on a cheese plate with some dried fruits and honeycomb, and a red wine assertive enough to stand beside it, rather than in a recipe where it needs to integrate and complement other flavors simultaneously. On this pizza, however, it plays well with others.
I will talk about two Old World Gorgonzolas in my next post; I’ll tell you now that all three varied wildly, but this pizza is a good canvas for any of them. It’s a little different, but if you like even one of the elements, you must try them together. The contrast of flavors atop each slice just balance one another so well. The squash is soft and sweet from roasting with a little oil and maple syrup, the salty Gorgonzola melts around it, and then you top the whole thing hot out of the oven with lightly dressed, peppery arugula. It’s warm and rich and bright and fresh all at once. Old World or New World, I highly encourage you to make it with whatever Gorgonzola you can find.
These measurements will make two pizzas, which I almost always do these days when I make pizza at our house. It can easily be halved, but who doesn’t like leftover pizza? The arugula will probably wilt completely, but it’s not gross . You can add more fresh arugula after you reheat it if you like. Another note: this is a great way to eat squash on its own. We’ve had Maple-Red Pepper Roasted Squash as a yummy side dish on many occasions.
- 2 acorn squash, one pound each, or two pounds of butternut squash (get small ones if you can, they are less stringy and more flavorful)
- 4 tablespoons maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 pizza crusts or 2 pounds pizza dough (Remember you’re going to be using one baking sheet to roast your squash, so plan accordingly. This is when parchment paper or Boboli pizza crusts can come in handy.)
- 4-6 ounces (about 1 to 1 1/2 cups) crumbled Gorgonzola (Use more or less depending on your taste and your particular Gorgonzola. Sartori Dolcina Gorgonzola is rather salty, I used less than 4 ounces total.)
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella
- 2 cups arugula
- Squeeze of lemon juice or a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- For acorn squash, rinse and dry the outside of the squash, then slice in half from top to bottom and scoop out seeds and gunk. Slice squash into 1/2 to 3/4-inch wide half moons and pile on a baking sheet large enough to hold squash in a single layer. If you’re using butternut squash, follow the same procedure, but peel it first (no need to rinse since you’re doing this). The butternut squash is going to turn out a little softer, the sturdy acorn squash might look a bit prettier. Really the decision is between whether you prefer peeling a big raw squash (butternut) or many small, cooked squash slices (acorn). It’s up to you.
- You are going to spread the slices out to cook, but for now, roughly pile them on your baking sheet to make mixing easier (or use a bowl). Drizzle with the syrup and olive oil, sprinkle with the red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper, and give it a light toss to evenly coat. (I use my clean hands.)
- Spread out the squash in a single layer and bake for about 10 minutes, flip the slices, and bake 10-15 minutes more. The squash should be tender and golden.
- While the squash cools a little bit, prep your crust. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, press and stretch out two 13-inch rounds if using fresh dough.
- Crumble (or smudge, if you’re using a deliciously buttery Gorgonzola) 2-3 ounces or about half a cup of Gorgonzola on each crust, followed by 1 cup of mozzarella on each crust.
- When squash is cool enough to handle, remove skins if needed (acorn squash) and scatter on top of the cheese. You can leave the crescents whole or tear them into pieces, as I do, to crowd more on!
- Bake pizza until golden and cooked through, about 20 to 30 minutes.
- Toss arugula with lemon juice or balsamic and scatter across pizza right after it comes out of the oven. The arugula will wilt just a bit and be ever so delicious. (Oh! Untested tip: I was thinking you could cut the pizza before you add the arugula to keep more of that leafy goodness from sticking to your cutter instead of making it to your mouth!)