appetizers, mains, salads

farmers’ market monday: caramelized onion + apple pizza salad.

Have you ever managed to completely avoid something, or a genre of something, because you just know you’ll be terrible at it? Or rather just assumed, without bothering with the try/fail nonsense, to forgo a project based on your (imaginary) future failure? I have; I do it all the time. Think back for a minute; have you ever seen a croissant on this blog? A Danish, perhaps? Pain au chocolat? A nice loaf of thick-sliced bread, maybe dinner rolls? No? No, you haven’t. Because I’m scared of two things: yeast-based baking and failure. Because in my life, the former typically begets the latter. And I do not embrace failure with open arms.

During your little mental walk-through just then, you may remember I committed to going to baking school (in a pretend way) with my dear friend Movita Beaucoup. I wasn’t actually going, no; but I was going to start in September teaching myself to do more classic pastry things like croissant and Danish dough, et cetera, in order to support her gigantic undertaking. Looking back, I had just made three types of chocolate cookies and I must have been in some chocolate-induced chemically altered state for thinking I could do that. Now time has passed, Movita is donning clogs and baking things for the public, and I haven’t made one successful attempt at pastry things. This is not to say there haven’t been attempts made; just none I’m willing to share with, oh, I don’t know…anyone.

But then, she made me a sheep for my birthday. That’s right: Movita, who is in baking school, like, 15 hours a day or something, has a real job and also blogs, had time to needle me the world’s most precious sheep. Which means I need to get a grip: I need to focus on the task at hand, which is teaching myself how to not be scared of things which involve rising and/or beurrage and/or lots of flour spread out on my counter.

I made myself a little confidence-booster this weekend, in the form of store-bought pizza dough. Sure, I didn’t make it, but I thought if I could bring it home and manage to not kill it, I could consider it a good start. Thankfully, I didn’t kill it, which means you get an incredible recipe for  individual pizzas topped with salad.

Have you ever had one of those? Delightful. Because sometimes pizza can get too, well, flat in the flavor department. Everything melts together, and although pizza is excellent in general, it’s nice to have a little something to go along with it to brighten things up a bit. With this recipe, you get that little something right on top of the pizza; so efficient, right? I know.

So whether you’re on Team Pizza or Team Salad, now you can be on Team Both: I took some inspiration from last year’s chopped apple salad + pomegranate vinaigrette and paired it with a recipe for blue cheese pizza in The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook. Similar ingredient profiles + a little creativity = delicious little individual pizzas topped with greens. A great fall and winter light lunch, especially with apples in season right now. Once the pomegranates are in, I’ll be using them to top this off as well. Imagine a little smattering of juice-filled seeds over this; I’m excited too.

You eat this pizza and pretend, if you will, that I made from-scratch pizza dough. If you’re talented in that area, please make your own for this recipe. In the meantime, I’m going to dust myself off and work on some pastry for you. Because Movita? She breaks giant mixers all day and cries all night from exhaustion, and still she loves baking school and learning. I love learning too, so I’m going to give it another go.

Adapted and inspired by three things: My chopped apple salad + pomegranate vinaigrette from last year (originally a Bobby Flay recipe from the Bar Americain Cookbook), The blue cheese pizza recipe from The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Cookbook by Dr. Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, and my intense and neer-ending love of California Pizza Kitchen’s pear and gorgonzola pizza, which – when I first had it years ago – was the first time I experienced something so bold as salad-topped pizza.

Caramelized Onion + Apple Pizza Salad

for Team Pizza:

  • 1 store-bought pizza dough (one which makes a full-size/14-inch or so pizza, divided evenly into 4 balls
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter + 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 sweetish apples of your choosing (I’m currently in love with the organic Fiji variety), peeled and thinly sliced*
  • 4 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled and divided (1 ounce will be used for the salad topping)
  • 2/3 cup walnuts, divided (1/3 cup will be used for salad topping)
  • sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

for Team Salad:**

  • 4-5 ounces spinach leaves, hard stems removed (you can use baby spinach, but i like the durability and texture of regular spinach on this)
  • 8 ounces pomegranate juice
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

*I slice apples like an idiot; that is, until recently. When I made the apple pie layer cake for my birthday, I noticed the Momofuku cookbook gave explicit instructions as to how to chop the apples. It was like a light went off. So! take your sharp, serious knife and cut your peeled apples in half lengthwise, and cut those halves into halves. Lay them each on their side and, using a 45˚ angle, slice the core out of each quarter. Brilliant! Then slice each quarter lengthwise into 5-6 slices. 

