Saturday, 19 March 2011

Pizza: regular and "alternative" toppings and bases

Every cook with a family should have pizza in their repertoire! I don't think I would ever make it if it wasn't for the kids- but when I do, the adults tuck in enthusiastically too...
Here are some pictures of my standard pizza; the one I make most often (please excuse the slightly blurry photos as I was in a hurry and  it was steaming hot). I usually top it with grated medium vegetarian cheddar cheese, sweetcorn, fresh pineapple chunks, peppers and olives, not forgetting some low-fat vegetarian mozarella cheese too. I like to scatter dried oregano and coarse ground black pepper on top.

But this is by no means the only option for a vegetarian pizza; you can have vegan versions, tomato-free versions, different toppings and bases. Here are some of the variations I have tried:-

  • I normally use a yeasted bread dough for the base. As I have a bread machine, I use a half-and-half wholemeal and white flour dough, substituting olive oil for the butter. If I have time, I put it through the cycle twice, as the end result is much lighter. If I'm feeling really attentive to detail, I scatter coarse semolina over the finished base. I pre-cook the base on an oiled tray at 200C just until the outside is "sealed" (solidified). I don't have a baking stone, but I do have a pizza setting on my oven, which is supposed to give more heat at the bottom- I can't honestly say I have noticed any difference however.
  • Quicker, yeast-free base: This is made with baking powder, and is a lot like a scone. To plain wholemeal flour, add 3/4-1 tsp of baking powder and 20-25g butter/ vegan margarine for every 100g of flour. Or for every 110g self-raising flour, use 25g of butter/ margarine and 4 tabs milk/ soya milk. Or use your own favourite scone recipe. Pre-cook the base before you add the topping, but don't brown it too much. If you cannot tolerate yeast, or if you don't consider yeasted foods as offerable to Krishna, then this is your option.

Tomato sauce for pizza topping: Ideally, I would cook down chopped fresh tomatoes, but more often than not I have to resort to canned. I like to cook the sauce slowly for a long time, so I get the sauce going while my bread machine is kneading the dough. I use 2 cans of chopped tomatoes or the fresh equivalent for each 500g of dough. I just put them in a saucepan, add seasalt, a little brown sugar or gour and some hing. I often throw in a couple of bayleaves too, but in my experience the simpler the sauce's flavour the better. (Herbs can be sprinkled over the pizza just before baking.) Then I simmer it slowly and reduce it so that it is thick and dark, with a consistency somewhere between passata and tomato puree from a tube. You don't want it too wet or it will make the base soggy, but too dry and the resulting pizza could turn out hard and lifeless.

Alternative to tomato sauce:  For 4 months in the summer of every year, many Gaudiya Vaisnavas observe "Caturmasya"; for spiritual reasons, various extra rules for eating are adhered to strictly, a different one for each month plus some prohibited foods for all 4 months. See for all the details. Tomatoes are a food which is prohibited in all 4 months, so if you are following Caturmasya but you just have to have pizza for some reason (!) then this is the solution. It's actually very simple: just grill/ roast several red peppers and blend them into a puree, either peeled or unpeeled. They are even sweeter if slightly charred. All you need is a little salt and maybe hing and you have a perfect sauce for topping a pizza.

"Lebanese " Pizza:
This dish came about when I was asked to help cater for an event in Glastonbury a few years ago. I don't even know if it is particularly Lebanese-style, but it definitely has Middle-Eastern flavours. If memory serves me correctly, we presented it with a salad on the side, and there were also buttered jacket potatoes as the pizza portions weren't massive. These instructions yield about 12 portions,depending on how big you want a portion to be...
Base: 500-600g wholemeal bread dough, as above (only 100% wholemeal, not 50-50)
Topping: 170g hummus (see post in February for my garlic-free version)
               2 small aubergines, sliced thinly and roasted
               artichoke hearts and/ or roasted red peppers
               pitted black olives
               extra-virgin olive oil
               1-2tsps paprika/ smoked paprika
               1 tsp each dried oregano and parsley
               75g pinenuts
               fresh coriander, roughly chopped
               1 pomegranate
               crumbled vegan "feta" cheese- made with soaked wet-ground almonds, lemon juice and salt,                or tofu (optional)
  • Spread the part-cooked base with a little oil and the hummus
  • Add the vegetables, pinenuts and olives (and "feta" if used)
  • Heat gently in a medium oven, and remove when warmed through but before the hummus dries out.
  • Scatter with the fresh coriander and seeds from the pomegranate just before serving.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Chocolate and Hazelnut Brownies- vegan and sugar-free

Go ahead...take that second one without guilt!

My debut in the world of brownies had to be as healthy as possible: that was my I hope you'll agree that these are both delicious and less unhealthy than normal cakes. I wonder if they have less calories? I was pleased with the flavour; they are sweet enough, which is helped by the natural sweetness in the hazelnuts and the vanilla essence as well as the dates. I did misjudge how much they would rise, though, so another time I would put less mixture into the tin to get more of a classic brownie size and shape. This recipe makes 12-16, according to size of tin, shape and thickness.
400g self-raising flour
4 tspss baking poder
4 tabs cocoa powder (not drinking chocolate, which contains powdered milk)
150g hazelnuts, crushed with a rolling pin
100g chopped stoned dates
100ml water
3 tabs date syrup
400ml soya milk
159ml sunflower oil
2 tsps vanilla essence
  • First, switch your oven on to 180C and prepare a large square baking tin. (If you use silicone lke I do, you just have to wet it. If you are using a conventional tin, I suspect it would be best to line it with oiled baking parchment.)
  • Next prepare the date sweetener: simmer the dates with the water in a small sauxcepan until the water has been absorbed/ evaporated. Use a grinder or blender to whizz them into a coarse paste (some larger bits are okay), then stir in the date syrup.
  • Mix the dry ingredients together, including the nuts. 
  • In a separate container, mix the soya milk, sunflower oil, vanilla essence and date paste.
  • Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and beat thoroughly for about 2 minutes.
  • Put the mixture into the prepared tin (s); make it about 1.5m deep as it will rise as it cooks.
  • Bake at 180C for about 15 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out dry and clean.
  • When cool, turn out and cut into squares or rectangles.