I tend to be much more vegetarian-oriented in the months from about October to April each year. It’s to do with what’s in season, I think – it’s really not difficult to come up with lovely vegetarian meals based around tomatoes, eggplants, mushrooms, asparagus, beans, corn, zucchini, and all the other lovely things we get around here at this time of year. And the warmer weather encourages shorter cooking times and lighter appetites and fresher tastes. So we will be vegetarian four or five days a week, and sometimes more at this time of year. Winter is harder – it’s difficult for me, at least, to get truly inspired by meals centering around root vegetables and leafy greens. I have some, of course, but they are fewer and farther between. I don’t really like stodgy food, either, and seasonal vegetarian food for winter often is stodgy…
Anyway, this pizza is so brilliant that it really doesn’t matter whether you are a vegetarian, a vegan or an omnivore. It’s gorgeous whichever way you slice it (and speaking of slices, I recommend scissors for cutting up pizza – good enough for my Nonna, and now good enough for me, too). It is, I must admit, particularly welcome on a night like tonight, being set out in company with a pumpkin, feta and rocket pizza (for which I must also provide the recipe one day), a conventional sort of pizza with eggplant, salami, roasted peppers, semi-dried tomatoes and mozzarella, and Nigella Lawson’s Meatzza, which is a Margherita pizza with a meatloaf base. This pizza provides much needed lightness and freshness to the meal, and the salsa verde keeps it zingy.
But it’s pretty fabulous all on its own, too, and we have eaten it as a meal on several prior occasions, without feeling any lack of meat. Give it a try!
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Salsa Verde1 cup basil leaf
1 cup flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup mint
1/4 cup coriander
2 Garlic Cloves crushed
50 g salted Capers well rinseded
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
45ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil
a good pinch of salt
freshly ground Black pepper
Vegetable topping2 bunches asparagus 1 baby fennel bulb 1 small zucchini 300 g cherry tomatoes 6 small mushrooms 1 tbsp olive oil oregano, black pepper
Now what will you do with it?
First, make the base. Put the yeast in a large bowl, and gently pour in the warm water and the sugar. Leave for a few minutes so that the yeast can have a bit of a snack, then add the oil and the salt and stir in. Add the semolina or flour, using your hands to mix everything together to a dough that is soft but not too outrageously sticky. You may need to add more flour. Be aware that stickier dough = nicer texture in the end, but also = impossible to knead, and you need the kneading to achieve said texture.
Speaking of kneading, knead the dough, either in the bowl or on a floured surface, for about 10 minutes, or until the dough becomes very smooth and stretchy and seems like one entity – even when you fold it, the two folded sections will want to become one smooth section. Oil another bowl (or get your nearest available side-kick to wash out the one you were just using and oil that while you toss the dough hand to hand, pretending to be a pizza chef), roll the dough around in it, and cover with a clean tea towel.
Leave the dough to rise while you prepare the salsa verde and topping. This will take about an hour if the weather is warm, but longer if it’s cold. Putting the dough in the laundry while you run the clothesdryer or on the rangehood while you make soup or stock works really well in cold weather – dough likes humidity, too.
Salsa verde, incidentally, is awesome and easy. You put everything in a blender until it is smooth and wonderfully, vividly grean, and then you are done. How’s that?
As for the veggies, slice the fennel and zucchini, halve the cherry tomatoes, halve and slice the mushrooms (or just slice them if they are very small) and chop the asparagus into lengths of about an inch and a half. Put in a bowl and toss with the oil and herbs, then let them marinade until the dough is ready.
Go back to your dough, which should have doubled in size. I hope your bowl was big enough. Mine wasn’t, and we had the dough monster overflowing across the stovetop by the time I noticed (sadly, there is no photographic evidence of this, because I was too busy cleaning up the mess). Punch it down – you don’t want that dough getting uppity and taking over the kitchen.
Pre-heat the oven to 220°C. 210°C fan-forced is even better.
Form the dough into a ball, flatten it, and stretch it out, bit by bit, to cover a large pizza tray – I think mine is about 35 cm. You shouldn’t need to grease the tray, incidentally, but if you don’t trust me, feel free! I won’t be offended. I’m usually not all that daring myself.
Spread your lovely pizza base with about half of the salsa verde. Isn’t it pretty?
Pile your vegetables over the base, leaving a little space at the edges. This is what we call ‘rustic’.
Bake the pizza for about 15 minutes, or until it’s golden and a bit hollow sounding when you knock on the base. Yeah, that’s a mean instruction and I’m totally laughing at you, because who on earth turns a pizza up-side down to knock on it? And of those people who do, how many don’t burn their hands? Exactly. Yet this is what the books, in their wisdom, so often say. I go with it being golden brown at the edges and making a reasonable tapping sound when I knock on the edge.
Drizzle the rest of the salsa verde over the vegetable topping, and serve to an adoring public. How adoring? So adoring that we all dived straight in and I never did get a photo of the whole pizza…
For starters, you don’t have to make your own pizza base if it’s too hard, OK? In fact, if you have a good quality pizza base on hand, you can probably make this entire thing in about half an hour, which would be excellent. If you don’t have a good pizza base on hand, you could also consider using a base made out of a thick flatbread, though you would probably need to make two or three of them for this quantity of topping.
If you do feel like making your own base, but don’t have time for dough to rise, you could also make a scone base, or a cornbread one (handy if you need to be gluten-free), and of course, if it is all about the gluten-freedom, I understand there are some good gluten-free bases to be bought.
As for toppings, well, this is pizza. I’m fairly sure you can think of any number of toppings. You can, of course, substitute in or out any quick-cooking vegetable – capsicums, green beans and onions all work. Slower-cooking vegetables should probably be cooked or partly cooked before going on the pizza – you can roast root vegetables or grill eggplant.
You can even make a chocolate calzone… but that’s a story for another post (once I’ve perfected the recipe).
This time last year…