Does anyone else here love pizza? Ever since I was young, it’s been one of my favorite foods. The problem is, pizza and wellness don’t exactly go hand-in-hand.
With all that white flour in the crust, fatty meat and cheese, and the outrageous amount of sodium, when we decide to improve our diet, we may have to break up with our favorite pizza restaurant.
What???!!! Live without pizza for the rest of my life??? Not gonna happen….
As I’ve said many times, I’m a firm believer in moderation in all things, especially when we’re trying to improve our wellness. If we don’t allow ourselves to eat and enjoy the foods we love, maintaining a healthy eating plan will be difficult, if not impossible.
While we may want to allow ourselves that treat of “the real thing” every now and then so we don’t feel deprived, it’s probably not something we want to eat routinely. For this week’s Wellness Wednesday, I thought I’d share one of my favorite pizza alternatives.
This particular one has those flavors we love in pizza – tomato, garlic, basil, cheese – but supports our wellness efforts better. I won’t say it’s low-fat; pesto uses a good amount of olive oil. The difference is that a good portion of the fat here comes from the olive oil, which as we all know, is a healthy fat.
The beauty of making your own pizza or flatbread is that you can make it as easy or as involved as you want it to be. You can make it completely from scratch, or you can “cheat” a little and use some pre-made components. It’s all up to you.
Pesto Chicken Pizza
I usually make my own crust. That way, I can control how much salt, sugar, and white flour are in it. As you may remember, I’ve recently been making all things sourdough, including this crust. I used the recipe here, and substituted half white whole-wheat flour for the all-purpose flour.
If you’d rather have a little help with the crust, you could start with a whole-wheat refrigerated pizza dough or a frozen gluten-free crust. You can also make individual “pizzas” using pitas or naan as a crust.
If you use a crust you’ll be baking, you’ll probably need to pre-bake it for about 10 minutes and let it cool slightly before you add any toppings.
For this one, the toppings are pretty simple: pesto, sliced tomatoes, cubed chicken, and cheese. I happened to have some leftover chicken breast, so I just cubed it and added it to the pizza to add a little protein. This was a great way to use up some of my leftovers. If you’re a vegetarian, you could simply omit the chicken.
This is another place where you can take a little shortcut if you want to. You can buy pre-made pesto at the grocery. This is what I do in the winter when fresh basil isn’t readily available. My favorite brand is Rana, which is usually in the refrigerated section somewhere near the deli area.
If you choose to make your own, here’s how I make mine:
3 cups packed basil
3 heaping tablespoons pine nuts
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 large garlic cloves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano or a mixture of hard Italian cheeses
Place the basil, pine nuts, salt, and garlic cloves into a food processor or blender and run it steadily while adding the oil in a small but steady stream. Don’t overprocess – you’ll want it to have a grainy texture. Once you have the desired texture, add in your cheese and process it briefly, just to incorporate it into the other ingredients.
This makes quite a bit of pesto, so if you only want it for your pizza, you may want to halve the recipe.
Layering the Toppings
- Once the crust has cooled slightly, spread the pesto over the crust, leaving a border of crust about 1/2 – 3/4 inch wide. If you haven’t tried pesto before, a little goes a long way. You may want to keep it fairly light initially. You could always drizzle a little more on it after it’s done if you feel you need more.
- Slice the tomatoes very thinly and layer over the pesto.
- If you’re using chicken, cube it and toss it over the tomatoes.
- Finish with cheese. To give it that “pizza” taste, it’s good to use some shredded mozzarella, but unlike the pizza restaurants, you don’t want a heavy layer. To add more flavor without adding lots more cheese, you can sprinkle an Italian blend (the one used in the pesto is great) over it.
Bake it at 450 degrees until the crust is completely done and the cheese is melted and starting to turn golden. Serve it with a nice salad and you have a healthy, delicious dinner!
You may be thinking, “this sounds pretty involved.” It can be if you make everything from scratch and try to make all the different components on the same day. The nice thing is that the crust, pesto, and chicken can all be made at different times.
Of course, you really cut down on the work and time involved if you use some of the little helpers I mentioned.
Are you a pizza lover? Do you have a favorite pizza alternative? Please share!