Space Camp, 1992 and Savory Pumpkin Pizza
Scott and I were invited to play trivia at a pizza joint last night. We are terrible at trivia. Between the two of us, we know about as many answers as the average honey badger.
I have a popular culture knowledge deficit because for most of my childhood I had a crush on Kevin Costner, listened to Michael Bolton, didn’t watch tv on school nights, mourned the loss of the family guinea pig, and highlighted my text books very, very carefully. And there was head-gear somewhere in there. It is physically impossible to cry over the death of Kurt Cobain and other cultural icons when you’re wearing head-gear.
Scott was pressed for his excuse after demonstrating a near total lack of awareness of the late 80s and early 90s.
It turns out he spent that entire time at Space Camp.
Scott went from Washington, D.C. to Space Camp in Huntsville three summers in a row. He slept in a little space camp pod and ate space ice cream and went on mock space missions to the moon and learned all about stars. He developed a crush on a space camper named Susan. He asked her to be his pen pal. They wrote to each other for years. They wrote to each other about outer space.
The Space Camp administrators were so impressed by Scott that they took a picture of him and they put him in the brochure.
What we realized last night is that I must have pored over that brochure before convincing my parents to send me to a one-week version of Space Camp in 1992. Twenty years ago, I sat there in my room, rocking the head-gear, listening to When A Man Loves A Woman and staring at a picture of Scott in his coke bottle-glasses. Fifteen years later, after both of us had given up on the final frontier and our respective facial accessories, we met at a bar.
In trivia, you do not get points for that kind of awesome. We did not win the free pizza.
So we made our own! We made a pizza with savory pumpkin on top and it was delicious.
It tasted like butternut squash pizza (which is awesome), but less sweet and a little punchier, since I added sage and a little grated orange rind.
Pumpkin pizza was made possible by this sign, which inspired me to buy eight pie pumpkins before I knew it was happening.
Thunder liked the pumpkins because sticks are not usually allowed in the house.
The pumpkin recipe below is delicious on its own as a side dish, if you’re not in the mood for pizza. I am including a pizza dough recipe here, but you can obviously use any crust or flat bread recipe you like.
This time around, I worked with this information from Serious Eats about how Roberto Caporuscio (a partner at Keste, in the West Village) makes his pizza dough. The dough I made wasn’t bad, but it was time-consuming and tasted nothing like Keste’s, and the gentleman at Keste said it never will unless Scott builds me a wood pizza oven and cranks it up to 900 degrees. So if you don’t have your own favorite recipe, I recommend the below adaptation of this Bon Appetit recipe (which I thought was both chewy and crispy) unless you like thin crust, in which case you may want to poke around for one because this one may be too bready for you.
I suggest making the dough first, as it rises for about an hour, and you can make the pumpkin topping while you’re waiting.
Savory Pumpkin Pizza with Gruyère and Walnuts
Ingredients for Pizza Dough:
3/4 c. warm water
1 envelope (1/4 oz.) active dry yeast (not instant)
2 c. flour
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. tsp. salt
3 tbsp. olive oil
Ingredients for Toppings:
1 medium pie pumpkin
1 red bell pepper
2 tbsp. butter
1/2 large onion (yellow or white)
1 orange (rind grated, then juiced)
1 tsp. sage (preferably fresh, minced)
1 tsp. thyme (preferably fresh)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2 c. gruyère cheese, grated
1 ball mozzarella (buffalo mozzarella or water-packed mozzarella, cut into rounds: you’ll use about 1/2 ball) or 1 c. shredded mozarella
1/4 c. walnuts
1 tbsp. olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
Directions for Pizza Dough:
Combine the 3/4 c. warm water and the package of yeast in a small bowl. Let stand 5 minutes.
Combine the 2 c. flour, the 1 tsp. sugar and the 1 tsp. salt. Add the yeast mixture and the 3 tbsp. olive oil. Work dough into a sticky ball.
Knead dough for at least a minute until smooth, adding additional flour if it is very sticky.
Lightly oil a large bowl with olive oil. Place the ball of dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for about an hour, until it is doubled in volume.
Punch dough down and work into a circle.
Directions for assembling the pizza follow after the instructions for the toppings.
Directions for the Pizza Toppings:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Rinse pumpkin. Cut pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds. (If you like the seeds, you can reserve them, salt them with kosher salt, and roast them in a single layer on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or until they are dried out and slightly golden.)
Place pumpkin halves face down in a glass baking dish with 1/2 inch of water. Roast for 30-50 minutes, until a fork goes smoothly into the pumpkin. The exact time is not important, since you will be sautéeing the pumpkin on the stove as well.
In the meantime, wash the red bell pepper and remove the ribs and seeds. Cut the pepper into strips about an inch wide. Toss strips in 1 tbsp. olive oil. Place strips on a cookie sheet and roast in the same oven as the pumpkin until tender and skin is blackened in spots, or about 20 minutes.
When each is done, remove the bell pepper and pumpkin from the oven. Let pumpkin cool for a few minutes. Set bell pepper aside, as it will be atop the pizza separately, not in the pumpkin mix.
While the pumpkin is cooling, roughly chop half of an onion. In a sauce pan large enough to hold the pumpkin, sautée the onion in 1 tbsp. butter. The onion should turn translucent but not burn.
When the pumpkin has cooled enough to handle, scoop pumpkin out of the rind. Discard the rind. (Note that this was pretty easy. With a spoon and my fingers, I was able to scoop the flesh and peel the rind right off.)
Chop pumpkin into chunks of about 1 cubic inch. (It is okay if the pumpkin is too tender to hold a chunk shape and the consistency is more like pumpkin puree.)
Add the pumpkin, the remaining 1 tbsp. butter, the 1 tsp. sage and the 1 tsp. thyme, the 1/4 tsp. cinnamon and 1/4 tsp. nutmeg to the sauce pan containing the onion. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sautée over low-moderate heat at least 20 minutes, until tender, stirring occasionally.
Grate the peel of the orange and add 1 tsp. of the peel to the pumpkin mixture. Add the juice of the orange and sautée another 10 minutes. Adjust spices to suit your taste: depending on the size of your pie pumpkin, you may want to add more of the thyme, sage, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon until you get a good balance of flavors.
Remove from heat until it is time to assemble the pizza.
Directions for Assembling the Pizza:
Preheat oven to 500 degrees or as high as it will go.
Work dough into a round or twoand place on a cookie sheet or pizza stone.
Spread pumpkin mixture on first, then add the slices of red pepper and rounds of mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle the gruyère on top and finish with the walnuts. (Note that the cheese amounts above are approximate; do it to taste.) The walnuts do not have to be toasted in advance, as they will toast on the pizza.
Cooking time really depends on the density of your toppings: it took ours about 20 minutes until the crust was crispy and browned.