A Look at Living Locally: Spring Vegetable Pizza

"Local" seems to be the new (okay, not so new at this point) buzz-word, and I fully admit to having jumped onto the bandwagon with everyone else. I've always been interested in reducing waste, recycling - you know, in the I-recycle-everything-I-can-and-fill-up-my-reusable-water-bottle kind of way - but as the environment has become an increasing concern for us and our future, I've started to consider serious ways of helping out. One such way is eating locally, which I have absolutely not yet adopted as a practice. I am more in the research stage of it, figuring out how feasible it is for me, how I will for a nutrition stand point get the adequate vitamins and minerals over the winter months - questions that I'm sure many people have already answered, but I still haven't fully worked out on my own.

Still, it interests me, and so one of the first dinners I chose to make upon completing the semester was a spring-vegetable pizza. I did my research on what was in season, and I combined tips and recipes from all over to put together a meal using only in-season, if not actually locally grown, ingredients. One step at a time, you see.

I would have loved to have baked the vegetables into the pizza, scattering the cheese to melt over it and letting all of the flavors come alive together. However, the majority of the people I was serving dinner to would not have eaten such a concoction. Vegetables on their pizza? How dare I even consider such sacrilege!

So, in an attempt to get my family to actually eat what I put in front of them, I roasted the vegetables separately as an optional topping to an otherwise white pizza.

White Pizza with Roasted Spring Vegetables, courtesy of The Joy of Cooking (for the crust) and various other helpful websites for guidance on roasting spring vegetables and making a white pizza more delectable than cheesy bread.
Yield: Two 12-in. Pizzas
Ingredients - The Crust
1 1/3 C warm water, 105-115 degrees F
1 package (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
3 1/2 - 3 3/4 C all purpose flour
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. salt* (omitted - see note)
1 Tbsp. sugar, optional

Added: olive oil, red pepper flakes, minced garlic** (see note)

Ingredients - The Toppings*** (see note)
1/2 eggplant
1 small or medium zucchini
1/2 - 1 pack baby bella mushrooms
High-Heat Oil
Pepper & Seasonings, to taste
Approx. 1 package of shredded cheese of your choice
Fresh Basil, shredded and scattered

The Method
1. Warm the water on the stove, with a thermometer. This is a really important step, so take off those lazy caps and dig out that candy thermometer in your drawer (or whatever thermometer you have that will read slightly over 100 degrees fairly precisely). Active dry yeast becomes activated in temperatures of roughly 100-115 - too low and it'll just hang out in your dough without doing anything; too high and it will die (I believe 138 is the specific kill temperature, but I could be rusty).

2. Combine the warmed water with the yeast, and let it hang out for just a little bit (maybe a minute). Add some sugar (the yeast feeds off of this, so although the Joy of Cooking doesn't say to add the sugar here, trust me - you should, and I really don't think it's optional). Let this mixture sit for about five minutes, until the yeast is dissolved.

3. Add the remaining ingredients, and mix by hand or on low speed for about one minute. (I have now done it both by hand and in the mixer, successfully.)

4. Knead for about 10 minutes by hand or with the dough hook on low to medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic.

5. Transfer the dough to a bowl lightly coated with olive oil and turn it once to coat with the oil.

6. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean cloth and let rise in a warm place (75-85 degrees F) until doubled in bulk, 1-1 1/2 hours. Now, I was doing the laundry at the time and I put my bowl on top of the in-use dryer, and it rose beautifully and quickly. The first time I made it, though, I didn't have a really warm spot so I heated up the oven to its lowest setting, turned it off, and let it cool down slightly to try to get it below that kill temperature. Then I stuck the dough in and hoped for the best. It rose, and I know of people whose dough didn't rise in this recipe and the pizza still turned out.

7. Here's where I prepped my vegetables, as it takes me forever and a day to prepare anything for dinner. So, chop up all of your vegetables to their desired size (I quartered the squash and eggplant, sliced down the asparagus and halved some of the bigger mushroom pieces). Drizzle with oil to coat and add any desired seasonings. If not using right away, cover and store in the refrigerator.

