Re-Inventing the Pizza

The Vegan Pizza

Lately I’ve been thinking about American cuisine and its characteristics, merits and demerits. Whenever the topic of American food comes up, it seems like one of several things happen. Either people start talking about Idaho grown potatoes, beef and apple pie, or they shrug their shoulders and start listing American cafeteria food- Hamburgers, french fries, pizza. Or, if they are me, they start thinking about all the international influences and fusion foods that co-exist here and finally shrug their shoulders without answering. You can learn a lot about someone’s eating philosophy by asking them to talk about American food. Personally, I love the international cuisines and diverse ingredients available in big American cities like San Francisco, New York, and Seattle.

I also love the sophisticated vegan and vegetarian products and options that are so easily available to us, although veganism actually originated in the UK in 1944 with the creation of the UK Vegan society so cannot be claimed as an “American” invention. But, it’s certainly relatively easy to be vegan or vegetarian in the US, in contrast to countries where vegetarian means you only want a little bit of chicken with that stir fry, and Japan where a dish without a fish product is like a sandwich without bread. (I know, I know, I’m speaking to the gluten free here, and I’m sure many a corn tortilla etc. is being defiantly brandished in my general direction. But just work with me here… ;) ) Feeling that I really ought to put my sense of ethics into practice, some time after I had become a vegetarian I tried being vegan. And yes, I fell off the bandwagon, and have since reconciled myself to the fact that currently a more flexible diet is better for my lifestyle. I think they call it being a flexitarian, , or, as I call it sometimes, “wimpy half vegetarian.” Yup, that’s me. But whether or not I stuck to the vegan diet, the fact is, I learned a lot about food and invention from the vegan diet, which is now why I have half a bookshelf full of vegan cookbooks. My favorites are Joanne Stephanoik, Sarah Kramer, and that firebrand, Isa Moskowitz. I think vegetarian or vegan diet resources are fabulous for gluten free folks with other intolerances such as dairy or eggs, because it’s all about replacing these things with creative alternatives that yes, have a yum factor. Because whether you’re gluten free or vegetarian, taste matters. We have taste buds, and my theory is, we might as well make them happy and ourselves too!

So with that lengthy introduction- Lately I’ve been playing with pizza, and thinking about dairy and egg intolerances and seeing just how far we can push the boring old “American” pizza, with its Italian lineage but the marvelous ability to be transformed by local tastes and flavors. Definitions of varieties of Italian pizza have become something of a political issue, at least in Italy and some parts of Europe, while here in the states it seems like pizza variety, especially crust has become a point of regional identity. There’s thin New York-style pizza, Chicago-style deep dish pizza, St. Louis-style pizza (apparently it’s a cheese thing), thick crusted New England Greek pizza, Rhode Island Grilled pizza, and finally California-style pizza which Wikipedia describes as “pizza with non-traditional ingredients, especially those that use a considerable amount of fresh produce.” Source: Wikipedia (California Pizza Kitchen is apparently partially responsible for popularizing Thai-inspired, chicken pizza and other innovative combos.) Us gluten free people have our own take on pizza, sometimes informed by our pre-gluten free lifestyle. There’s Amy’s frozen pizzas (available with cheese or dairy free with spinach, my personal favorite), some people swear by premade kinnikinnick or by george etc. pizza crusts, others are fanatical about Chebe pizza.. And then there are the brave rebels who are happy to put pizza toppings on a gluten free bagel (kinninick etc), gluten free toast, corn tortillas, or even soccas, french style chickpea crepes. Then you get into the cookbook gurus- Bette Hagman and Carol Fenster both have dedicated considerable energy to creating yummy pizza crusts. Although I’ve tried many different crusts, my favorite is Carol Fenster’s recipe which she has thoughtfully shared with the public on her web site at I usually make it with brown rice and tapioca flour, and leave out the yucky gelatin. I like it because she incorporates flavorful Italian seasonings into the crust. It’s also fast, easy to work with, and has a nice “brown” crust. It’s super yum with red tomato pesto rubbed into the crust (even, or especially on the rim).

