VEGGIE PESTO PIZZA w/ GARLIC HERBED CASHEW RICOTTA & SUN DRIED TOMATOES
I have always LOVED pizza. When I decided to switch to a plant-based diet I thought pizza would be the hardest thing to give up, and I thought for sure it would be the food that I would end up having to cheat and indulge in on occasion. I can honestly say that I haven't had a single nibble of a melty cheese covered slice of pizza since January of 2013. I haven't cheated. Ever. This amazes me! I've been in the same room with a cheesy pizza, fresh out of the oven. I will admit it smelled glorious, but I wasn't really tempted to take a bite. Somehow I lost my desire for cheese. I really didn't expect that. I can walk down the dairy aisle… and I feel nothing.
I'm sure some people find giving up dairy much more difficult, and I truly expected that I would. When I think about my experience with giving up dairy (and changing my diet in general), what I realize is that while I was giving up quite a few foods, I was also exploring new foods and finding new foods to love. These new foods quickly took place of the foods that I gave up and I was spending time finding recipes and planning meals that revolved around my new favorite food, like Sweet Potatoes! But I would also look for veganized recipes of my favorite foods or try to come up with some myself. Sometimes it would turn out great, other times... not so much. Pizza was one of the first. I wasn't sure how I'd create a delicious pizza without cheese, but it really wasn't very hard. And I haven't even used "vegan cheese" yet. I try to avoid processed foods.
This recipe is my most recent pizza creation! It takes a bit of prep, but it's worth it in the end. You could easily make the pesto and cashew ricotta a day or two ahead of time and store them in airtight containers in the fridge.
I used an organic pre made pizza dough by The Essential Baking Co (a great local Seattle company) to cut down on some of the prep. Use your favorite pizza crust! If you would like to make your crust, you can find an easy recipe here.
Tip: when rolling out the dough, sprinkle the dough with dried Italian Herbs and roll over with the rolling pin a couple of times before transferring the dough to your baking pan.
Fresh pesto is amazing and perfect for a flavorful pizza base. I've tried a few different vegan pesto recipes and after a while I just started winging it. I hadn't made cashew ricotta before, this was me winging it again, but I was really happy with how it turned out. I was amazed at how similar the texture is to real ricotta after it's baked on the pizza. It adds a delicious creaminess and a great contrast in flavor to the pesto. Note: The cashews must be soaked in water for at least 4 hours prior to making the ricotta, so you have to plan ahead. Soaking them overnight is even better.
For the veggies I chose zucchini, baby bella mushrooms, chopped baby spinach, caramelized onions, black olives, and sun dried tomatoes. I love zucchini so I covered the pizza as if the zucchini slices were pepperoni. The caramelized onions are so flavorful and have become a favorite topping on all of the pizzas I make, but the biggest pop of flavor on this pie is the sun dried tomatoes. Don't skimp! I used store bought jarred tomatoes this time, but next time I might try to oven dry my own.
To caramelize the onion, halve the onion and slice up the halves into approximately 1/4 inch slices. Heat a pan on med/low and warm a couple teaspoons of oil. I use Red Palm Oil because it's a healthier oil that is safe to use at high temperatures. It adds a slight buttery flavor to foods, it also slightly tints the onions orange.
Drop the onion slices into the heated pan and carefully toss in the oil. Lightly sprinkle with salt, if you prefer. Cook the onions, tossing often, until they've softened and begin to caramelize. About 20-30 mins. I usually chop up the rest of the veggies while the onions are cooking.
Once you have your pesto, ricotta (all instructions are below), and all your veggies prepped, it's time to assemble. I spread a thin layer of pesto over the entire pizza, then scattered small dollops of the cashew ricotta around the pizza and lightly smoothed them out with a spoon. Then topped it with as many slices of zucchini as possible, followed by the mushroom slices, and a handful of chopped spinach. Next came the caramelized onions and a small can of sliced black olives. The first time I made this pizza the sun dried tomatoes got a little charred. The second time I made this pizza I waited until the last few minutes to add the tomatoes and it worked out perfectly. If your pizza crust calls for a temp higher than 425 degrees, you may want to consider doing this too. (The rest of the toppings faired just fine at 450)
Before popping the pizza in the oven I sprinkle it with dried Oregano and the tiniest bit of Himalayan Pink Salt and Black Pepper. Baking times will vary depending on the crust that you use. Follow the directions that come with your crust recipe/packaging. My pizza baked for 8-12 mins at 450 degrees. Like I said, it requires a little bit of prep, so it may be a little too much to dive into for a dinner in the middle of a busy work week, but this is a perfect pizza for the weekend or a slower paced day. You can always prepare the pesto and cashew ricotta ahead of time too, which really speeds up the process. Either way, it's rewarding. If I'm lucky we'll have a piece or two leftover for lunch the next day. :)
(This usually makes enough Ricotta for two pizzas. It would also be great on a bagel.)
Blend all ingredients in a food processor until smooth and creamy. Stop and remove lid and scrape sides. Taste ricotta and add more salt, pepper or additional seasonings to taste, if needed. Replace lid and process for a few more seconds.
Tip: If the ricotta is extremely thick you can add more water 1 tsp at a time to thin it out slightly.
Don't worry about rinsing your processor before making your pesto! Any leftover ricotta in the processor bowl will just enhance the creaminess of your pesto!
BASIL SPINACH PESTO
Blend all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Stop and remove lid and scape sides. Taste pesto and add additional salt, pepper, lemon juice or oil if necessary. Replace lid and process for a few more seconds.
Tip: Don't go too crazy with the Olive Oil or thin it out much with water. An extra wet pesto may make for a soggy crust.
VEGGIE PESTO PIZZA W/ GARLIC HERBED CASHEW RICOTTA & SUN DRIED TOMATOES
1. First start caramelizing your onions. Heat a couple of teaspoons of Red Palm oil in a pan on medium/low heat. Add the onions and carefully toss. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Cook for 20-30 mins, tossing often so the onions don't burn. Reduce heat slightly if necessary
2. While the onions are cooking slice your zucchini, mushrooms, & spinach. Preheat your oven according to pizza crust recipe/packaging directions
3. When onions become translucent and begin to caramelize (15-20 mins) turn your burner to it's lowest setting and keep and eye on them, tossing occasionally
4. Roll out pizza dough or remove packaging. Tip: If you are using a dough that requires rolling, sprinkle the dough with dried Italian Herbs during your last few rolls before transferring to a baking pan
5. Spread a thin layer of pesto over the entire pizza dough, leaving a small edge for the crust. Next, scatter small dollops of ricotta around the pizza and slightly smooth out each dollop with a spoon or small spatula.
6. Cover your pizza with a layer of zucchini slices, then mushrooms and spinach. Next, carefully scatter the caramelized onions evenly across the pizza. Top with olives, then sun dried tomatoes. (If your crust requires a temp greater than 425 degrees, you may want to wait and add your tomatoes in the last 2 or 3 minutes of baking. Mine charred a bit at 450.)
Sprinkle your pizza with dried Oregano and a tiny bit of Black Pepper and Himalayan Pink Salt (or Fine Sea Salt)
7. Bake your pizza according to the directions in your pizza crust recipe or on your crust packaging. My store bought dough baked at 450 degrees for 8-12 mins.
8. Let it cool for a couple of minutes before slicing, then… Enjoy!
I'm Jess, singer/songwriter and plant-based food enthusiast. Savor & Thrive is all about healthy living, particularly healthy food. My music has been getting most of my attention over the last couple of years and cobwebs are beginning to form on this site, but I’ll be freshening up this blog over the next month and hope to post new recipes in early 2018. Thanks for visiting!