 **Obviously you don’t need to make the pomegranate vinaigrette from scratch if you feel like that’s just an extra step for you. To be fair, I typically have all the ingredients for it already in my kitchen. If you’d rather purchase it, Litehouse makes an excellent Pomegranate Blueberry Vinaigrette which would serve as a good substitute. Not into pomegranates? Try the Harvest Cranberry or the Raspberry Walnut Vinaigrette. If your grocer stocks it, it will probably be in the produce section.

First, read the directions on your pizza dough package and see where it fits in to your timeline. Mine had it sitting on the counter resting for 30 minutes prior to rolling out, so I began mine mid-onion carmelizing. Although most store-bought pizza dough I’ve seen bears similar instructions, I don’t want to screw you up. As for the bake temperature, use mine; I altered it from the package and it worked very well.

Cooking the apples and onions:

In a large pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Toss in your onion slices, coating them with the oil, and then cook on low, covered, for 25 or so minutes until soft. Remove cover, stir, crank up the heat to medium, and cook until golden brown. This takes about 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you find your onions are taking awhile, crank up the heat to medium high and keep going; this is more about your onions being perfect and less about the exact time.

Preheat your oven to 450˚F and position your rack on the lowest rungs. You’ll want to get out a half, unlipped sheet pan.

Once finished, remove onions from the pan and set aside in a bowl. Add 1 more tablespoon of butter to your pan and let melt. Toss in your apple slices and stir gently and frequently until softened, about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Making the vinaigrette:

In the meantime (or the day before), add your pomegranate juice and sugar to a small saucepan and heat to a bubble over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar has completely dissolved. Let it reduce down until you have about 1/4 cup of juice (which will now look like syrup), watching it closely towards the end so it doesn’t thicken up too much. Set aside to cool slightly, then whisk in your Dijon mustard, honey, vinegar, and olive oil until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Forming the dough balls:

If you haven’t already, shape your 4 dough balls into rough circles around 7-8 inches in diameter (see picture above). Place directly onto a baking sheet and poke each one a few times with a fork. Let rest until the dough gets a little bit of a poof to it (nothing big, but you’ll see the edges start to rise slightly), then brush with olive oil. Place in the oven and bake for 2-3 minutes, until you see your crust start to bubble a little. Mine looked like this:

Use this time to get out/set up your pizza toppings. Make sure your onions, apples, gorgonzola, and walnuts are within reach.

Assembling the pizzas:

Remove crusts from oven and place on a trivet, because the pan is hot and you’ll need to protect the countertop. Remember when you’re working that you’re very near a hot pan. Divide your onions equally over the four crusts, spreading out to about 1/2 inch shy of the edges. Next, divide your apples equally, in whatever fashion you choose. You can place them haphazardly, or you can make a pinwheel like I do (see photos above). Next, divide 3 ounces of the gorgonzola among the 4 pizzas, reserving about 1 ounce to sprinkle over post-bake. Finally, take 1/3 cup (or up to 1/2 cup) of walnuts and sprinkle over, reserving the rest for post-bake. Place back in the oven and bake for 12-14 minutes until crust is golden and cheese is melted, watching like a hawk after the 10-minute mark.

Readying your salad:

In the meantime, chop your spinach leaves into thick ribbons (maybe 3/4 inch wide). Place them in a bowl with a few tablespoons of the dressing and toss, then season with salt and pepper. If you’d like, place it back in the fridge until your pizzas are finished.

Remove from the oven and place sheet pan back on the trivet. Get your spinach salad, walnuts, and gorgonzola out. I let the pizzas cool for just a minute or two, then top each with a handful of dressed spinach leaves. sprinkle the remaining walnuts and gorgonzola over top each salad, then season with a little salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Obviously, this makes 4 light-lunch servings. Whether or not you want to admit this publicly, I bet most of you could polish off two of these if you were hungry. Just saying; plan accordingly, and I won’t say anything.

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  • Reply natalie October 15, 2012 at 9:55 am

    literally…. drooling

    that’s pretty much my favorite salad… i add a little chicken and glazed pecans or walnuts… SOOO Good… i haven’t made it in forever. I really should, with your dressing. and why not throw it on some pizza dough?? WHY NOT?!???!?

    Good god, Shannon, you beautiful (evil) genius… this is SO happening this week. Thanks God (and Trader Joe’s) for pre-made pizza crust.