But lately I’ve been thinking… especially since I’m living in California- I ought to be a little more adventurous with my pizzas than the standard Neapolitan pizza with tomatoes and cheese. How about a really international, dairy free, potentially vegan pizza where the toppings are as adventurous as you dare to make them? Unfortunately, gourmet pizza places generally have nothing to offer me, but reading the menu makes me drool- not because I want any of the yucky gluten, but because the best ones sound like a gorgeous salad minus all the boring lettuce. artichoke hearts, calamata olives, pine nuts, roasted red peppers, mushrooms… This is what I’m talking about.

pizzacloseup.jpgSome time back a member of the SillyYaks yahoo gluten free group posted a terrific recipe that was inspired by a South African recipe. I was intrigued because it used roasted eggplant and mayonnaise to create a creamy, cheesy topping. Mayonnaise might sound pretty unconventional, but it’s actually a very common topping in Japan, along with seafood and sliced boiled eggs. So, I was willing to give it a try. I grilled the eggplant and garlic, blended it with mayonnaise, and then used it as a topping with grilled vegetables. I added cheese for DH’s half, but it was equally good without- and the mixture of grilled, smoky vegetables and creamy sauce on a pizza crust was actually very good. At the time I added some premade tomato pesto, which also enhanced the flavor. I knew this would be a recipe to return to.

artichokeheartpizza.jpg broccolinipizza.jpgSo, Friday night I made my eggplant “Cheese”, Saturday night I made the pizza crust (vegan, from Carol Fenster’s Cooking free pizza mix recipe), grilled vegetables and baked it in the oven until done. It was really good- but since I didn’t have any pesto, I felt like it was missing a certain something. Saturday I made my favorite dairy free pesto recipe. Then I roasted broccolini in the oven with olive oil, grill seasoning, and chopped garlic. I made one more pizza crust, baking it for ten minutes and spread pesto as a base and then covering it with toppings. One side was artichoke hearts and roasted broccolini, with pine nuts, and the other side was artichoke hearts, calamata olives, roasted red pepper, spinach, and pine nuts. I dabbed little gobs of pesto and eggplant mayo on top, put it in the oven, and enjoyed. Mmmmm, yummy. It might make Italian chefs cry into their apron to see their beloved pizza reinvented to be vegan, gluten free and crammed full of toppings, but it made me and my taste buds Very, Very happy. I hope you will like it too. The basil pesto is really very versatile, and good on all sorts of things… sandwiches, pasta, blanched vegetables. Just like with pizza, the possibilities are endless.

Eggplant Mayo Pizza with Grilled Veggies
The whole big pizza
The whole big pizza
Eggplant Mayo cheese Sauce

1 lg eggplant (roasted and skinned)
4 baked garlic cloves
1/2 cup mayo (vegan, regular mayo, or japanese for flavor)
salt & pepper

Toppings such as:
tomato pesto, spinach, portabello mushrooms (grilled),
red peppers (grilled), olives, marinated eggplant, pine nuts, and
red onion, spinach, fresh basil.

Favorite GF pizza crust (I like Carol Fenster’s pizza crust)

Blend sauce ingredients in blender.

Bake the pizza crust.
Top it with grilled veggies and pine nuts, fresh basil etc.
Then dabble with globs of eggplant mayo as if you were placing slices of fresh mozzarella on top, and bake until the top is pleasingly brown or at least looks hot and you don’t want to wait any more.

The kind of mayonnaise you use makes a huge impact on the flavor. I think Japanese mayonnaise is the ultimate due to its rich, creamy, egg flavor, but it does contain msg so you may or may not want to indulge.

Lowfat Mayonnaise may contain too much vinegar so you would want to somehow counterbalance this if you used it.

Vegan mayonnaise (I used veganaise this last time) has what to me seems to be a slightly flat, off flavor, and is rather high in calories. Use sparingly and make sure that there are plenty of other flavors to counter this element- and enjoy it for the creamy richness it adds to the dish.

Homemade mayonnaise would probably be the cats meow in this dish, but I for one am not ready for that much food commitment. When I am, and finally give it a try, I’ll let you know how it goes. :)

Dairy Free Basil Parsley Pesto
Yummmmmy Pesto
Yummmmmy Pesto
3 cups basil leaves, destemmed, and packed tightly
1 1/2 cups parsley leaves, destemmed
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup rice wine or cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1/2 cup olive oil
4 cloves roasted garlic
salt and pepper
In a food processor, place the basil, parsley, and pine nuts, and
pulse a few times to roughly chop. Add the vinegar, water, and
nutritional yeast flakes, and process for 30 seconds to combine. While
the machine is running, add the olive oil and continue to process
until smooth. Add roasted garlic, process again, and add salt and
pepper to season. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the
refrigerator. Use to flavor soups, salads, grains, side or main
dishes, as a dip or spread for veggies or bread, or as the base for
salad dressings or other sauces.
The fresh dairy free basil pesto I made the
other day really DOES improve with age, and I am loving it on pasta,
as a topping on Bette Hagman’s french bread, etc. When you first make
it, there is a kind of flat undertone which fades as the flavor
deepens with time. Highly recommended for basil pesto lovers! You
won’t miss the cheese in my opinion, and I love cheese.