8. Once the dough has doubled, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F (my bakeware wasn't safe up that high and it sounded a little extreme anyway, so I think I settled on 425). Grease 2 baking sheets and dust with cornmeal, or place a baking stone in the oven and preheat it for 45 minutes (I just got a brand spanking new Pampered Chef baking stone - not a pizza stone, but a large bar pan - and tested that out for the first time. I also didn't have any cornmeal, so I brushed an obscene amount of olive oil on it to prevent sticking, as per the pan's instructions).

9. Punch down the dough and divide it in half. ROll each piece into a ball and let rest, loosely covered with plastic wrap for 10-15 minutes (since I was making one big sicilian type pizza, I didn't divide it in half).

10. One at a time, or all at once if making one pizza like me, flatten each ball of dough on a lightly floured work surface into a 12-inch round (or large enough to fit your baking container of choice), rolling and stretching the dough. Place each dough circle on a prepared baking sheet or, if using a baking stone, place them on rimless baking sheets or baker's peels dusted with cornmeal. Life the edges and pinch to form a lip. To prevent the filling from making the crust soggy, combine the additional ingredients (oil, red pepper flakes, etc.) and brush them over the top of the dough.

11. Use your fingertips to push dents in the surface of the dough to prevent bubbling, and let rest for about 10 minutes (mine still bubbled - I'll be using a fork next time). Also at about this time, stick those veggies into the oven if you're not topping the pizza with them - they take longer than the pizza does to bake (I believe I read that it was a consensus of about 25 minutes for them, flipping them over halfway through).

12. Place the toppings on the pizza, including a generous amount of cheese (I think I used a full package of shredded mozzarella and provolone mixture, along with a hefty sprinkling of parmesan). Now, here's where I added the basil, but I think I would've preferred to either have it sprinkled on in the last few minutes of baking, or topping the pizza with it post-baking for a fresh taste. I didn't like the cooked herb very much at all.

13. Bake the pizza until the cheese is golden and the crust is brown, about 12 minutes for 2 individual pizzas or 15-20 for the large one (but keep an eye on it during the extra time just in case).

*Now, I know that I'm a salt nazi, so it might come as a shock to you when I say that I almost regret omitting this. The crust was not stellar on its own. It didn't crisp up, so before I jump to the rash conclusion that it needs that salt, I'm going to try pre-baking the crust or cutting the recipe to make it thinner. Then, if that still doesn't work, I might add some of the salt - but not a full tablespoon! I'm not trying to recommend giving you all heart attacks. I'd start with a teaspoon. Begrudgingly.

**I found the ratios for this oil spread online somewhere, and I sincerely apologize for having neither the exact ingredients list nor the site in order to give credit where credit is due. I did try to find it just now and it has vanished into the black whole that is the world wide web. I would say, as is the case with many pizza topping recipes, have fun with it and start with ratios that you think will work best. I definitely didn't sit there with a set of measuring spoons, determined to get it just right.

*** I also don't have an exact recipe or recollection of this part of it. I know, what a lame post on my part, only giving you bits and pieces of the finished product. Really, though, go with what you think is right. If your family loves eggplant but isn't so big on mushrooms, go with a larger eggplant. If you're pining to try fennel, be my guest. I'm sure any combination and ratio would be delicious. Just don't feel pinned down to what I'm writing here - this recipe, it's more like a guideline, you see.

The pizza was a huge success! The flavors on the pizza, even just plain, were phenomenal. I got a kick with the pepper flakes, a little salt from the cheese, and a flavor of garlic that wasn't too powerful but just right. The vegetables were, well, alright. I enjoyed them on my pizza, but I chose olive oil, which had too low of a smoke point. Plus, I crowded the baking sheet and so the vegetables didn't really roast, but stayed a little bit mushy. I wasn't disappointed but I'm not satisfied enough to call this my go-to recipe for roasted spring vegetables.

This meal proved to me that over spring and summer, I really wouldn't have much trouble eating in-season products, and even restricting my consumption to local sources. However, the colder months and my salary-deficient job title of student makes me question the over feasibility of this as a year-long practice. Do any of you eat locally and/or seasonally? Any advice, thoughts, corrections? I would love to hear how other people choose to eat and why, and what decisions they make in an attempt to lessen the damage we're doing to our environment.

  • Digg
  • Del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit
  • RSS


Post a Comment