Log In


Reset Password
Lifestyle

Believe it or not, you can make great pizza without cheese. Here’s how.

I love pizza – but no longer eat cheese. So, in recent years, I began to think of pizza as more of a memory than a meal.

My fifth birthday was the stuff pizza dreams are made of, at least to a kid living in New York City’s Lower East Side in the early 1970s. Judy, my mom’s artsy friend who ran a day care out of her apartment on St. Mark’s Place, marched the half-dozen kids under her care down to the pizza shop on the corner, where we stood on the sidewalk watching, with utter delight, as the Pizza Man spun dough in the air while Judy ordered a large pie. Twenty minutes later, we were sitting in a circle on the floor in the darkened apartment, surrounding a steaming hot pizza festooned with candles while everyone sang “Happy Birthday.” No birthday party has really ever matched it since.

When my mother and I moved to New Haven, Conn., a year later, we landed in another city that treats its pizza with the gravity it deserves. Locals will ask whether you are a supporter of Pepe’s or Sally’s, the city’s two nearly century-old pizzerias, and judge you on the response. (My stepdad, a local, is a Pepe’s man, so you know where our family’s loyalties lie.) Years later, I married a guy from Detroit, a city with its own intense pizza tradition.

It wasn’t until I started making pizza, first in a shop in Florida when I was 18, where I pushed out pies four nights a week for nearly a year, and later on Friday nights for my family and friends, that I really started thinking about what makes pizza good – and what makes it terrible. Both became more apparent to me when I did what might seem unthinkable to any true pizza-lover: After spending most of my life as a cheese-eating vegetarian, I transitioned to a vegan diet.

Pizza suddenly became a problem. Or so I thought.

The thing is, America is filled with really bad pizza. We kid ourselves into thinking it’s tasty because we’ve loaded it with cheese and piled on toppings from pineapples to caviar, but the fact that we’re discarding the crusts and scraping off the sauce proves a pizza is truly only as good as its parts. For instance, when folks in New Haven wax poetic about Pepe’s or Sally’s pies, it’s the charred, coal-fired crust that gets the most attention, and for good reason – that crisp base sets the tone for everything on top, filling your nose with smoky intensity with each bite. Even Detroit-style pizza, in which buttery Wisconsin brick cheese is a key ingredient, relies on a malty dough that can take days to properly ferment and a slightly sweet sauce that heightens all the rich flavors. Each component is necessary to its success.

I began wondering how I could make pizza that had the right aroma, texture and flavor, but without cheese. Even though commercial plant-based cheese has come a long way over the past few years, it sometimes doesn’t melt or brown quite the way it should, and the result can be, well, less than appealing. While I was happy with the herb-flecked pizza dough I had developed over years of practice, I knew that it wasn’t enough.

It was a pizza from chef Michael Schlow’s now-shuttered Casolare in D.C. that gave me a place to start: a thin crust smeared with a tangy tomato sauce and dotted with just a few capers and olives, each offering notes of salt and vinegar that nearly negated the need for cheese. Because I had a time-tested dough recipe already, I began working on the sauce, settling on pureeing sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil into a base of crushed tomatoes and a touch of smoked paprika, providing a deep layer of flavor against the herbaceous crust.

Still, I craved cheesiness of some kind – the fat and umami that bring richness to pizza.

A conversation years ago with vegan cheesemaker Kale Welch, co-owner of the Herbivorous Butcher in Minneapolis, got me thinking about that umami, because vegan cheese is often flavored with miso, a salty, earthy fermented paste made from beans. I had often made cheese pizza topped with caramelized onions, and it occurred to me that those onions, if cooked in miso, could become a stand-in for the cheese: soft, stretchy, oily and rich. Cook them again on top of a pizza at 500 degrees and you even get a few crispy edges, just as you might with cheese.

It was an epiphany.

Because, let’s be honest, cheese is about fat and texture. Fat, as a flavor carrier, delivers seasonings straight to our taste buds, while texture is so important to our perception of food that we’ll instantly reject something based on how it feels in our mouths. (Consider soda, which has the same flavor whether carbonated or not.) So, once we’re armed with that knowledge, crafting pizza without cheese becomes an exercise in recognizing what part the crust, sauce and toppings can play in making a perfect pie.

After my caramelized-onion breakthrough, I decided to add to my pizza thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms that I pre-bake until they start to get crisp like bacon. And then I started considering how to create a white pizza. I quickly figured out that whipping pureed artichokes, with their meaty depth, into tofu made a satisfyingly luscious ricotta cheese that easily stands in for the dairy version.

