Friday, February 24, 2012

Not quite homemade gourmet pizza

I may be a chef, but I'm a busy one that has to cut corners many days of the week if I want to eat healthy.  I'm sure everyone can relate!

This is a great quick meal that I make a variety of versions of.  For today’s pizza, I used pre-made whole grain pizza dough from Trader Joe’s (they make a great garlic herb version as well).  While the oven is preheating to 500F (with the pizza stone inside if you have one), I get the dough out of the refrigerator and let it rest, still in its plastic bag, on the counter for 20 minutes to let the proteins relax.  This makes stretching the dough MUCH easier.  Meanwhile, I chopped my “Italian sausage” up into small pieces and briefly browned it in a small skillet on the stovetop.  Then chopped the green and red peppers and sliced the mushrooms and onions.

Time to stretch the dough – I LOVE stretching pizza dough (OK, I love tossing it in the air like back in the day when I used to work a third job at a well-known pizza chain making and delivering pizzas).  Sprinkle a handful of flour (whatever kind you have handy) on the counter and roll the dough into a ball.  Then, press your fingers slightly into the middle and begin stretching the edges, working your way around the dough.  Once you have a 6-8” circle, you can use your balled fists underneath the dough to stretch by pulling your fists gently in opposite directions.  Work your way around the dough doing this until you have a 12-14” diameter circle.  So, I realize this doesn’t involve tossing, but it’s the best way to do it at home unless you really like cleaning flour off the floors, nearest wall and all the items nearby.  Now, sprinkle a pizza peel or round pizza pan with cornmeal and place the dough on top.  I really like how the crunch of the dough touching a pizza stone contrasts with the chewiness of the inner part of the dough and the toppings, so I almost always opt for the peel and then slide the pizza once it’s sauced and topped directly into the oven onto a pizza stone.  

Almost there!  Spread a thin layer of sauce one the dough leaving ¾ to 1-inch clearance on the edges for crust.  If you don’t have dedicated pizza sauce and/or don’t want to make it, you can improvise as I did, taking an already-opened, half-used jar of roasted red pepper (or any flavor you like) pasta sauce out of the fridge, spread it on the dough, then sprinkle the pizza liberally with dried oregano.  I also like to sprinkle the sauce with minced garlic and dried basil.  Then, I top with the “sausage” and peppers.  

Stretched dough, on the peel, topped with sauce, peppers and "Italian sausage"

Sprinkle this with whatever shredded cheese you like.  I cannot eat cheese, so I use Daiya. (It's the most cheese-like of all the cheese alternatives I've tried.)  

Dairy-free cheese alternative
If you do the same, you’ll save yourself 22mg of cholesterol and 18% of your daily saturated fat per serving when swapping Daiya for mozzarella - not to mention the other unpleasant issues that many have after eating cheese.  (The calories are equivalent between the two, if you’re wondering.)  Finally, arrange the very finely sliced onions and mushrooms on top of, or mixed in with, the cheese.  This allows the onion to brown and crisp a bit and prevents the mushrooms from becoming a soggy, watery mess underneath the cheese (or “cheese”).

When your oven is at 500F (or has been for at least 15 minutes if using a pizza stone to allow time for it to warm through), put the pizza into the oven (or slide it from the peel to the pizza stone with a good thrust of the arm forward and a jerk back of the hand holding the peel to get it to slide onto the stone…alternatively, you can take the stone out of the oven, set it on top of the stove, and then slide the pizza onto it with the aid of a spatula if you don’t trust your skills as above and/or don’t want to risk a mess in the oven and smoke-filled kitchen).  Set the timer for 10 minutes.  At this point, it will be done for those that don’t like the crust and cheese very brown.  I prefer it after about 15 minutes of cooking.

Remove pan from over or slide peel back under pizza on the stone and remove from oven (this is MUCH easier after cooking than before cooking).

The creativity is not over!  You can eat as is, top with chunky olive tapenade (as I have here) or sliced pickled jalapenos.  I also love to make a salad of arugula dressed very lightly with balsamic vinaigrette and place a small pile of it on top of each slice or over the entire pizza (if you want a dramatic presentation).  This turns the pizza into a very well balanced meal and the tanginess of the vinaigrette contrasts nicely with the heavier flavors of the pizza.  Today, I had no arugula, so I used the last of the leftover pasta sauce, added dried oregano, basil and minced garlic to it and heated while the pizza cooked to make dipping sauce for the slices. 

