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Healthier Pizza

Most people think that eating healthy means giving up all the foods they enjoy.  This simply isn't the case.  There are two aspects of healthy eating—one is knowing how to chose quality food (shopping for ingredients) and the other is knowing how to prepare it (cooking).  One you know how to select and prepare healthy food, you can make just about any kind of food you like.

 

For instance, it's very rarely that I'll eat the popular American food pizza.  Personally I think most pizzas made in this country are tasteless pieces of white flour cardboard smothered in poor quality cheese and sprinkled with a few toppings.  But, I do like to eat pizza when I make it myself.  People who have eaten at my home have really enjoyed my pizza and over the years I've gradually improved my technique until I've really got it down to where I'm extremely pleased with the finished product.

 

So, here are my suggestions for creating a healthier version of this popular “fast food.”

 

Ingredients

 

Start by purchasing quality ingredients.  Choose only the highest quality ingredients, preferably organically grown.  Instead of a white flour crust, one should make a crust from whole grains or a mixture of whole grains and unbleached flour.  I've made delicious pizza from whole wheat flour and from a mixture of whole wheat flour and rice or oat flour to make the dough a little lighter.  However, my best creation has been from using whole spelt flour with a little bit of white spelt flour added.

 

If you want to do healthy baking at home I highly recommend getting your own grain mill.  Whole grains contain vitamin E and other nutrients that start to rapidly decay after grinding.  In particular, the oils in grains (like the oils in nuts) are prone to become rancid.  When I was young, my mom used to purchase fresh ground whole wheat flour from someone who sold it in our part of town.  It was kept refrigerated in order to retard spoilage.  Of course, most whole grain flour you purchase today is not refrigerated, so the oils have gone rancid and many of the vitamins have been destroyed.  If you've never tasted breads and baked goods made with fresh ground flour, you're missing something.

 

Of course, if you can't afford a grain mill right now, purchase the best whole grain flours  you can find.  They're still better than the processed white flours that are practically devoid of nutritional value.

Making the Crust

 

Start making the crust the day before you are going to make the pizza, because we're going to allow the dough to rest in the fridge for at least 12 hours prior to making the pizza.  There are two reasons for this.  First, it will result in a better texture to the crust.  Second, allowing the dough to soak begins a process of slightly “souring” the dough.  This makes the final product more digestible and nutritious.

 

The reason for this is that all seeds contain enzyme inhibitors and compounds that lock up nutrients until the seed is ready to sprout.  When one eats seeds raw these compounds interfere with digestion and absorption of nutrients from the seed.  By allowing the dough to rest, it allows these compounds to break-down.  It also improves flavor and texture.

 

The recipe I follow is supposed to be for two 12-inch pizzas, but the way I make it, I get four 12-inch pizzas from it.  It depends on who thick you like your crust.

 

Start by making a sponge as follows:

 

In a bowl mix:

 

  • 1 - 1/2 cups of warm water
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 2 Tablespoons yeast
  • 2 cups whole wheat spelt or wheat flour

 

Set this mixture in a warm place until it is nice and bubbly.  This means the yeast are going to work converting the honey into carbon dioxide gas (which is going to make the dough rise).

 

Now, add the following:

 

  • 1/4 Tablespoon high quality salt (like real salt or Celtic salt)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil

You will also need to kneed in additional flour.  I used to kneed by hand, but now I have a Kitchen Aid machine with a dough hook that does the kneading for me.  It's much easier and produces a better crust.

 

The recipe I started from says you only need another 1-1/2 cups of flour, but I find that the dough is softer than I like and too hard to work with.  I usually add 2 cups of flour and then add more a little at a time until the dough pulls free of the sides of the mixer.  At this point I use part whole spelt and part white spelt (about 1 cup whole spelt and the rest white).  This makes a lighter dough.  I've also used brown rice flour or oat flour, but you could also use unbleached wheat flour.

 

In order to make the dough more elastic, I add a Tablespoon of gluten to the dough while I'm adding the extra flour.  Gluten is a protein formed when wheat is kneaded.  It is very elastic and helps the dough hold the bubbles created by the yeast.  A little extra gluten makes the dough more elastic.  However, if you have problems with gluten intolerance, leave this out.

 

Once you've kneaded in the extra flour, spray another bowl with cooking spray and put the dough into the bowel to rest.  Allow it to rise to double in size, then punch it down.  Now, we're going to let it rest in the fridge.