Can a good cheese enhance a pizza? Sure – but it shouldn’t have to do all the heavy lifting. And a truly great pizza doesn’t need it at all.

Herbed Pizza Dough

Time: Active: 20 minutes | Total time: 40 minutes (with resting time)

Servings: 4-8; makes enough for two 12-inch pizzas

Food writer Kristen Hartke often left the bland crust of the pizzas on her plate until she started making this herbed dough. By seasoning the dough with dried herbs and paprika, she found that it made very part of the pizza work together for a brighter, better flavor.

Make Ahead: The prepared dough can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 3 days before using. The dough also can be shaped into crusts and frozen on a lightly floured baking sheet, then wrapped tightly in freezer-safe plastic wrap for up to 3 months.

INGREDIENTS:2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided, plus more for dusting the work surface1 cup hot water (about 125 degrees)4½ teaspoons fast-acting instant yeast (two ¼-ounce packets)1 cup semolina flour or fine cornmeal, plus more for dusting the work surface2 tablespoons olive oil1 tablespoon dried herbs, such as tarragon, oregano, thyme and/or basil2 teaspoons barley malt syrup, honey or light agave syrup½ teaspoon kosher salt½ teaspoon sweet paprika½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepperMethod:In a bowl of a food processor, combine 1 cup of the all-purpose flour, the hot water and yeast, and pulse until uniform. Add the semolina flour or cornmeal, olive oil, dried herbs, barley malt syrup (or honey or agave syrup), salt, paprika and black pepper, and pulse to combine.

Add the remaining 1½ cups of all-purpose flour and blend the dough until it forms a ball, adding more flour as necessary until you get a soft dough that isn’t sticky. If the dough is too dry, you can add 1 teaspoon of hot water at a time until it is pliable. Process the dough for about 30 seconds. (If you don’t have a food processor, use a large bowl and your clean hands to mix the dough – it’ll take about an extra 10 minutes.)

Lightly flour a clean countertop and turn the dough out onto it. Knead the dough until smooth, about 30 seconds, then cover with a large bowl and let rest until the dough is slightly puffed and softened, about 20 minutes.

Divide the dough in half. You can either prepare the crusts for pizza, or wrap each half in plastic wrap and refrigerate or shape the dough into crusts and freeze until needed (see headnote).

To prepare the crusts two for pizzas, position racks in the top third and middle of the oven, and preheat to 500 degrees. If you have pizza stones, place them on a bottom rack while the oven is preheating; otherwise use inverted, large, rimmed baking sheets.

In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour with 1 tablespoon semolina flour or cornmeal and use the mixture to dust your work surface. Take half of the pizza dough and loosely form it into a ball in your hands. Place the dough on the floured countertop and gently flatten it into a disk.

Pick up the disk and, holding it between your fingertips and leaving about 1 inch around the perimeter, constantly turn the disk in a circular motion, letting the disk to slightly stretch down toward the countertop as you turn it. When the disk is about an 8-inch circle, place it on the countertop and use your fingertips to continue stretching it into a larger circle, making sure to leave the edges a little thicker.

Using a rolling pin, gently roll the dough from the center outward until circular, about 14 inches wide. Fold over the edges of the dough, lightly crimping with your fingertips, creating a 1-inch border.

Gently slide a large piece of parchment underneath the shaped dough.

Repeat with the second half of dough, if using.

Top the pizzas as desired.

Slide the pizzas with the parchment onto a pizza peel or rimless baking sheet, then transfer to the heated pizza stones or sheet pans. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the crust is puffed and golden and the surface is bubbling.

Using a pizza peel, transfer the pizzas to cutting boards and discard the parchment. Cut the pizzas into wedges with a knife or pizza wheel and serve.

Nutrition: (based on 8 servings) Calories: 262; Total Fat: 4 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 150 mg; Carbohydrates: 48 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugar: 1 g; Protein: 8 g.

Source: Recipe from food writer Kristen Hartke.

Vegan White Pizza with Artichoke Tofu Ricotta and Roasted Garlic

Time: Active: 45 minutes | Total: 1 hour 45 minutes

Servings: 2 to 4

The idea for this pizza comes from spinach artichoke dip – minus the spinach. Blending olive oil-marinated artichokes into firm tofu creates a creamy dairy-free alternative to traditional ricotta, and the roasted garlic adds a touch of smoky sweetness. You will have ricotta left over; save it for another dish, such as lasagna, or use it as a spread or dip for crackers or vegetables. Your favorite fresh or frozen pizza dough can be used, but food writer Kristen Hartke recommends using her Herbed Pizza Dough for this dish. That makes enough dough for two 12-inch pizzas; the other half can be frozen for later use.

