Frozen pizzas are my Achilles' heel.
Fast, inexpensive and totally mindless to make, pre-made pizzas are one of my go-to meals to feed my two growing boys and whichever of their friends might be visiting on any given night. We don't eat frozen pizza every single week, but I usually have a few on hand for those nights when I already have a sinkful of dishes to clean and don't have the energy to do more than turn on the oven.
But this January marks my fifth #30atHome, a monthly cooking challenge that my friend Martha Pincoffs started to bring together home cooks who would like to expand their culinary skills and give a little TLC to their cooking selves. Eating three times a day, we feed ourselves hundreds of times in a year, and how much we cook at each of those meals depends on so many factors. I cook plenty of meals for my kids and myself, but it's rare that I cook every single meal over a two week period. I'll grab lunch at a sandwich shop during the workday, grab happy hour that turns into dinner with a friend or take the kids to our favorite Mexican restaurant on a Friday night.
And then there's frozen pizza, which isn't exactly eating out but also not exactly cooking at home. As I try to make small changes to my cooking habits, eliminating or reducing the number of frozen pizzas I serve my kids is at the top of my list. The good news is that buying all these frozen pizzas over the years has taught me that there are many ways to put a pie on the table that don't look like marinara with mozzarella and pepperoni.
Some of my favorite pizzas are more like flatbreads, with fewer toppings, sauce and cheese, or thicker crusted focaccia that use up leftover vegetables or meats that would otherwise end up in the compost. Lately, I've been cooking more with my boyfriend, who has a gastrointestinal disorder that prevents him from eating tomatoes, onions and garlic, so we've been making lots of pizzas topped with garlic-free, homemade pesto.
I enjoy making homemade pizza dough from scratch, but one shortcut that I still take is keeping store-bought dough in the freezer. Whole Foods, Central Market and Trader Joe's sell balls of fresh dough in the deli or refrigerated cases, while H-E-B sells them in the frozen section. When using yeast to make the dough at home, I'll often use a small rimmed baking sheet coated with olive oil to make a thicker crust focaccia. I'm getting good at stretching out the dough with my fists, just like the professionals, but sometimes it's just easier to press the dough into a pan. Some cooks insist on using a rolling pin to flatten out their dough, but that means a floured counter to clean up, and sometimes that's the last task I want to add onto my evening.
To inspire your own non-traditional pizza/flatbread/focaccia baking, I've gathered a handful of recipes that you can mix and match according to your own tastes. If you're trying to cut down on gluten, consider using chickpea flour or a gluten-free flour mix, or if you have dietary restrictions or a tableful of diners who will never eat hummus or pesto instead of marinara, adjust the toppings accordingly.
Hummus, Pepper and Gorgonzola Flatbread
Pizza-type meals are easy to pull together on a weeknight, as long as you plan ahead for dough or keep the store-bought, refrigerated bags of it in stock. But this recipe from John Whaite's new book, "Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients" reminds us of another way to go.
In it, you make a dough with self-rising flour (which contains baking powder and typically a little salt). The good news is, this dough rolls out like a summer afternoon and bakes up crisp like a thin-crust pizza. Pop a pizza stone or heavy baking sheet in the oven, crank up the temperature to 500 degrees and do the most minimal prep of cutting roasted red pepper strips while the dough naps ever so briefly. If you don't have a pizza stone, a heavy baking sheet (not rimmed) will suffice.
The topping combination deserves a nod of its own. An almost sheer swath of hummus acts as the base for Gorgonzola dolce — a mild blue cheese — and the peppers. Drizzles of sweet chile sauce finish the flatbread upon serving. Serve with a green salad, right on top of the flatbread, if you like.
— Bonnie S. Benwick
2 cups self-rising flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 roasted red peppers (from a jar)
2 tablespoons plain hummus
3 1/2 ounces Gorgonzola dolce (sweet)
2 teaspoons sweet chile dipping sauce, for serving
Place a pizza stone or a heavy unrimmed baking sheet in the oven (middle rack); heat to 500 degrees.
Meanwhile, combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl, then add the water and a tablespoon of the oil, stirring to form a dough. Knead in the bowl for a few minutes, until smooth. Shape it into a ball and let rest for 18 minutes in warm, draft-free spot.
Meanwhile, lightly flour a work surface. Cut the roasted red peppers into long, thin strips. Roll out the dough on the floured surface to a thin, 10-by-11-inch rectangle, then slide it onto a piece of parchment paper or onto a rimmed baking sheet that's upside down.
