Healthy Pizza

Or, as per the message I sent to my vegetarian friend, “come round for dinner? I’ve made cauliflower pizza dough, so we can eat like hipsters”.

It might not quite be hipster pizza, because I forgot to put the kale on top, but I consider this relatively healthy pizza – with a thin wholewheat crust, half made up of vegetables, topped with reduced fat cheese and more vegetables (spoiler alert: heaps of vegetable ribbons, instead of tomato sauce), it doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable for a weeknight dinner.

Traditional pizza with asparagus, mozzarella and fresh basil

Healthier version: thin crust courgette pizza with aubergine, salami and reduced fat cheese

Aside from the underlying dough recipe, which is adapted from Roberta’s Sourdough Pizza recipe from the New York Times, this is more of a template than a proper recipe – it’s a terrific way of making a dent in a courgette glut in the summer, or using up leftover roast cauliflower (we had three families over for Easter lunch, and shockingly, the cauliflower was less of a kiddie favourite than I’d anticipated. The chocolate eggs on the other hand…don’t belong in or on a pizza, so I’m eating the ones they didn’t find right now. Mm… delicious under-the-sofa chocolate, Good thing that pizza was so healthy).

The dough alone makes enough pizza for 2, and it works perfectly as it is, or using the quantities here, you can add the vegetables and it will make enough for 4. It’s a good make-ahead dinner, as it takes an overnight rise, refrigerated, but keeps in the fridge for up to 4 days. It gets a bit wetter if you add the vegetables in advance of rolling it out, in which case, you may need to add a bit more flour. It’s a no-knead dough, with an optional sourdough element – one of those long-fermented doughs which is supposed to be easier to digest.

It’s not gluten-free, sadly (although I did experiment with some of those recipes where it’s just vegetables and egg whites – not unpleasant, but not really pizza – not enough structural integrity). Here, the vegetables add a certain lightness because of the extra moisture, and hopefully some vitamins, but you can’t really taste them in the pizza itself – they are stealth vegetables.

Recipe: Vegetable Pizza Dough

Serves 4

250g strong white flour (replace up to 100% with strong wholemeal flour – it’s less authentic and doesn’t get as puffy but doesn’t make a big difference if you’re going to have a very thin crust)
7g table salt
50g sourdough starter, fed or unfed (if not using sourdough, add another 25g flour)
1 tsp instant/easy bake yeast (or 2tsp if not using sourdough)
1/2 Tbsp olive oil

(a day after making the dough, just before serving) About 300g (but quantity is flexible – adapt to whatever you have around. I normally use about the same volume of dough/vegetables but more or less is fine) of either:

  • cooked cauliflower, blitzed in the food processor to small pieces but not pureed
  • raw grated courgette, salted and left to sit in a colander for at least 10 minutes, excess moisture squeezed out with a tea towel/kitchen roll
  1. Place the salt first, and then the flour into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Make a well in the flour, and add 150ml lukewarm water, the sourdough starter (if using), yeast and olive oil.
  2. Mix in with the dough hook of the stand mixer (or a big spoon, or your hands) until just combined, then cover and leave at room temperature until the dough has risen and formed bubbles – this will be a good few hours.
  3. When risen, refrigerate for at least an hour to make it easier to shape, or overnight or up to 4 days
  4. [if using vegetables] At least an hour and a half before you are ready to eat, add the cauliflower/courgette to the dough and mix in, either by hand (fold the dough over the vegetables to make thinner and thinner layers of dough until evenly combined) or using the dough hook.
  5. The dough should still be sticky and soft – if the vegetables have made it really wet, add some more flour and knead in. Divide into 2/4 pieces and coat in semolina (rather than flour) so that it’s not too sticky to handle.
  6. Carefully stretch/roll the dough out onto a sheet of baking parchment over a baking sheet. I wish I could do that turn/stretch thing that pizza pros do on YouTube, but I can’t at all, so I roll the dough out very thinly (less than 0.5cm)  using a rolling pin – as a result it’s very thin, but stable crust. If you’re feeling more indulgent, and want a puffier, more authentic pizza (assuming in that case you haven’t added the vegetables), carefully stretch the dough (i slowly turn it like a bicycle wheel, letting gravity do the stretching) until about 1-1.5cm thick.
  7. Loosely cover the dough with clingfilm/a clean tea towel, and leave to rise whilst you prepare the toppings (see below)
  8. When the dough has had about 30 mins to rise, preheat the oven to 240C on the pizza setting (or maximum heat and the fan oven setting), and put a metal baking tray in on a high shelf to heat up. Add your toppings to the pizza.
  9. When the oven is ready, quickly but carefully slide the pizza on its baking parchment from the cold baking sheet to the hot baking sheet, and bake for 10-12 minutes.

not-vegetable pizza, stretched instead of rolled, is much puffier and more authentic, but less healthy

Pizza topping inspiration

What could be more inspiring than pizza!

I personally don’t love having tomato sauce, as it’s quite dominant and wet, which can lead to the pizza becoming a bit sweet and gummy. Instead I’d normally have lots of cheese, lots of finely shredded vegetables tossed in garlic oil, and perhaps a little salami or black forest ham (Lidl are great for both of these).

In order:

  • Cheese, grated: having this on first means that the pizza stays crisp and the cheese doesn’t dry out and burn. Mild/mature cheddar (not pre-grated, as it has added starch) is our staple, and either low fat or normal depending on whether we’re more concerned about calories or mystery stabilisers.
  • Ribboned asparagus (in spring) or courgette (in summer), coated in olive oil with two very finely minced garlic cloves, thinly sliced spring onions and salt, heaped generously on top of the cheese.

Wonderfully, it’s the right time of year for asparagus – a favourite pizza topping here, ever since I saw the recipe on the wonderful Smitten Kitchen. We shave it into ribbons using a potato peeler (up until last night, I’d have thought that was all the explanation a person would need. But having belatedly realised what my husband was doing…lay each stalk on a chopping board. Hold the woody end, and run the peeler along the length of the asparagus, from the end you are holding towards the tip. Turn the asparagus over to shave the other side. Chop off the hard end and discard).

Courgettes can be ribboned in the same way, or grated by hand or in the food processor (but be careful that the food processor doesn’t leave them too wet – might need to squeeze out the moisture before tossing with the garlic oil.

  • On top of the vegetables before the pizza goes in the oven, any of:
    • Thin slices of black forest ham, or salami
    • Cooked bacon, chopped
    • Tiny meatballs/sausage, pre-cooked
    • Aubergine, cubed or sliced, salted, rinsed and patted dry, tossed in olive oil
    • Caramelised onion
    • Leftover roasted vegetables e.g. peppers, aubergines
    • Kale/cavolo nero, washed, dried and cut into squares, lightly tossed in oil with a tiny bit of salt/sugar
  • After the pizza emerges from the oven:
    • Fresh torn mozzarella
    • Fresh pesto/torn basil
    • Chilli oil

Thin wholemeal cauliflower crust, with black forest ham, aubergine, mozzarella and fresh basil

We make this quite often, just the two of us, but we’ve also made it for a crowd – rolled out the bases and prepared a table full of toppings, and everyone makes their own, helping themselves to side dishes as the pizzas take turns to cook.


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