Make Ahead: Tofu ricotta can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Storage Notes: Leftover pizza can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.

NOTE: The oil from the artichokes is essential to smooth ricotta. If you can’t find artichokes packed in olive oil, substitute 3/4 cup plain cooked artichoke hearts (frozen, fresh or canned) and ¼ cup of good-quality olive oil.

INGREDIENTS:For the roasted garlic:1 large head garlic (about 2 ounces), unpeeled1 teaspoon olive oilFor the artichoke tofu ricotta:1 (14-ounce) package firm or extra-firm tofu, drained1 cup (8 ounces) artichoke hearts (packed in olive oil), roughly chopped (retain the oil; see NOTE)1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepperFor the pizza:1½ cups Artichoke Tofu Ricotta (see headnote)½ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped2 tablespoons all-purpose flour1 tablespoon semolina flour or cornmeal1 pound pizza dough (or ½ of the related Herbed Pizza Dough recipe)1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes1 teaspoon coarse sea salt½ cup fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, dividedMethod:Make the roasted garlic: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Remove some of the loose papery skin on the garlic, making sure to leave the cloves connected. Use a sharp knife to slice about ¼ inch off the top, to expose the cloves. Place the trimmed garlic on a square of aluminum foil and drizzle with the olive oil, making sure the cloves are well coated. Wrap the foil loosely around the garlic and roast for about 45 minutes, or until the cloves are golden and softened.

Remove from the oven to cool, unwrap and gently squeeze the bottom of the cloves to push them out of the skin. Leave the cloves whole or roughly chop them. (Leave the oven on.)

Make the artichoke tofu ricotta: While the garlic is roasting, in the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine the tofu, artichokes with their oil, zest, salt and pepper and process until smooth. Taste, and season with more salt, if desired. Use right away or refrigerate until needed. You should get about 3 cups; you’ll use 1½ cups on the pizza.

Make the pizza: In a medium bowl, stir together the tofu ricotta and parsley until well combined.

Increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, place it on the rack while the oven is preheating; otherwise use a large, rimmed baking sheet.

In a small bowl, combine the all-purpose flour with semolina flour or cornmeal and use the mixture to dust your work surface. Take the pizza dough and loosely form it into a ball in your hands. Place the dough on the floured countertop and gently flatten it into a disk.

Pick up the disk and, holding it between your fingertips and leaving about 1 inch around the perimeter, constantly turn the disk in a circular motion, letting the disk slightly stretch down toward the countertop as you turn it. When the disk is about an 8-inch circle, place it on the countertop and use your fingertips to continue stretching it into a larger circle, making sure to leave the edges a little thicker.

Using a rolling pin, gently roll the dough from the center outward until circular, about 14 inches wide. Fold over the edges of the dough, lightly crimping with your fingertips, creating a 1 inch border.

Gently slide a large piece of parchment under the shaped dough.

Using the back of a spoon or an offset spatula, evenly spread the tofu ricotta over the dough to form a thick layer. Dot with the roasted garlic, then sprinkle with the lemon zest and red pepper flakes. Brush the crimped border with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil then sprinkle it with a little sea salt all around. Drizzle the remaining 1 teaspoon of olive oil across the pizza.

Slide the pizza with the parchment onto a pizza peel or rimless baking sheet, then transfer to the heated pizza stone or sheet pan. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the crust is puffed and golden and the surface is bubbling.

Using a pizza peel, transfer the pizza to a cutting board and discard the parchment. Cut the pizza into wedges with a knife or pizza wheel, sprinkle with the basil and serve.

Nutrition: (based on 4 servings) Calories: 428; Total Fat: 14 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 1126 mg; Carbohydrates: 65 g; Dietary Fiber: 11 g; Sugar: 2 g; Protein: 19 g.

Source: Recipe from food writer Kristen Hartke.

Vegan Pizza with Miso-Caramelized Onions and Shiitake Bacon

Time: Active: 1 hour 30 minutes | Total: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Servings: 4 to 8 (makes two 12-inch pizzas)

Food writer Kristen Hartke calls this her “Friday Night Pizza,” the one that is the biggest crowd-pleaser among vegans and omnivores alike, with lots of smoky, rich flavors. Hartke cooks thinly sliced onions in miso until golden brown to add richness. The recipe below makes two 12-inch pizzas. Your favorite or frozen pizza dough can be used, but Hartke recommends using her Herbed Pizza Dough for this dish. That recipe makes enough dough for two pizzas. Each of this pizza’s ingredients can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen.

