“I always think it’s funny whenever anyone calls something the BEST. Pinterest is filled with recipes overlaid with text that tout, “These are the BEST jelly doughnuts, the BEST enchiladas, the BEST damn steamed carrots on the planet.” I’ve never felt the need to use such overblown vocabulary…until now. Mom says this is the best pizza she’s ever had. Not, the best vegan pizza she’s ever had, just the best pizza. Well, technically this is a non-cheezza (the formal word used in my house to describe a dairy-free creation such as this). I’m gonna have to agree with Ma on this one. Best. Pizza. Ever.
Dairy-free kitchen wizardry is my jam. My number one goal in the kitchen is to create things for my (and others’) dietary needs so that people just think it’s good food, not it’s good, considering x y and z. How can I make Uncle Cheese Eater forget that there’s actually supposed to be cheese on a pizza? In my opinion, the solution is not just to throw some dairy free processed “cheese” business on top. It will never live up to the memory of the real thing. I think the problem with many foods that are adapted to fit different dietary needs is that they’re trying to be something they can’t possibly be.
My tastebuds are like a skeptical 2 year old when it comes to most processed “cheeses”. They take a little bite and with squinty eyes, put their hands on their hips and look at me like I’m trying to trick them and they know it. Really?…I’m not falling for that! Instead of this nutritionally empty trickery, let’s find a new way to manipulate whole, real ingredients in a way that’s believable. I get this feeling when I eat some of the processed substitutes that have no real nutritional value, like I’m not really eating anything of substance. They almost always taste slightly off and cover up the taste of the veggies and other toppings I really want to be able to enjoy . If I’m really looking for something creamy on my pizza, I’ll whip up a batch of almond ricotta. To that, my brain says, OOH, creamy and savory…yum!, Not, Well this sort of looks like cheese and melts like cheese…can I overlook the slight plasticky taste?
I think the key to satisfying the itch isn’t to magically make something to fill the mozzarella-shaped hole in your belly, it’s to make your belly forget there was supposed to be mozzarella there in the first place. The magic happens when we spend the time coaxing each individual ingredient to its full glory, letting each ingredient shine. Who has time to think of cheese when eating homemade pizza dough slathered in sauce that’s been seasoned up and cooked down with herbs and garlic, topped with eggplant that has been roasted into buttery submission, so it takes on a creamy, dare I say melted cheese-like texture that pulls apart the moment you bite into it? Who cares about mozza-whatever it is when that delicate layer of eggplant is scattered with onions, cremini mushrooms, little pops of roasted cherry tomatoes and dots of bright green pesto? I can’t even remember what we were talking about…
This is how we fill the mozzarella-shaped hole. You feelin me? This is the pizza that will make you forget your dairy-free woes (at least until your next wine and cheese party). Best. Pizza. Ever!
•You can find my recipe for whole-wheat pizza dough below.
•This pizza crust recipe is my favorite gluten-free crust made from brown rice flour by Dolly and Oatmeal (this is the crust pictured in this post, and the only gluten-free crust recipe I've found that I like just as much as traditional wheat crust!),
•I've also been known to use purchased whole wheat pizza dough from Whole Foods as well, which also turns out great!
•My FAVORITE "slow food" option is to make a big batch of my Mega Veggie Pasta Sauce ahead of time and keep it in the freezer in small batches for pizza. I would recommend making the mega veggie sauce in advance on a different day unless you're looking forward to spending many hours in the kitchen!
•I've also included a good quick and easy pizza sauce recipe below for if you'd like to make it from scratch but don't have time for the mega veggie sauce.
For best results, use a pizza stone, but if you don't have one a sheet pan will work too.
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 pint (about 10 ounces cherry tomatoes)
- 1 lb eggplant, sliced ¼ inch thin
- ½ medium yellow onion, thinly sliced then roughly chopped
- 4 ounces cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 2 cups Mega Veggie sauce, or Quick and Easy Marinara Sauce (recipe below, see notes above)
- 1 recipe gluten-free pizza dough (recipe here)or whole wheat pizza dough (recipe below)
- fresh basil pesto (recipe below)
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- kosher salt or sea salt
- Prepare your chosen pizza dough and sauce recipes and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 400˚F.
