Monday, November 28, 2011

Pesto Pizza: The Date Night Superfood

Here are just a few of the perks of making pizza at home: 
1. You can add hundreds of toppings without a $3.00 charge per item. 
2. It's a fun date idea, and only one/neither of you really needs to know how to cook.
3. You and your date both end up with an equal amount of green stuff in your teeth.
4. Eating fresh pesto, that you just made, on delicious crust, is one of the more satisfying experiences in life.

Defining the word 'pizza' is no simple feat. In order to be inclusive, one would have to say pizza is 'a flatbread with toppings, baked'... only sometimes the bread isn't even flat. Or baked. Normally there are tomatoes and cheese involved, but not if it's a white pizza, pesto pizza, or cheese-less pizza. In Amuricuh, we like our pizza thick, cheesy, oily and topped with pepperoni (and sometimes, we stuff our thick crust with more cheese... mmmm, tastes like diabetes). In Russia, red herring is a popular choice. Green peas top Brazilian pizza, and Mayo Jaga (potato, bacon, and mayonnaise) adorns Japanese pizza. Unless, of course, it's eel or squid gracing the surface of a Japanese pizza, which are also favorites. Popular options in India include mutton, pickled ginger, or paneer cheese. Basically, pizza can be just about anything and maintain its status as a tasty, popular item... but can it be vegan? Challenge accepted.

Vegan? As in tofu and leaf pizza? Nope! The goal here was still a decadent, cheesy, melty, flavorful mess... it just won't make you feel terrible after eating half of it. In fact, you'll feel great. I'm not preaching from the standpoint of someone who hasn't had "real" pizza in years; I've had every variety of pizza available in the continental U.S. (and a few other continents), and quite frankly, this is really delicious. Daiya is more flavorful than mozzarella, so you don't need as much (hundreds of empty calories, eliminated!), but, it's still as rich and silky in texture as cow's milk cheese. If you've never had it, I recommend buying some immediately. And if you're not in the mood for pizza, this pesto recipe is the best I've ever tried, and would likely taste equally amazing on pasta, in a scramble, or over seafood. You'll have a bit leftover even if you do make the pizza, so get creative. 

Aside from the taste factor, this pesto is also incredibly good for you. Walnuts are amazing... you can read a rant about them here. Garlic, basil, and arugula will give you a heavy dose of vitamin B6, K, C, A, manganese, and a handful of other nutrients that people pay lots of money to take in pill-form. Nutritional yeast is high in fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, B12, folate and zinc. What does that mean? It's a conveniently available, cheese-y tasting powder that contains all the things meatless diets are supposedly lacking. Eat your words (and some yeast), carnivores! To those unfamiliar with nutritional yeast, it's tasty and easy to throw in just about anything, especially sauces. It does, however, lack Omega-3 and Omega-6... but fear not! Olive oil is full of both of these healthy, polyunsaturated fats. Basically, this green spread contains everything that people think is only available in meat. Eat pizza, get healthy.

Vegan Pesto Pizza:
1/3 cup roasted walnuts
3 garlic cloves
3 cups coarsely chopped arugula
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
3 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
1-2 tbsp olive oil
8 ounces prepared pizza dough*
1/4 C Daiya mozzarella shreds 
- Flour, for rolling
- Toppings: I used slices of Trader Joe's vegan sausage, fresh arugula, thinly sliced onion, tomato, and mushrooms 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. To make the pesto, combine all pesto ingredients in a food processor, then blend while gradually pouring in the olive oil. On a floured work surface, stretch out pizza dough to desired thickness- about 12 inches in diameter. Spread the pesto over the dough, leaving 1-inch ring around the edges uncovered. You won't use all of the pesto, so save the extra in the frige for the next day. Top the pesto with onions, tomatoes, sausage, etc., then sprinkle with mozzarella. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes, until edges are golden and cheese is melted, or until the kitchen smells too awesome for you to hold out any longer.

*If you don't have the time to make fresh pizza dough, frozen dough is easy to use. Just place frozen dough in the refrigerator the day before you plan to use it. Two hours before you want to make the pizza, place the dough in a covered, oiled bowl and let it rise at room temperature.

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