Pizza -- a natural dish for vegetarians
By J.M. Hirsch
For the ultimate in satisfaction, let convenience, comfort and taste collide in one simple dish versatile enough to satisfy everyone.
Let them eat pie. Pizza pie.
The beauty of pizza is the ease with which it welcomes toppings, from the odd (golden raisins and anchovies) to the most ordinary (gobs of melted cheese over a hearty garlic and tomato sauce).
That makes it a natural dish for vegetarians. Even people who avoid dairy have an easy time making delicious pizzas that cater to their diets.
So here's a vegetarian pizza primer.
We'll work our way from bottom to top. For the pizza base, nothing beats a white dough crust with that perfect blend of crispy bottom, tender and chewy center, and crunchy edge.
But that perfect crust usually calls for at least a couple hours of rising, and sometimes a pizza craving (never mind hungry families) won't wait that long.
In those cases, or for a bit of variety, try prepared flour tortillas, flat breads, pita pockets and even bagels, all of which are readily available in the deli section of most grocers.
When using prepared breads, reduce baking time to prevent overcooking. But be sure to compensate for the shorter time in the oven by precooking some of the toppings.
Onions and broccoli, for example, need a longer stay in the oven. However, a quick toss in a skillet not only solves that, it also is a good opportunity to infuse toppings with a bit more flavor.
Think onions sauteed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or red and green bell peppers simmered in a blend of soy sauce, lime juice and maple syrup.
Speaking of toppings, sauce comes next. For a great white pizza, brush the crust with olive oil and crushed garlic. For red, a canned marinara works just fine.
To jazz it up a bit, take that same marinara and simmer it with a bit of balsamic vinegar first. For a savory touch, blend it with fresh grated Parmesan cheese. Vegans can try a soy Parmesan, or 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast flakes, which impart a cheese-like richness.
On top of that? Anything and everything. Plump golden raisins really are a great addition, especially when combined with sundried tomatoes. Corn, artichokes and eggplant are other great options.
Then top it all with cheese. Or don't. Vegan pizzas loaded with enough toppings taste just fine (though they may need a knife and fork for eating). Nondairy cheeses also work if you've made sure to check first that they melt (many don't).
For another great, and unusual, pizza try potato and arugula pizza from Viana La Place's "Verdura: Vegetables Italian Style." Vegans can substitute soy parmesan in this recipe.
Potato and arugula pizza
1 1/4 pounds potatoes
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
2 garlic cloves, peeled and mashed to a paste
1 pizza dough (see note)
Red pepper flakes, to taste
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese (or soy alternative)
Handful arugula leaves, stemmed and cut into strips (spinach also is good)
Preheat oven to 350. Peel potatoes and slice into thin rounds. Arrange potato slices on lightly oiled baking sheet, then use 2 tablespoons of olive oil to brush tops. Bake until they begin to brown lightly, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and use spatula to transfer to platter. Salt them to taste. In small bowl, combine remaining olive oil and crushed garlic.
Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Roll out pizza dough. Lightly dust a baking sheet with flour or corn meal. Place rolled-out dough on baking sheet. Brush surface of crust with 1 tablespoon of the oil and garlic mixture, then sprinkle with pepper flakes. Arrange potatoes on crust in overlapping fashion. Brush remaining oil and garlic mixture over top and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the pizza is deep golden color. Remove from oven and sprinkle with arugula. Makes 2 to 4 servings.
Note: In judging quantities when you are making pizza, calculate that a "large" crust rolls out to about 14 inches, a medium 9 inches, and a small 7 inches. For the potato recipe, use a 14-inch crust.