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5 Responses to “Re-Inventing the Pizza”

  1. Just in case you’re interested in trying another recipe for pizza crust, here is one I put together adapting my old gluten-full recipe. Keep up the writing–your blog is so fun to read, and I love the international influences in your recipes!

  2. Thank you for the post, Lydia! I may just have to try your pizza crust. :)


  3. [...] For Other Pesto Recipes: See my earlier recipe for Dairy Free Basil Parsley Pesto with accompanying Dairy Free Cheesy Pizza Topping See Elise at Simply Recipes for a traditional Fresh Basil Pesto Recipe, Chocolate and Zucchini has Red and Green Pesto Recipes and a unique Savory Strawberry Pesto Recipe Coconut and Life has a Spinach Pesto Recipe and Healthy Broccoli Pesto Recipe [...]

  4. [...] I recently.organized my kitchen cupboards and came across some Chebe Pizza Mix that I had ordered in a sampler pack from Chebe but never tried. Pizza sounded awfully good, but somehow I didn’t want any old regular pizza. I wanted something… different. As you know, lately I’ve been grilling everything that grows in dirt (zucchini, fennel, onions, you name it, I’ve grilled it), and somehow this came together in my mind with my veggie pizza experience at the Farmer’s Kitchen Cafe. That pizza was piled high with vegetables that I never would have expected on a pizza. I decided to test the limits of pizza myself. Initially I planned to make a vegan topping of roasted eggplant and mayonnaise, and went so far as to blend it up in my food processor. Unfortunately, when I tasted it, I decided that the flat flavor of vegannaise mayonnaise just wasn’t going to work on its own, and I didn’t have enough basil to whip up some vegan pesto. So, I dipped into the refrigerator to use up some leftover cheese. I decided to mix lowfat mixed cheese blend and smoked fontina in order to create maximum flavor while still keeping the dish as healthy as possible. I prepared my veggies on the grill. Keep in mind we live on the second story of an apartment and I usually cook late in the evening. It’s almost always dark by the time I’m at the grill, but a teal blue Chinese lantern illuminates the grill, and I rather like the idea that I’m grilling by moonlight. Our neighbors must think we’re really weird though, for grilling (quietly) so late at night. Anyway, although this was the first time I had used the official Chebe pizza crust mix, I was happily very impressed with the results. The pizza was easy to roll out, as are all their products, and it puffed up a lot in the oven. (Although it later deflated.) I did need to transfer the pizza to a pizza stone halfway through the cooking process, as otherwise the crust would have gotten somewhat soggy by the time it was served. I also made sure to put it on a cooling rack after it was baked in order to retain maximum crispness. And the verdict? Both DH and I were thrilled with our pizza. I think he was secretly doing a happy dance that I had used real cheese for once, and we were both surprised and impressed with the smokiness added to the flavor by the fontina cheese. Somehow the combination of ingredients harmonized to create a really pleasing, delicious dish. For those of you who can’t have dairy, don’t despair. I do think that my eggplant/mayo pizza topping could work, especially if you use a homemade mayonnaise or egg mayonnaise. Pesto will also up the yum factor. If you don’t want to try the mayonnaise topping, you could also try thepine nut “ricotta” I used for lasagna. (Tastes great raw OR baked!) Adding smoked tofu or tofu pups would add a smoky note that could really take this recipe to another level, vegan or no. But regardless of the cheese- definitely try some grilled veggies on your pizza. It might not be “traditional” but it tastes absolutely divine, and made me think that this pizza was the best I’d ever had. *Tip* Serve with the leftover grilled veggies for extra nutrition and refreshing flavor! [...]

  5. [...] adds wonderful body to recipes. It can even be used as an unconventonal dairy substitute as seen in this mayo-eggplant pizza topping. What’s your favorite way to enjoy eggplant? Tell me in the [...]

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