    • Reply shannon October 15, 2012 at 3:15 pm


      same! i could eat it all year long, and oh: glazed pecans? hello, i’m there, because that’s the best way to turn an innocent salad into a little bite of dessert here and there. DO IT!!! make the salad pizza! If you crave this whole thing as a salad, you will LOSE it over this. I did. those pizzas? GONE. and there were four of them *ahem*

      yay!!! and TJ’s does make such an excellent one; it’s the first place around here where I started seeing it. so innovative to make my crust FOR me without having to be traumatized. so much better than frozen pizza or ordering out.

  • Reply natalie October 15, 2012 at 9:58 am

    also, it has the guise of seeming healthy, because it’s SALAD! (on a pizza crust) … sorry, idk why i’m so excited by this… it just sounds so perfect for the fall weather that we are having (in my imagination)

    • Reply shannon October 15, 2012 at 3:18 pm

      oh, honey, i GET IT. i am still over-excited about this, and will be making this all the time. now that i’m all “dude: i’m a pro with pizza salads!” you can expect more. and this one is already my new favorite pizza thing.

      i know it’s hot there: i feel like right now, if you look at enough food blogs and stay away from the outdoors, you could pretend it’s fall and get away with it. my mom does that in florida; same reason. the “tropical” regions are SUCH a buzzkill for fall right now.

  • Reply Ashley October 15, 2012 at 10:47 am

    I want to be on Team Both, but I don’t think I’ve had a salad-topped pizza yet. Not for lack of desire. Just lack of opportunity…or temptation by every other pizza on the menu. Probably that latter. This one looks so delicious – caramelized onions and apples, yum! Anyway, you can totally do pastry and yeast baking! You’ve conquered multiple Momofuku recipes, played with fire and oil, you can totally rock this! Your approach – pizza dough and bread as an intro to the genre – is a great idea. Start simple, get more complicated. Oh, I’m so excited to see this unfold!

    • Reply shannon October 15, 2012 at 3:57 pm

      Ashley, you can be on Team Both with me; because i can feel that you want to try this, so it counts, even though you’ve never done salad on pizza. You are giving me so much confidence with your little pep talk just then! It’s funny: i can make giant cakes and whatever else, but my talents are frustratingly selective at times. Like how i can paint detail work on walls, but i can’t manage one proper stroke with a rolling brush. you’d think the latter would be much easier than the former, but no; not for me.
      i’m going to do this! part of the reason i love this blog is because you really have to put your stuff out there and not be secret about it. because now i’ve told you i’m going to try yeast baking, so i have to do it. maybe i should do focaccia next; that’s like, half pizza/half bread, right? baby steps. 🙂

  • Reply Emma October 15, 2012 at 10:58 am

    What other way is there to cut apples? I’m curious! I’m trying, but I can’t picture any other way to do it.

    We make pizzas all the time for dinner, but I’ve never tried to gussy it up with leafy greens. Well, not true actually, I’ve popped pizzas back in for a few more minutes and allowed some arugula to wilt nicely from time to time. But uncooked greens, no. Good thought:)

    • Reply shannon October 15, 2012 at 3:36 pm

      OMG I’M SUCH A MORON! seriously, i cut apples so stupid you can’t even figure out how i would have done it?!?! *sigh* leave it to me to completely boff apple-cutting.

      i just used to like, cut two “cheeks” off the east and west sides, then cut, um, smaller cheeks from the north and south. so then the middle is the core, so that’s gone, then i just would slice slices that way. *shame face*

      i suspected you had wilted some arugula over pizza, as have i, and that’s DELICIOUS…mmmm, peppery. I like the spinach because it’s durable on top, so it won’t accidentally wilt like some greens would if left there for more than a minute. it’s a nice cold/hot, crunchy/melty combo.

    • Reply shannon October 15, 2012 at 3:38 pm

      I swear after reading this i did the Napoleon Dynamite “IDIOT!” exclaimation. to and about myself.

      • Reply Emma October 16, 2012 at 4:59 am


        • Reply shannon October 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm

          I like your sleeves. they’re real big.

