September 27, 2008

Vegetarian Pizzas

I don't have any revelations about vegetarian pizza, really. I haven't found some new, hitherto undiscovered topping that requires me to shout from the rooftops. I've just been reminded that sometimes the simple things are really, really good.

The pizza above has those most classic of vegetarian pizza toppings: artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, good black olives, and cheese (in this case, a nice Monterey Jack), and a slightly spicy, garlicky tomato sauce. I refrained from adding more and more and more toppings, which used to be my pizza downfall, and let the combined flavours hum along in harmony.

The pizza below, is a very, very simple pie based on my memories of post-nightclubbing slices devoured at a long-departed establishment that stayed open until 3:00am downtown. The deceptively simple pesto pizza. Really, all you need is a good, home-made crust (expired link removed, please see comments below for recipe), and a good, home-made pesto, and the cheese of your choice. No tomatoes. No chunky bits. Just you and the pesto and the crust. For cheese, I opted to use some of the Jack (as above), and some parmesan, which is simply a component of the pesto. You don't need a lot of cheese - and you will need to shore up the edges of your crust a little to avoid spill-age if your crusts get any oven-spring lift to them. Just smear the pesto on, sprinkle the cheese, and ignore the pang of sadness that you feel when the beautifully bright pesto turns dark, olivey green from the heat of the oven.

I've learned a thing or three about pizza crust, in the years that I've been, ahem, studying.

1) Don't add too much flour. A looser dough has better texture
2) It doesn't matter if you forget to add salt to the crust, just sprinkle a little on the dough before you add the toppings (or use salty toppings, like feta).
3) The longer and slower the rise, the better the crust - airy, chewy, complex and delicious.

The two pizzas above were made with a batch of dough that was stirred up just before heading out to meet some friends for drinks. I only used a small amount of yeast (1 teaspoon for a double batch of dough, whereas many recipes - including my master recipe - use up to a tablespoon per pie). Three hours, on the counter, later, the dough was well-risen, soft, pliable, and ready to be stretched into shape. I can actually toss pizza crust, but generally I just pat it back and forth in my hands, like a chapatti, until it is big and round, and then flop it on a cornmeal-lined pizza pan and finish pressing it out to the edge.

I'm definitely going to try the low-yeast, slow rise thing again - it has wonderful schedule flexibility potential, and I feel the urge to experiment a little. Next time, maybe some other classics: pepperoni mushroom, perhaps (always a favourite), spinach and feta, or my personal guilty-pleasure - the cheeseburger pizza.


Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

They look perfect! Both pizzas are beautiful and extremely tempting! Yummy!



Dawna said...

Thanks, Rosa. They were pretty tasty. Nice to hear from you again!

Megan said...

Hey there! I just stumbled upon your blog and those pizzas are making my mouth water. There is nothing like homemade pizza. I like to make enough for a few batches of dough and freeze it just in case I have a pizza craving.

Thanks for your delicious recipes and pictures!

Dawna said...

Thanks, Megan. I've never had a lot of luck freezing pizza dough for some reason, but since I can make a whole pizza from scratch in an hour it doesn't slow me down, much (although, the slow-rise crust is lovely).

Dawna said...

Welp, the recipe link above has expired, so here is the recipe:

Total prep and cooking time: 45 minutes if you're quick and organized, and the dough is co-operative, 1 hour if not. The lengthy write up here makes it seem like it would take longer, but it doesn't. Well, maybe the first time...

Pizza Crust

3/4 cup warm water
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon active dry yeast or one envelope
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 - 2 cups plain flour, as needed
1 teaspoon salt I use kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried, crumbled oregano optional
1 teaspoon dried basil optional

Test the water by sticking your impeccably clean finger in it. If it's pleasantly warm, but not hot, you're good to go. If not, adjust as needed. Pour warm water into a medium sized mixing bowl. Sprinkle sugar and yeast over the water and let stand for about five minutes while you get the sauce ready (see below). The yeast will soften, and gradually start to foam up to the top of the water. This usually only takes a few minutes, but if your water is quite cool it might take a little longer. Once the yeast has gotten foamy, stir in the olive oil (or canola, if you don't have olive oil) and 1/2 cup of the flour.

Stir until combined into a sort of paste, and then beat vigorously for 100 strokes all in the same direction. It sounds silly, but this is the basis for a very smooth dough, and it doesn't actually take very long at all. A wooden spoon is ideal for the job. Once your mixture is smooth and silky-looking, add the salt and 1 cup of flour. If you are adding herbs, now is the time to do so. Stir until the flour is mostly incorporated - it gets very stiff very quickly - and then turn out onto a clean counter to knead. Add more flour if the dough seems sticky - add it a little at a time as you go along.

Knead the dough briskly for about five minutes, or until it comes together in a satiny ball and is no longer sticky. Let the dough rest on the counter while you wash out the bowl that you started it in. Wash and dry the bowl, and spritz with a little oil. Place your dough into the bowl (turn it over once so that a little oil gets on the top) and cover with a towel while you slice toppings and grate cheese. The dough doesn't need to rise double in size (although it's fine if it does) but it should show some signs of life when you get back to it - be softer and a little risen.

Prepare your toppings and turn the oven on to 450 F, with the rack placed in the middle. Prepare a pizza pan by sprinkling a generous amount of cornmeal in a thin layer over it.

Press the dough out into a flat circle. If the dough is still a bit tense, it might take a little longer, but this amount of dough will fit a full sized pizza pan. Just be patient and keep pressing it out, even if it tries to spring back, or let it rest for 5 minutes and try again. Once the dough is stretched to the full size of the pan, spread your pizza sauce over it, top judiciously, and bake for 12 - 15 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and delicious. Slide pizza onto cutting board and pretend you're going to share. Don't burn your mouth.