No doubt about it: Pizza is a very guilty pleasure.
But it’s one that we often rationalize. After all, it’s vegetarian (and there are plenty of cheeseless, vegan versions), and with that old “four food groups” argument kids are so fond of, it’s easy to make pizza sound pretty healthy.
But let’s face it. Pizza sucks for you.
The vegan versions you can buy are alright, since you skip all that cheese. But they’re usually little more than flatbreads with a few vegetables on them, and even then, brands like Amy’s will run you five to seven bucks for a pie I could eat with half a stomach.
As for the pizzas from Thrive, they’re nutritional powerhouses, and tasty ones at that. But if you’re going to call them pizzas, you’d better surround the word with three or four protective layers of quotation marks to avoid defaming the character of the real thing. Even Brendan Brazier will admit that.
But yesterday, I discovered the solution to our pizza woes.
White Bean Pizza from Vegan on the Cheap
The most recent cookbook Wiley sent me is the newest from Robin Robertson, author of the outstanding 1,000 Vegan Recipes. (And far more famously, NMA interviewee.) Her new book is called Vegan on the Cheap, which is right up this graduate student’s alley. If I need to explain to you what the concept behind the book is, maybe you should go back to bed.
The pizza is a little bit backwards: A white-bean mixture, which looks kind of like cheese, makes up the first layer. Then tomatoes, which ordinarily would go under the cheese, top the pizza. And they sort of look like pepperonis, which adds to the confusion.
Pizza You Can Feel Good About
But confusing as it is, this pizza is athlete-approved. The white beans provide a healthy dose of protein and complex carbs, and you can, of course, add whatever other vegetables you’d like.
I’m sure you’ll notice that the recipe calls for white flour. To be true to the recipe, I went ahead and used this the first time. But I’ve made pizza dough with whole-wheat flour plenty of times, and it always turns out just fine. So that’s what I’ll do next time.
As far as taste goes, this one was almost a huge hit. The crust was crunchy-but-chewy, the white bean topping garlicky delicious, and the tomatoes, basil, and olives classically flavorful. But the pizza was lacking one thing—acidity. Perhaps some lemon juice would have done the trick, maybe a side of tomato sauce for dipping, or even some vinegary carmelized onions. (We opted for buffalo sauce, just like countless other times.)
If you decide to try this, notice that the recipe has you make your own dough, which requires about an hour and a half of rising time.
But I’d really like to hear of what you guys come up with to jazz this pizza up a little; feel free to link to your recipes in the comments. It’s the perfect start to making pizza something you can feel good about.
Tuscan White Bean Pizza
From Vegan on the Cheap, by Robin Robertson, Wiley, 2010
Makes 1 (12-inch) pizza. (< $1.00 per serving)
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 1/2 cups cooked or 1 (15.5-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/3 cup water or vegetable stock
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 2 medium ripe roma tomatoes, cut into 1/4 inch slices
1. Make the dough: In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, and salt. Stir in the water until combined, then use your hands to knead it into a soft dough.
2. Tranfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, adding additional flour as needed so it doesn’t stick. Shape the dough into a smooth ball and place in an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature in a warm spot until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
3. After the dough has risen, transfer it to a lightly floured work surface, punch it down, and gently stretch and lift it to make a 12-inch round about 1/4 inch thick. Transfer the round to a floured baking sheet or pizza stone. Let the dough rise in a draft-free place for 20 minutes. Adjust the over rack to the bottommost position of the oven. Preheat over to 425 degrees F.
4. Make the topping: In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the beans, salt, and pepper.
5. Mash the beans to break them up, then stir in the water and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is creamy, about 8 minutes. Stir in the basil and set aside.
6. To assemble the pizza, spread the bean mixture evenly on top of the dough round, to within 1/2 inch of the edge. Arrange the tomato slices on top and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bake until the crust is browned, 12 to 15 minutes. Serve hot.
Splurge a little: Add sliced pitted kalamata olives when you add the tomatoes. Garnish with thin strips of fresh basil leaves.