  • Reply Amy @ Elephant Eats October 15, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    I think you need to face your fears and just do it! I mean the worst that can happen is you waste some flour and butter…and perhaps HOURS of your time (as was the case with my croissant baking disaster chronicled on my blog last september) and your sanity. But other than that, I mean it’s no big deal 😉 This pizza looks great! Store-bought dough is a life saver sometimes…

    • Reply shannon October 15, 2012 at 3:41 pm

      amy, i couldn’t agree more; how bad could it be, right? other than, yes, a few ingredients and hours of your life. 🙂 Now i’m going to go read your failed attempt at croissant baking to bolster my confidence. I think that’s what unnerves me: just the utter WASTE of time and hard work, but i need to get over it and get to work. I forget that others struggle with the same things, and it’s nice to hear i’m not alone.

      thanks! store bought dough, when you can find one you like working with, is THE BEST. It’s nice to let someone else do a bit of the work for you.

  • Reply movita beaucoup October 15, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    You know, I’m starting to feel like my efforts to destroy a 60 quart mixer could be my claim to fame! I’ve never felt so good about a mistake. It’s the stuff of legends. And it’s seriously AWESOME.

    If it makes you feel any better, I’m still afraid of yeast-based baking, and I’m in a boulanger program. Now, it could be the way you’re sprinkling the flour on your counter. I’ve learned that there is a RIGHT way to do this, and a WRONG way. We are not supposed to toss flour on the counter and then swirl it around with our hands. No. This is wrong, We are to grab flour between our fingers and fling it across the surface with great gusto and flair. If you don’t, your chef instructor might glare at you and say, “this isn’t home economics, people, it’s PROFESSIONAL.” Also, he might like it if you yell, “mamma mia,” as you fling your flour. Obviously, I’ll have to make a flour flinging video to show you the proper technique. (Then you’re yeast products will be fail proof.)

    Finally, this pizza looks pretty epic. A fan-kick effort if ever there were one. I find pizza can be heavy. It needs balance. Putting salad on top is the most logical solution to this problem EVER. It creates balance. And should my chef instructor ever lead me to the perfect pizza dough recipe – one that is fail proof? You’ll be the first person I share it with. No lie.

    • Reply shannon October 18, 2012 at 3:09 pm

      the mixer destruction of 2012 will go down in HISTORY. Was it mortifying at the time? Sure it was. But has enough time passed to where we can say ‘remember when’ and rejoice in the funny? I think so. Only people who try super hard make epic mistakes. I bet Aristotle said that. or maybe just me.

      I will require a flour-fling video STAT: maybe that’s what’s wrong with my bread making? I use the toss/swirl method too; that’s incorrect? and HOW CAN YOU NOT YELL MAMA MIA WHEN FLINGING FLOUR!??!? impossible. it’s probably part of the technique; that or screaming out lines from “Moonstruck.” I bet that works GREAT.

      I can’t believe i got a fan kick for that! YES! In my oldish age, i feel i’ve developed an attitude towards pizza. It needs fooling with now. I know your chef instructor will someday whip out some massively awesome pizza dough recipe, and i’m waiting for the day you share it with me. In fact, i’m going to ready Rosemary Clooney’s “Mambo Italiano” for when you tell me i need to fling my dough into the air over my head and twirl it.

  • Reply Faygie Moorvitch October 15, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    Okay, girl. If you are ever in the LA area, you are coming over and I will teach you to make pizza dough! I make pizza once a week for dinner, and I make the dough in my food processor (I hate kneading dough) and it is super, super easy! I make a simple whole wheat dough from Eating Well most of the time, but if I want something nicer or if I’m having guests I make a really yummy one that has semolina flour in it (I’m pretty sure I have that one somewhere on my blog, but I don’t think I included the food procesor method for it). Those are my go-tos, but I still want to try some other ones at some point.

    If you want some pointers, feel free to send me a message on FB!

    • Reply shannon October 18, 2012 at 3:13 pm

      I’m considering that a very serious invitation, Faygie, just so you know. I’m sure you can totally school me in pizza crust and i’m excited about it coming from a food processor! I hate kneading dough too; that may actually be one of my issues because i get very impatient with it. I love both the whole wheat and semolina options!

      added to my to-do list: search your blog and send you a FB message. talk to you soon. 🙂

  • Reply Jen @JuanitasCocina October 15, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    This may have convinced me to buy an airplane ticket straight to your house. I’ll be on whatever team you want, as long as you make this.

    Also, you just taught me how to cut apples. so, you’re totally not alone.

    • Reply shannon October 18, 2012 at 3:15 pm

      so the pizza is what it took? YAY! i have a spare room, and more pizza dough in the fridge.

      why are we kinda weird about cutting apples? did you see emma’s comment? she LITERALLY COULD NOT EVEN IMAGINE HOW I NORMALLY CUT THEM. *argh, dumb* 🙂

      maybe i overthought apple-cutting. i dunno.