- Put a couple layers of paper towels on a large baking sheet. Scatter a couple pinches of salt on top of the paper towels. Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on top of the salt. Sprinkle the tops of the eggplant with a couple pinches more salt, and place another layer of paper towels on top of the eggplant. Set aside for 20-30 minutes so that the eggplant releases some moisture (this will help it cook better and get more tender).
- Remove the eggplant from the paper towels and brush or spray with a couple tablespoons olive oil, making sure that both sides of each slice are coated with oil. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the undersides are golden. Flip and roast for 10-15 minutes longer, or until both sides are golden brown but the eggplant is tender. Remove eggplant from the pan and wrap in foil--it will steam itself and become more tender.
- Toss the cherry tomatoes in a tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until tomatoes are slightly shriveled, tender and spotted golden. Set aside.
- While the eggplant and cherry tomatoes are roasting, make the pesto.
- Increase the oven to 500˚ F and heat a pizza stone in the lower third of the oven for 30 minutes.
- When all your pizza components are ready, roll (or stretch) out your dough on a piece of parchment paper. ( If making the gluten-free crust, scatter brown rice flour over the top before rolling it out with a rolling pin or pressing it out with your fingers. Also note that the gluten-free pizza crust needs to be par-baked before adding toppings).
- Brush the outside "crust" edges of with a thin layer of olive oil and sprinkle with garlic powder and salt.
- Spread the sauce over the pizza (as much as you would like), and arrange the roasted eggplant slices on top. Scatter the onions, mushrooms and roasted cherry tomatoes on top. Sprinkle a little salt on top. Slide the parchment paper that the pizza is on onto the heated pizza stone. Bake for 18-25 minutes, or until the edges of the crust start to look golden and mushrooms appear cooked. When pizza is cooked, dot the top with teaspoonfuls of pesto (I like to add after cooking the pizza so that it retains its bright green color and fresh herby taste).
- Slice and serve hot.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 24 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons dried italian herbs
- salt to taste
- crushed red pepper to taste (optional)
- Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add the garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes, until softened but not browned. Add the tomatoes, herbs, crushed red pepper (if using), and salt to taste. Bring to a boil over med-high heat. Decrease heat to medium low and cook for 20-30 minutes at a high simmer, stirring occasionally, and lowering heat if it begins to stick to the bottom of the pan. Taste and adjust seasonings. Blend in a food processor or blender if you'd like a smooth texture.
- 2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
- 3 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- ¾ teaspoons nutritional yeast, optional to add a "cheesy" savory flavor
- Blend all ingredients in a food processor or blender, pushing down the sides as needed. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
- 1 packet (2¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing dough ball
- 2 teaspoons honey or sugar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1½-1¾ cups all- purpose flour, plus more for dusting your work surface
- 1¼ cups whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 cup warm water (slightly warmer than lukewarm, 110˚F)
- Put the warm water in a liquid measuring cup and stir in the honey or sugar until dissolved. Sprinkle the yeast on top and stir. Allow to sit for a few minutes until the yeast looks foamy. If it doesn't bubble and foam, start over again with new yeast and make sure water isn't too hot or cold.
- Whisk both flours (starting with 1½ cups all purpose flour) with the sea salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook or a large mixing bowl if mixing by hand. Create a well in the middle and pour in the yeast mixture and olive oil. Stir with a wooden spoon until it looks shaggy and mostly incorporated, adding the remaining all purpose flour if dough is too sticky.
- Mix with the dough hook on the mixer for 8 minutes, or knead by hand for about 10-15 minutes until the dough feels completely smooth and elastic, and is only slightly tacky to the touch. If dough is too sticky, add more flour a little at a time. Here and hereare great guides for knowing when dough has been kneaded enough.
- Form the dough into a ball, and rub with olive oil before putting it back in the bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for about an hour, or until doubled in size. Divide the dough in half and roll out and stretch it to size. If not using the other half, dough can be frozen in a freezer bag.