Make Ahead: Every element of this pizza can be made in advance and refrigerated or frozen. The pizza sauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 week in an airtight container, or frozen for up to 3 months. The shiitake bacon can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week. The caramelized onions can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to 3 months. The recommended dough (see related Herbed Pizza Dough recipe) can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 3 days. The dough can also be shaped into crusts and flash-frozen on a lightly floured baking sheet, then wrapped tightly in freezer-safe plastic wrap for up to 3 months.

Storage Notes: Leftover pizza can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.

INGREDIENTS:For the sun-dried tomato sauce:1 (15-ounce) can no-salt added crushed or diced tomatoes½ cup (3 ounces) sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil (do not drain)1 teaspoon dried oregano½ teaspoon smoked paprikaKosher salt, to tasteFor the miso-caramelized onions:¼ cup olive oil3 tablespoons yellow or red miso paste4 to 5 large yellow onions (3½ pounds total), thinly slicedFor the shiitake bacon:1½ pounds fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps thinly sliced2 tablespoons olive oil2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce1 teaspoon smoked paprikaVegetable cooking spray or olive oilFor assembling the pizzas:2 tablespoons all-purpose flour1 tablespoon semolina flour or fine cornmeal2 pounds pizza dough (or the related Herbed Pizza Dough recipe), divided2 cups sun-dried tomato sauce (recipe above), divided2 cups miso-caramelized onions (recipe above), divided2 cups shiitake bacon, divided2 tablespoons dried oregano, divided2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, divided2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided1 teaspoon coarse sea salt, dividedMethod:Make the sun-dried tomato sauce: In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combine the canned and sun-dried tomatoes, oregano and paprika, and process until fairly smooth. Taste, and season with salt, if desired. Use right away or refrigerate until needed. You should get about 2 cups.

Make the miso-caramelized onions: In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the miso and stir gently into the oil until it begins to dissolve. Add the onions and stir to coat in the oil and miso, then decrease the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the miso is completely dissolved and the onions become soft, golden and fragrant, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Use right away or refrigerate until needed. You should get about 2 cups.

Make the shiitake bacon: Position racks in the top third and middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the mushrooms, olive oil, soy sauce and smoked paprika. Line two large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and spray lightly with vegetable spray or brush with olive oil. Spread the shiitakes in a single layer over the parchment and lightly spray or brush with the spray or oil.

Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the slices begin to brown. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. You should get about 2 cups.

Make the pizzas: Position two racks in the middle and bottom third of the oven, and preheat to 500 degrees. If you have pizza stones, place one on each rack while the oven is preheating; otherwise use inverted, large, rimmed baking sheets.

In a small bowl, combine the all-purpose flour with the semolina flour or cornmeal and use the mixture to dust your work surface. Take the pizza dough and loosely form it into a ball in your hands. Place the dough on the flour countertop and gently flatten it into a disk.

Pick up the disk and, holding it between your fingertips and leaving about 1 inch around the perimeter, constantly turn the disk in a circular motion, letting the disk slightly stretch down toward the countertop as you turn it. When the disk is about an 8-inch circle, place it on the countertop and use your fingertips to continue stretching it into a larger circle, making sure to leave the edges a little thicker.

Using a rolling pin, gently roll the dough from the center outward until circular, about 14 inches wide. Fold over the edges of the dough, lightly crimping with your fingertips, creating a 1-inch border.

Gently slide a large piece of parchment underneath the shaped dough.

Using the back of a spoon or an offset spatula, evenly spread 1 cup of the sun-dried tomato sauce on top of the dough. Spread 1 cup of the miso-caramelized onions evenly over the tomato sauce, then top with 1 cup of the shiitake bacon. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the oregano and 1 teaspoon of the red pepper flakes over everything, then brush the crimped edges with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Sprinkle a little sea salt on the border. Drizzle an additional teaspoon of oil across the pizza.

Repeat with the second crust and remaining toppings.

Slide the pizza with the parchment onto a pizza peel or a rimless baking sheet, then carefully transfer to one of the heated pizza stones or sheet pans. Repeat with the second pizza.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the crust is puffed and golden and the surface is bubbling. Using a pizza peel, transfer the pizza to a cutting board and discard the parchment. Using a pizza peel or rimless baking sheet, transfer the pizza from the stone to a cutting board and discard the parchment. Cut the pizza into wedges with a knife or pizza wheel and serve right away.

Nutrition: (based on 8 servings) Calories: 488; Total Fat: 19 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 1500 mg; Carbohydrates: 87 g; Dietary Fiber: 16 g; Sugar: 19 g; Protein: 16 g.

Source: Recipe from food writer Kristen Hartke.