Spicy Sausage, Spinach and Ricotta Pizza

Makes 2 (12-inch) pizzas.

Note: Hot Italian sausage and a touch of red pepper give this easy-to-make pizza just the right amount of heat. Dollops of garlic-infused ricotta create addictive pockets of soft creaminess that contrast nicely with the hot sausage and the crispy, chewy crust. From Meredith Deeds.

Crust:

• 3 1/2 to 4 c. unbleached flour

• 1 (2 1/4 tsp.) pkg. dry yeast

• 2 tsp. salt

• 2 tsp. sugar

• 1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

• Cornmeal for dusting

Topping:

• 3 tbsp. olive oil, divided

• 1 lb. bulk hot Italian sausage

• 1 (5 oz.) pkg. baby spinach

• 3/4 tsp. salt, divided

• 1 c. ricotta

• 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

• 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

• 2 c. shredded Mozzarella cheese

• 1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

To make the crust: In a large bowl, combine 3 1/2 cups flour, yeast, 2 teaspoons salt and sugar. Create a well in the center of the dry mixture.

Pour 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water and 1 tablespoon olive oil into the well. Stir the mixture together until the dough comes together. Knead the dough with your hands until mixed and smooth. The dough should be soft, but if it is sticky, add a tablespoon at a time of flour.

Form dough into a ball, place in an oiled bowl and cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap. Let rise for an hour at room temperature or refrigerate overnight, and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour before shaping. (Alternatively, combine all the crust ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times until the comes together in a ball. No need to knead with your hands. Let rise in the closed food processor bowl for 1 hour.)

Thirty minutes before making the pizza, preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place a pizza stone, tiles or a large baking sheet turned upside down on the lowest rack.

To make the topping: Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add sausage and cook, breaking sausage into small pieces with a wooden spoon, about 5 to 7 minutes, until cooked through. Use a slotted spoon to transfer sausage to a bowl. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of fat from skillet and add the spinach and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring, for 1 to 2 minutes, or until wilted. Remove from heat.

In a small bowl, combine ricotta, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.

To make pizza: Divide the dough into 2 pieces. Keep 1 piece covered. Working with 1 piece at a time, on a floured work surface, roll out to a 12-inch circle. Place on a pizza peel or a large rimless baking sheet that has been dusted with cornmeal. Give the peel a gentle shake to make sure the dough isn’t sticking.

Brush the crust with 1 tablespoon oil. Sprinkle half of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese over the crust, leaving a 1-inch border along the edges. Top with half of the sausage and spinach. Dollop half of the ricotta mixture over the top.

Carefully slide the pizza off the peel or baking sheet onto the hot pizza stone, tiles or baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes or until the crust is browned and cheese is melted. Repeat with remaining dough and toppings. Cut each pizza into 8 slices and serve hot.

Nutrition information per each of 16 slices (8 per pizza):

Calories 290 Fat 15 g Sodium 725 mg

Carbohydrates 25 g Saturated fat 6 g Total sugars 1 g

Protein 14 g Cholesterol 30 mg Dietary fiber 1 g

Exchanges per serving: 1 ½ starch, 1 ½ high-fat protein, ½ fat.