Spread the hummus evenly over the flatbread dough base, then scatter the peppers around. Distribute pinches of the Gorgonzola dolce evenly over the surface. Use the parchment or inverted baking sheet to slide the pizza onto the hot stone or baking sheet in the oven; bake for about 10 minutes, until lightly golden and crisped around the edges. Drizzle the flatbread with the chile dipping sauce just before serving (hot).
— Adapted from "Perfect Plates in 5 Ingredients: 100 Stunning Yet Simple Recipes From the Winner of 'The Great British Baking Show'" by John Whaite (Kyle, $29.95)
I was recently on the hunt for a good, easy focaccia, and after another recipe came up short in both flavor and texture, I decided to try one from Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg that came from one of their numerous sequels, "Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day."
What a revelation. Not only was this faster and less fussy than the first recipe, but it was far superior. There was a crispy crust with a pronounced yet delicate olive-oil flavor that encased a chewy, somewhat airy interior. Plus, unlike most breads, which need to cool down for the best texture, this one can be eaten warm. "I only get invited to a Super Bowl party because I bring this," Hertzberg says. People find it so addictive, "It barely makes it out of the pan, to be honest," François adds.
And does it really just take five minutes? More or less, depending on how quickly you can find, measure and mix the ingredients. Most of the time on this recipe is inactive, while the dough is rising. Then it's just a matter of shaping the dough into a ball and into a flat round, resting it a bit more and baking. And all you need is one bowl and a wooden spoon — no mixer. Also: no kneading!
I've chosen to top this traditional Italian bread simply with rosemary and coarse salt. The recipe from François and Hertzberg adds onion to the mix and also features a version with Meyer lemons, thyme and sugar. François is a fan of topping hers with thinly sliced potatoes, grapes, herbs and honey. Feel free to get creative. Just keep in mind that some ingredients should be added after the bread has baked, including more delicate herbs such as basil and other garnishes, such as honey, that might burn in the oven. Using this recipe you'll have enough dough for two loaves, which you can bake at the same time if you have two 9-inch cake pans.
The dough needs to rest at room temperature for two hours. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or in the freezer for a few months. The shaped loaves need to rest and rise at room temperature for 35 minutes before they are baked. If you don't have a baking stone, you can use a heavy-duty baking sheet instead, or just place the cake pan directly on the oven rack.
— Becky Krystal
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons lukewarm water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
1 1/2 teaspoons dried instant yeast
2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary (from one to two stems)
Coarse or flaky salt, for sprinkling
Use a wooden spoon or sturdy spatula to stir together the water, half the oil, the yeast, kosher salt, sugar and flour in a large (five- or six-quart) bowl, forming a rough dough. Transfer to a container with a lid; partially cover and let it rest for about two hours on the counter. (Alternately, if you have a lidded container large enough for mixing, you can assemble the dough in there.) The dough can then be used right away, but it is much easier to handle once it has been thoroughly chilled. The dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough lightly with flour, then pull half of it off. (It will be about a 1-pound portion; the dusting makes this task easier, as the dough is sticky). Dust the half you are using with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.
Place a baking stone on the middle oven rack; preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Pour the remaining oil into a 9-inch cake pan and evenly coat the bottom of the pan.
Use your hands to flatten it into a half-inch-thick round six to seven inches in diameter. Place the dough top-side-down in the cake pan, moving it around a bit to coat it with the oil. It will not fill to the edges of the pan. Turn the dough over, cover the pan with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
Use your hands to gently push the dough to the edges of the cake pan. Sprinkle with the rosemary and coarse or flaky salt, as needed.
Cover with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rest and rise for 20 minutes.
Place the cake pan on the heated baking stone in the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the focaccia crust is medium brown and feels dry and firm on the surface. The baking time will vary, depending on the focaccia's thickness.
Use a rounded knife to loosen the loaf from the edges of the pan, then transfer the focaccia to a cutting board. Cut into wedges and serve warm, or allow to cool completely.
— From "Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day" by Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg (Thomas Dunne Books, $27.99)
Pesto Socca Pizza
My favorite recipes are those that open up a new lane of cooking and prompt me to imagine that lane leading in all sorts of new directions. Take the Pesto Socca Pizza I came across recently in "The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook," a collection of more than 600 recipes by seven authors. Now, I've used chickpea flour in myriad ways, starting with pancakes that take shape in France, called socca, and in Italy, known as farinata. But writer Marie Reginato does something different, using much less water — and a touch of almond flour — to quickly form a dough you can roll out and bake until crisp. The flavor and texture of the crust remind me of pastry more than pizza: It's a little crumbly, in a good way.
