Have you ever heard someone try to tout pizza as health food? They usually start off by pushing the notion that it contains multiple food groups. Grains and dairy are almost always present. Those two are easy. Then there is the question of vegetables. Desperate people will point to the sauce and claim that it contains enough tomato to count as a serving of fruit and/or vegetable. That's some serious baloney.
The truth is that pizza is not health food. It's inherently indulgent, and that's OK. Don't hate comfort food. It has its place, even in the most saintly diets, and with a little creativity, most comfort foods can be tweaked to impart at least a little bit of nutritional redemption. Veggie pizza can range from rabbit food to cheesy heart attack, depending on how you prepare it. From the crust to the sauce to the toppings, you can decide how traditional or crazy you want to go.
Pizza starts off with a crust of processed grain, so that's your first battleground. Traditionally, pizza crust is made from white flour, but you can, if you want, beef it up with sourdough starter or whole wheat flour. You could even sneak some seeds or whole grains in there if you are feeling bold. The key to making really good homemade pizza is to find a dough recipe that you really love. My personal favorite is this 24-hour, No-Knead pizza dough from Food Wishes. I've also had success with quicker pizza doughs from King Arthur Flour. You can also try your favorite grocery stores or pizzerias to see if they have pre-made dough for sale.
There are a lot of ways to top a pizza. Red sauce and cheese is always nice, but you can make something a lot more interesting by swapping out the sauce and playing with the toppings. Tomato sauce is the classic choice, but there's no reason that you can't change that up. Try using barbecue sauce, pesto, alfredo sauce, or even salad dressing.
As far as toppings go, the sky is the limit. Look for inspiration in other meals that you love. Any dish that combines multiple components is fair game. Burritos, sandwiches, even sushi rolls can inspire new kinds of pizzas.
Keep in mind that some toppings might need to be pre-cooked before going on your pizza. Root veggies, like beets and potatoes, are good examples. They would not have time to soften in the time it takes to bake a pizza. On the flip side, some ingredients might not survive a trip in the oven. Ingrediets like fresh avocado, pickles, or lettuce shouldn't be added until after the pizza has been cooked.
Toppings: Marinara sauce, cannelini beans, spinach, and mozzerella cheese.
Toppings: Balsamic vinaigrette as sauce, mozzerella, goat cheese, swiss chard, and roasted beets.
Toppings: Cilantro pesto as sauce, monterey jack cheese, roasted sweet potatoes, and black beans.
Spicy Cilantro Pesto
Makes about two cups
- 1 bunch fresh, cilantro
- 1 cup roasted jalapenos
- 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 clove garlic
- the juice from 1/2 lime
- salt to taste
Rinse the cilantro well to remove any sand. Pick through the bunch and remove the larger stems. It's OK for this recipe to leave the smaller stems. Place the cilantro in a food processor with the rest of the ingredients (except salt), and blend until evenly pureed. You may have to scrape the sides, and tap the food processor down a few times to get everything to chop evenly. Taste, then add a little salt if you like.
Toppings: Sweet sesame sauce, roasted kale, and sesame seeds.
This pizza is totally vegan, and crazy good. If you are especially adventurous, try throwing some Asian pickles on top after the pizza comes out of the oven. I loved this with Korean-style cabbage pickles from the book, Quick Pickles: Easy Recipes for Big Flavor.
Sweet Sesame Sauce
Makes about 1/4 cup
- 1/4 cup sesame tahini
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
- salt to taste
- water, as needed
Combine the tahini and syrup (or honey) in a small bowl and stir together. You can add a little water if you find the sauce to be too thick. Add just a few drops at a time until you get a good consistency. Taste, and a pinch of salt to punch up the flavor.
How to Make a Pizza
Preheat your oven to at least 450 degrees. If you are using a pizza stone, allow the stone to heat in the oven for an extra 30 minutes after the oven comes to temperature.
Dust your counter or work surface with flour, then drop your ball of dough onto it. You can use a rolling pin to spread the dough, or you can just use your hands. Spreading the dough by hand takes a little practice. Make sure to spread the dough from the center out in a circular motion. If you need visual help, check out this video.
Transfer the dough to a pan or, if you are using a stone, a pizza peel. In that case, make sure your peel has been dusted with plenty of flour.
Add the sauce to your pizza, followed by your toppings. Remember that the dough will soak up some of the sauce, so don't be afraid to add a little more than you think you might need. (Don't go bananas though - too much sauce will make your pizza soggy.)
Put the pizza in the oven! It will need to bake for anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes, depending on the thickness of the crust. Keep an eye on it as it bakes. You are looking for a nice golden brown color to form on the bottom and edges of the crust.
When the pizza is ready, take it out of the oven and let it rest for a few minutes before slicing.