I was watching a morning news show last Thursday when the hosts announced it was National Cheese Pizza Day. I was already working on a pizza experiment, unaware that cheese pizza has its very own day.
But I have not been focused so much on toppings as I have been on alternatives to the traditional crust.
Cauliflower pizza crust is gaining in popularity, so I tried it out for myself. I’d heard cauliflower pizza crust can be soggy and get mushy once sauced and topped, even if it’s a prepared crust from the store, so I came up with my own version.
If you decide to try cauliflower pizza crust — which is delicious by the way — it’s important to steam the cauliflower then set it in a cheesecloth and squeeze out as much liquid as you can before making the dough. Most recipes for cauliflower pizza crust contain mozzarella cheese and eggs to bind the dough together.
To ensure a crispy crust I added cornmeal. The cornmeal also added flavor and made the crust sturdy enough to hold the toppings.
Another trend is to make a pizza crust out of polenta. I love polenta so I was definitely up for trying it as a pizza crust. My family thought it was quite tasty. A word to the wise: it took more time to make than I thought it would because you have to cook the polenta, shape it into a crust and bake it before topping.
I was on a roll and looking for a third pizza crust alternative. I used Masa Harina to make a pizza crust. Masa Harina is made from hominy, a type of corn, and is used to make tortillas and tamales. I topped my pizza with black beans, corn, peppers, a Mexican cheese and garnished it with an avocado-cilantro cream.
It’s not something you’ll find at your local House of Pizza and if you’re looking for a change, it’s a delicious alternative.
Cauliflower Cornmeal Pizza with Mushrooms and Feta
1 head cauliflower
2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon garlic salt
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
15-ounce can of pizza sauce, such as Don Pepino
10-ounce package baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons fresh basil, if desired, for garnish
First, prepare the cauliflower by removing the stalk and any leaves and chopping the remaining florets. Add a couple of inches of water to a saucepan and set over high heat.
Once the water starts to boil, add the cauliflower and cover with a lid, then reduce heat to medium high.
Steam the cauliflower for several minutes until it has softened, then remove from heat and allow to cool.
Mash the cauliflower with a potato masher, then transfer to a cheesecloth and squeeze out any excess moisture.
Set the cauliflower in a microwave-safe bowl and add the mozzarella and beaten eggs. Stir to combine, then set the bowl in the microwave and heat for about 1 minute on high to melt the cheese. Stir in the cornmeal, garlic salt, pepper and oregano.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray the paper lightly with cooking spray. Transfer the cauliflower mixture to the baking sheet and shape it into a thin circle.
Set in an oven preheated to 425 degrees and bake for about 15 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove from oven and add the pizza sauce and remaining mozzarella. Add mushrooms and feta and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until the mozzarella is melted and bubbly. Garnish with fresh basil, if desired, before serving.
Polenta Pizza with Peppers and Arugula
2 cups polenta
1 1/2 tablespoons flaxseed meal
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
15-ounce can pizza sauce, such as Don Pepino
3-ounce ball fresh mozzarella
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 cup mini colored bell peppers, sliced
1 small shallot, sliced
3/4 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 cup arugula
Add polenta, flaxseed meal, garlic powder and salt to a bowl and whisk together.
Add 5 1/2 cups of water to a saucepan and bring to a boil.
When water is boiling, slowly add the polenta mixture, stirring constantly. Lower the heat to medium low and simmer for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the polenta has thickened and is batter-like. If it’s too thick, add a little more water, if it’s too thin, cook it for a couple more minutes.
When polenta is cooked, transfer it to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Using a spatula dipped in water, spread the polenta into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. Use a knife or pizza cutter to cut the polenta into 8 pieces, then set it in an oven preheated to 425 degrees and bake for about 15 minutes.
While the polenta is baking, add the olive oil to a sauté pan and set over medium-high heat. Add garlic, shallot, peppers and mushrooms to the sauté pan and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Remove baked polenta from the oven, then spread the pizza sauce on top. Add sautéed vegetables, then dot with fresh mozzarella. Return to oven and bake for an additional 5 to 7 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and lightly browned. Remove from oven and top with arugula before serving.
Masa Harina Pizza with Black Beans and Avocado Cream
1 1/2 cups masa harina
1/2 cup bread flour
1/4-ounce package pizza crust yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt, divided
4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 cup store bought salsa
1 cup black beans
1/4 cup purple onion, sliced
3/4 cup mini colored peppers, sliced
3/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 lime, juiced
1/4 cup Cojita cheese
1/2 cup Oaxaca cheese
Add yeast and sugar to a small bowl, add 2 tablespoons of lukewarm water and set aside.
Add the masa harina, flour and 1 teaspoon of salt to a large bowl and whisk together. When the yeast becomes foamy, stir in 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil, then add the mixture to the flour. Add 2 cups of water to the yeast and flour mixture and stir together.
If the dough is too crumbly, add more water; the dough should stick together when formed into a ball. Once the dough is mixed, cover the bowl with a towel and allow to rest for about an hour. The dough should rise slightly while it is resting.
While the dough is resting, make the avocado cream. Peel and seed the avocado and add it to a food processor. Add cilantro, lime juice, rice vinegar and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the avocado and process until smooth and creamy, adding a pinch of water if needed. Set aside.
To make the pizza crust, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and add the dough. Shape it into a large circle about 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick. Set in an oven preheated to 425 degrees and bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until it starts to turn light golden brown.
Remove from oven and spread the salsa on top. Add the black beans, purple onion and peppers and dot with Oaxaca cheese. Set under a broiler for about 4 minutes or until cheese is melted and browned. Remove from oven and sprinkle with Cojita cheese. Drizzle avocado cream over the pizza before serving.