  • Reply elizabeth October 16, 2012 at 8:19 am

    Don’t fear the yeast! I love my dry yeast (the kind you don’t find in the refrigerated section) because it requires no proofing–you just dump it in and it gets to work. And for real–if you can handle the Milk Bar cookbook (something that would have me running the other way), you can handle homemade pizza dough–especially because the stand mixer will do most of the work for you.

    • Reply shannon October 18, 2012 at 3:17 pm

      this is so great; i’m getting so many tips here! so you like dry yeast; i’m going to remember that next time i’m at the store. Every cookbook seems to ‘prefer’ something different, so i can never truly tell which one is the best/easiest to work with.
      thank you for saying that, elizabeth. all of you have really made me feel like WAY less of a moron regarding my dough skills, and i so appreciate that. it also means i’m going to be emailing ALL OF YOU when i attempt my next yeast-related thing for pointers. 🙂

  • Reply Katherine @ eggton October 16, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Looks absolutely delicious. I have yet to find a pizza dough recipe that I like (or even one that works well), which is to say that I suck at making pizza dough. So store-bought dough is the way to go for now. I love the flavor combinations!

    Did you or your daughter name the little sheep yet? It’s SO CUTE.

    • Reply shannon October 16, 2012 at 3:37 pm

      thanks! i feel good that someone else shares my lack of a decent pizza dough recipe (or lack of talent at pizza dough, same/same). and the onions on this? the way i caramelized them for this recipe is the way i’m going to do it from now on. I used to do it a different way, but doing the cover/uncover thing with them makes them FULL of flavor.

      let me clarify; that sheep is MINE. It’s hard explaining to two year old that mommy doesn’t want her to play with the cutest sheep ever, but it had to be done. We’re discussing names; we’ve narrowed it down to a few very old-lady ones, so hopefully we’ll come to an decision soon.

  • Reply Barbara Bamber | justasmidgen October 16, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    Hi there! I’m a new follower and wanted you to know how much I am enjoying your blog! This pizza looks so pretty, healthy and flavorful. I also heard about some chocolate chip cookies here that need to get made.. I couldn’t seem to find that post, lol, so when you get a minute.. I’d love the link!! xx

    • Reply shannon October 18, 2012 at 2:55 pm

      hi Barbara, and thank you! I just signed up for your rss feed; i know i’ve seen you ‘around the neighborhood’ so it’s nice to meet you finally. 🙂 i personally loved this pizza; it’s everything i love about fall, and i was thrilled to share it.

      as for the cookies, and correct me if i’m wrong, i think you’re referring to the ones Katherine (Eggton) just mentioned in one of her posts; the Mini Deep Dish Chocolate Chip Cookie, which you can find right here. oddly enough, I needed to make a cookie assortment for this weekend, and i have a batch of these chilling in the fridge as we speak. 🙂

  • Reply Jennie @themessybakerblog October 19, 2012 at 7:18 am

    I’m not a huge fan of failure, either. When things don’t go my way, I tend to stomp around, fist punch the air, and even cry. I failed at my brother’s birthday cake a few years ago, and I totally cried in front of everyone. I still get made fun of to this very day, “Hey, Jennie, remember that time you cried over cake? It was just cake; it wasn’t worth crying over.” Um, hello, when did cake become not worth crying over?
    So, I know how you feel.

    I believe you have it in you to bake some bread. If you can make a fancy Momofuko Milk Bar cake, then you definitely have what it takes to make some bread. If you like, I can send you my grandmother’s bread/roll recipe. It’s great for beginning bread makers (I was able to get it on my first try). Let me know.

    Also, this pizza salad looks amazing!

    • Reply shannon October 23, 2012 at 10:41 am

      i’m a crier too; also an air-puncher, big time. i get so frustrated at myself, and embarrassed (even if there’s no one around). just hearing about your brother’s failed birthday cake makes me remember how many times i’ve felt like that. i think we just all take food pretty seriously, and crying is definitely in order when something fails. i get it.

      you guys have been so encouraging about my whole bread apprehension! that helps me more than anything; it’s nice when people believe you can do something, even if you have your doubts. i would love for you to send me your grandmother’s roll recipe; anything “beginner” would be great to have so i can work my way up to the hard stuff.


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