After baking the crust by itself, I followed her lead and topped it with pesto, roasted squash and sliced radishes, adding pumpkin seeds and arugula for color and crunch. This pizza is designed for just one or two servings, and the crust might be too delicate to make much bigger, but you can always make more than one. Any roasted vegetable could work in place of the squash, and I'm envisioning the sauces that could swap in for the pesto, too — marinara, hummus, garlicky yogurt. Did I mention that it happens to be gluten-free? Sweet.
— Joe Yonan
2/3 cup chickpea flour
1/3 cup almond flour/meal (may substitute chickpea flour)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces peeled and seeded butternut squash, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
3 to 4 tablespoons store-bought or homemade pesto (preferably cheese-free to keep it vegan, such as Trader Joe's Kale, Cashew and Basil Pesto)
1/4 cup roasted unsalted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
Sliced radish, for garnish
Handful arugula leaves, for garnish
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Whisk together the chickpea flour, almond flour and salt in a small bowl. Stir in the water and 1 tablespoon of the oil, and keep stirring for a couple of minutes to make sure it is very well blended, with the tacky-but-not-wet consistency of Play-Doh. Form into a small disk, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, toss the squash with 1 teaspoon of the oil on a small rimmed baking sheet, then sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Roast until tender, for 10 minutes.
Roll the rested dough between sheets of parchment paper to an 8-inch round that's 1/4-inch thick. Peel off the top layer of parchment, and lightly rub or brush the top of the dough with the remaining teaspoon of oil. Transfer the dough, still on the bottom sheet of parchment, to a regular-size baking sheet. Bake until the crust is firm and its edges are turning a light golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes.
Carefully transfer the crust, which is a little delicate, to a serving plate. Immediately spread the pesto evenly over the surface of the crust, then top with roasted squash and pumpkin seeds. Garnish with the radishes and arugula. Serve warm.
— From "The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook: The Must-Have Resource for Plant-Based Eaters" by Emily von Euw, Kathy Hester, Linda and Alex Meyer, Marie Reginato, Celine Steen and Amber St. Peter (Page Street Publishing, $30)
Chickpea Flatbread and Marinated Crunchy Chickpeas
This is the result of creating a bread that contains it all: crunch, sweetness and spiciness all married together. It’s a typical over-the-top dish that incorporates everything that I love, and it goes well with so many dishes in this book.
— Bettina Campolucci Bordi
For the flatbread:
1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup gluten-free flour mix (see below)
2 cups water
Pinch of pink Himalayan salt
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon black sesame seeds (optional)
For the onions:
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 to 3 medjool dates, pitted and torn or finely chopped
For the marinated chickpeas:
14 ounces tin chickpeas, drained
1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Pinch of pink Himalayan salt
Cilantro and mint, chopped (for garnish)
Heat the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with wax paper. In a bowl, combine all the bread ingredients and set aside.
Next, start on the caramelized onions. Heat a good glug of olive oil in a pan and fry the onion for 10 to 30 minutes until nice and soft. The longer you cook them, the sweeter and darker in color they will get. Add the sweet paprika along with the dates, give it a stir and set aside.
Drain the chickpeas very well — you can even pat them dry with a towel. Put them in a bowl and add the rest of the marinade ingredients, then stir to coat the chickpeas and set aside. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the lined baking sheet and spoon the bread mixture over the tray. Make sure the mixture is spread out evenly with a spatula.
Sprinkle the chickpeas evenly over the top along with dollops of the caramelized onions. Make sure that every bite will have a little bit of both mixtures. Scatter over the sesame seeds.
Stick the tray in the middle of the oven and cook for 20 minutes. After the bread is done, move it to the top of the oven for 5 minutes or under the grill to give the chickpeas an extra crunch, but keep an eye on it to make sure they don’t burn.
Take the bread out of the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve immediately as a side dish or as a starter bread with any of the dips and sides in this chapter and sprinkled with chopped herbs. Serves 4 to 6.
— From "Happy Food: Fast, Fresh, Simple Vegan" by Bettina Campolucci Bordi (Hardie Grant, $29.99)
Gluten-Free Flour Mix
Many shop-bought gluten-free flour mixes can be unpredictable. Make a double batch of this and you will thank me later. It is not only practical but, more importantly, it works a treat.
— Bettina Campolucci Bordi
1 1/3 cups brown rice flour
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup oat flour
1/4 cup potato starch/flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
Mix all the flours together and store in an airtight container.
— From "Happy Food: Fast, Fresh, Simple Vegan" by Bettina Campolucci Bordi (Hardie Grant, $29.99)