Naked pizza

| 04 Sep 2013 | 02:07

It was a humble pie that nearly thwarted my journey from vegetarian to vegan. I craved the tangy, gooey mozzarella, but it was the convenience and community around the pizza pie that was hardest to let go of. A typical Saturday night included friends, a bottle of merlot and take-out pizza. Was it possible to eat pizza and eat well, to use local ingredients and not use cheese? Getting messy with yeast and flour was definitely appealing. Since I was going cheeseless, why not sauceless, too?

The raw dough was a blank canvas and my kitchen studio provided colorful, seasonal inspiration. I roasted a large head of black dirt garlic and pureed cloves with cannellini beans to create a savory first layer. The leftover puree was repurposed as a topping for crostini and a creamy pasta sauce. Next I arranged cubes of cooked butternut squash, caramelized shallots, sautéed cremini mushrooms, chunks of the mellow roasted garlic and tender quelites, a leafy green similar to spinach without the fuzzy mouth feel. If you can’t find quelites, arugula and spinach are excellent stand-ins. After the pizza is safely transferred to the hot stone you’ll have just enough time to clean up and uncork the wine before it’s ready to serve.

Three lessons learned along the way: a not-so-round pizza has rustic character; hand-tossing is futile but that’s okay – pizza making is art; and preheating the pizza stone delivers a crisp, slightly charred pizzeria style crust.

Homemade pizza

1 head garlic

1 cup cannelloni beans

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon water

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1 ½ cups cubed butternut squash

1 large shallot, thinly sliced

2 cups quelites, spinach or arugula

2 large cremini mushrooms

1 tablespoon cornmeal

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. First roast the garlic by removing the outer layer of garlic skin, keeping the head intact. Place the garlic in a small pan, drizzle with 1 teaspoon of olive oil and cover tightly with foil. Bake until garlic is soft, about 45 minutes and set aside to cool. While the garlic is roasting,

coat the cubes of squash and sliced shallot in 1 teaspoon of olive oil and spread on a baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes until the squash is tender and the shallots are caramelized.

While the squash and shallots are roasting, lightly oil a small pan and sauté the mushrooms for 5 minutes until browned. Add the quelites and cook 1 minute more.

To make the bean mixture, place the beans, 2 cloves of garlic, lemon juice, water, salt and thyme in a food processor and puree until smooth. Spoon into a small bowl and set aside.

Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Place the pizza stone in the oven for 30 minutes to heat.

To assemble the pizza, bring the dough to room temperature. On a lightly floured surface, starting in the center and working outwards, use your fingertips to press the dough into a circle about ¼ to ½ inches thick. Use a rolling pin if necessary. Lightly sprinkle a pizza peel or flat pan with cornmeal. Transfer the dough to the peel. Spread the dough with a thin layer of bean puree (there will be extra) then arrange squash, quelites and mushrooms on top. Finish with cloves of roasted garlic. Carefully transfer to the pizza stone and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Pizza dough

3/4 cup warm water

1 envelope active dry yeast

2 cups all- purpose flour plus more for dusting

1 teaspoon natural sugar

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Pour the water into a small bowl, stir in yeast and stir to dissolve. Set aside for 5 minutes.

To make the dough, combine flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Stir in the yeast mixture and olive oil and stir until combined. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 3 minutes until smooth and elastic, adding additional tablespoons of flour if sticky.

Transfer to a large oiled bowl, turning the dough in the bowl to coat with the oil. Cover with

plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down and use immediately or wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in refrigerator or place in a freezer bag for future use.