 

 

I spray a piece of plastic wrap with cooking spray and put it right on top of the dough to keep the surface from drying out before putting it in the fridge.  If you're concerned about the plastic wrap you could use wax paper or brush the top of the dough with a little olive oil.  You can also spray water on the dough once in a while to keep it moist.

 

After the dough has rested in the fridge, you're going to remove it and divide it into two to four dough balls of equal size.  Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.  I have a pizza stone which I put on the bottom rack.  The bottom rack is placed on the lowest position in the oven, too.  The pizza stone makes the crust come out crispy on the bottom.

 

If you don't have a pizza stone get pizza pans with holes in them.  This allows the moisture to escape out of the bottom of the pan, making the crust crispier.  If you're using pizza pans place the bottom rack in the second position up from the bottom of the oven.

 

Dust your rolling surface with a little flour and roll out the first pizza dough.  You're now ready to apply toppings.

Toppings

 

If I'm applying a tomato sauce to the pizza I brush it first with a little olive oil.  My pizza sauce is simple.  I spread a little canned tomato sauce (organic if possible) over the olive oil and sprinkle on some Italian seasoning and salt.

Now you can add whatever cheese or topping you like.  Here are some of my favorites.

 

Basic Pizza

I start with the olive oil and tomato sauce base described above.

Next I sprinkle on a blend of grated mozzarella and cheddar cheese.

Next I add whatever vegetables I want: onions, green peppers, black olives, green olives, mushrooms, jalepeno peppers, etc.

Then I top the whole thing with Turkey pepperoni, browned ground beef or chicken, etc.

BBQ Chicken Pizza

Brush the crust with olive oil, but instead of using tomato sauce spread a little of your favorite BBQ sauce on the pizza.  The put Monterrey Jack (or Pepper Jack) and Cheddar cheese on the BBQ sauce.  Next add chicken (either a cut-up grilled chicken breast or ground chicken that has been browned in the sauce pan).  Next comes some veggies, green or hot peppers and onions.

 

Grilled Veggie Pizza

This is one I really like.  You cook some zucchini slices (sliced lengthwise) and eggplant slices on the BBQ grill (or in the pan on the stove) until they are soft.  Brush them with a little olive oil and salt before cooking.  You could also do green peppers and tomatoes in the same way but I haven't tried it yet.

Put down the olive and tomato sauce base and then place cut up pieces of the grilled veggies on the sauce.  Top with some slices of fresh mozzarella and a little goat cheese.

 

Goat Cheese and Artichoke Hearts

The tomato sauce is optional for this one.  If you have a crushed olive spread that makes a better base than tomato sauce. But you can just use the brushed olive oil if you want.  Put crumbled goat cheese and feta cheese over the base.  Then add artichoke hearts and black olives.

 

Tomato and Basil Pizza

This is one I made this summer right out of the garden.  I started with the tomato sauce base, then put slices of fresh mozzarella cheese on top.  I then sprinkled on some freshly grated Parmesan and other hard cheeses I had lying around.  I baked this until the cheese was bubbly, then put slices of fresh tomatoes from the garden onto which I sprinkled fresh chopped basil from the garden.  Then I returned the pizza to the oven for a minute or two until the tomatoes had warmed through.  It was great.

 

Prepare Your Own and “Kitchen Sink” Pizza

Of course, you can do what I do and invent your own recipes.  If you have a family, you can do what we like to do.  Prepare a whole bunch of different toppings, cheeses, etc. and make a pizza dough for each member of the family.  Make a double batch of dough if necessary.  Then, let everyone pick there own toppings and make their own pizza.  

Be sure to save at least one crust for the final pizza.  On that one, just put on whatever is left.  That's the “kitchen sink” pizza.

 

Baking

 

When you finish making a pizza, pop it in the oven for 10-12 minutes (until the crust is done and the cheese is bubbly).  If you're using pizza pans you can make the next one while the first one is cooking.

Allow the pizza to cool for a couple of minutes before slicing.

 

 

Enjoying

 

I always make a nice green salad to go with the pizza.  The leftovers refrigerate and freeze well.  I put them on pieces of cardboard or pizza pans inside of 2 gallon zip lock bags.  Just warm them up in the toaster oven or regular oven when you want to eat them.  (The leftovers make a great breakfast!)

 

There's no reason eating healthy has to be dull, boring or tasteless.  Once you've made your own healthier pizza, you'll probably never want to go back to the “store bought” kind again.  It's not only more nutritious, it tastes better, too.