Slice of the finished pizza topped with mixed olive tapenade & served with warm pizza sauce for dipping

- Description of stretching and working with pizza dough
- Making a quick pizza sauce from leftovers and dried herbs
- Be creative with your ingredients!  There is no need to use any or all of the ingredients I did.  If you like cheese and actual meat or poultry topping, fine, use those.  Use whatever ingredients you have around and like on pizza.
- Salad can be served ON TOP OF pizza.
- Great reheated the next day
- Don’t pile too many ingredients on your pizza – especially if you’re using a pizza pan – because you will have a soggy mess.  Avoid this by putting watery ingredients (like the mushrooms used here) on top of the cheese.
- Make sure to preheat your oven!  The hotter, the better!
- Get rid of the cheese altogether, substitute white bean spread or hummus for the pizza sauce, top with salad as mentioned above or cut into small pieces and use for an hor d’oeurve at a party.
- Yes, you can use premade crust, but it's usually not as good as sticking with premade dough and stretching it yourself.

1 pound premade ball of pizza dough (I used whole wheat)
6-8 ounces sauce for topping pizza, more if you want extra for dipping (use premade pizza
    sauce, homemade or concoct something equivalent from leftovers as I did)
Dried oregano (enough to liberally sprinkle on pizza, more if making extra dipping sauce)
Dried basil, optional (enough to sprinkle on pizza, more if making extra dipping sauce)
Minced garlic, 1-2 teaspoons or to taste (I used already minced garlic from a jar)
1-1/2 Tofurkey Italian “Sausages” or 4-5 ounces of your favorite pizza-topping protein
1/8 – ¼ each green and red bell pepper, sliced or chopped into small pieces
4 or 5 cremini, white or other mushrooms, sliced 1/8-inch thick
Small amount (just a few slices) of white or yellow onion, sliced as thinly as possible
1-2 cups shredded cheese or cheese substitute (I used a mix of mozzarella and cheddar flavored Daiya, dairy-free cheese substitute)

Directions: As above

Makes 8 slices, serves approximately 4 people with 2 slices each

Approximate calories per slice (if prepared as I did): 250 calories

Calorie-saving note: cut down on the cheese, cut out the meat or meat substitute.  Calories per slice with 1/3 less cheese and no “meat” = 185 calories per slice


  1. Hi michelle. The pizza recipe looks like it would have a load of salt in it. I guess that's the tradeoff of using the canned pizza sauce and pre made pizza dough. I will still try it though.

    1. Hi dh12,

      You're right - most of the commercial sauces have a lot of sodium. So does cheese.

      To limit the sodium, you can certainly use low-sodium versions of premade sauces or make your own. Alternatively, you can use a non-tomato based sauce. Pesto is especially easy to make. To cut down on sodium, leave out the parmesan. Alternatively, you can keep the parmesan and make the rest of the pizza with very little cheese or just a sprinkle of parm.

      Just use the following ratios to create as much or as little pesto as you want. For every 1 cup of packed basil leaves, blend with 1 clove of garlic, 2 tablespoons of either pinenuts or walnuts, and 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil. Add salt (or not) and pepper to taste. To keep pesto for later use, use an ice cube tray to freeze left overs in (each cube is 1 oz).

      If you try it + or - variations, please share your result and any helpful tips for others.

    2. I will try! I did use your suggestion bean spread instead of cheese and it was really good. Also what kind of olive oil do you use? I suspect the olive oil you buy in major retailers isn't exactly 100% olive oil.

    3. That's a post in itself! If I'm cooking at high heat, I never use olive oil (see for the maximum temperatures that olive oil can get to before breaking down). If I'm using it in a vinaigrette or to drizzle over something for flavoring, I use a good extra virgin olive oil. If I'm cooking at a moderate heat, I'll use a pomace olive oil (olive oil, just not the first pressing) or another type of oil. The only way you can be sure you get the real thing is to know the place you get it from and see their facility. Since I don't live in an oil producing region right now, I can't be sure. My proxies are to find EVOO with dates of pressing or to look up the websites of the kinds I try and see how quality oriented the companies seem. When I lived in California, I would usually buy local oils which I could vouch for. The only upside to not getting the real thing is that the EVOOs are often cut with pomace olive oil or another vegetable or seed-based oil that is also a healthy source of oil. I wish I could give you a better answer, but this is the unfortunate state of things. My hope is that since people caught for faking EVOO have gone to prison, and that tests are regularly done now to check for new shams, that the fakers will be dissuaded. Oh, I don't have one brand I live and die by. I always try different kinds. My favorites aren't available on the East Coast where I am these days.


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