It seems a new page has turned in the culinary chapters of my life. Not really new I suppose, as it has been turning for a few years now.
While I have really enjoyed writing about and sharing with you the stories and recipes from my days growing up in the family restaurant at 74 Main Street… right now I am not preparing and eating many of those classic Italian-American dishes. As I have explained in the past, my wife has some food intolerance that prevents her from enjoying grains, dairy, and sugar. To support her and my own health (and since I am the primary cook in our home) I too have been eating differently and much “cleaner” the past few months.
Because of this, it will become increasingly difficult to feature pasta dishes, fried cutlets, cheesy casseroles, desserts, and many other family or regional favorites on this blog since I prefer not to write about recipes that I am not personally preparing and photographing for my posts.
So, with all that in mind, I have decided to use 74 Main Street to showcase some of the recipes I have learned, developed or created to meet our new eating habits. Of course I will gladly feature any Lista’s Restaurant recipes that work within our dietary constraints.
And since we all take risks to provide some small pleasure in life there will be occasions that a moderate amount of dairy will infiltrate some of these posts… after all you can’t abstain from mozzarella forever.
So that brings me to today’s post Pizza Then & Now:
We didn’t have pizza on the menu at Lista’s Italian Cuisine so I grew up eating pizza from one of the few locally owned pizzerias in Brockport, NY. These establishments were old school, Italian-American owned, take-out places that sold a pie that was unique to this part of New York — recently referred to as “Rochester Style” pizza — with a thicker, chewier crust with a hard bottom and wide rim… a slightly sweet, oregano laced sauce… and traditional toppings that were fresh made and generous. My family almost exclusively ordered pizza from Tony’s on Main Street (just a block from our house on Holley Street), but in the early days there was also the original Pontillo’s situated next door to our restaurant (where I was paid a penny for each pizza box I assembled), and later Papa Joe’s right across the street (and actually for a short time in the late 70’s housed inside Lista’s at 74 Main). In my opinion, I don’t think you can find a pizza as good as the ones we ate back in the 60’s and 70’s.
Still, times have changed, and now I only eat pizza I make at home and it’s very different from what I remember…
It was a transition going from a traditional flour based, yeast-raised pizza crust to a frozen cardboard-thin gluten free pizza crust to a home-made cauliflower pizza crust. But after some experimenting and adjustments, I think the cauliflower crust comes out pretty darn good and being able to enjoy pizza again has been worth the efforts.
Cauliflower is one of those foods that has become a popular substitute for other foods deemed less “healthy” or “good for you.” We now see recipes for cauliflower mashed potatoes, cauliflower rice, cauliflower mac and cheese, cauliflower tater-tots, cauliflower hummus, and of course cauliflower pizza crust. Now I won’t judge if you still choose to eat and enjoy the real version of any of these cauli-foods but if you haven’t tried it – don’t knock it!
Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast (it won’t ferment) that is used as a flavoring (it has a cheesy, nutty taste when used in recipes) or as a nutritional supplement (rich in some B complex vitamins). I have found that in some recipes it lends a cheesy umami flavor that fills the void when you are eliminating dairy.
We choose to limit cow’s milk products and typically only use sheep or goat milk cheeses. The recipe calls for Pecorino Romano cheese (our favorite) which is traditionally made from sheep’s milk but check the label. You could use goat cheese (chevre) with the same results but a stronger flavor profile. (And as mentioned above we will use mozzarella on our pizza as an occasional splurge.)
Dan’s Cauliflower Pizza Crust
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30-60 minutes in oven + 10 minutes cooling
Makes: one 12 inch crust or two 6 inch personal crusts
1 1/2 lbs. Prepared Cauliflower “Rice” (I used frozen) – briefly cooked and cooled
1/4 cup Ground Flax Seed
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano Cheese (made from sheep’s milk) or Goat Cheese (chevre)
2 TBSP Nutritional Yeast
2 Whole Eggs – beaten
1/2 tsp Baking Powder (optional)
1/2 tsp Oregano (or Italian Herb Blend)
1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
1/4 tsp Black Pepper
1/4 tsp Salt (optional)
1 cup Prepared Pizza Sauce
2 cups Shredded Mozzarella
Sausage, Pepperoni, Peppers, Onions, Mushrooms, Olives, Anchovies, etc. (to taste)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place rack in center of oven.
2. Place cauliflower rice (fresh or frozen) in a microwave safe dish and microwave on full power 3 minutes, stir and microwave another 3-5 minutes until cauliflower is steaming. Remove from microwave, stirring occasionally, until cool enough to handle.
3. Place cooled cauliflower in a clean cotton kitchen towel (I use “flour sack” towels for this) – pull corners together around cauliflower to make a pouch and squeeze out as much liquid as possible (you’ll get a lot so keep squeezing). Place “dry” cauliflower in a mixing bowl.
4. Add remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly until a “dough” forms. Let rest about 5 minutes.
5. Prepare a 12 inch pizza pan with cooking spray or light coating of olive oil. Place cauliflower dough in center of pan and using fingertips spread the dough into a crust approximately 1/4 inch thick covering the whole pan. Make sure there are no holes in crust and it is an even thickness.
The next 3 steps are how I do it… it’s a bit time consuming but I find the resulting crust has a drier, chewier texture more like a traditional pizza crust. You can skip the flipping part and just bake the crust for the whole time – but I found the result weren’t as good.
6. Place prepared crust in preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes until top looks dry and edges are slightly brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
7. Carefully loosen the crust from the pizza pan using a metal spatula or other utensil. Place a sheet of parchment or foil over the crust and flip it over onto counter. Then slide it back onto pizza pan. Return to oven for another 15-20 minutes until edges are browned and crust is firm to touch. Remove from oven.
8. Top the crust with your favorite sauce, cheese, and toppings. Bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until toppings are hot and cheese is melted and slightly browned. (You can also broil it for a few minutes if you like a browned look to your toppings.)
9. Remove from oven, cut into wedges with a pizza wheel or sharp knife and serve.
There you have it, my version of the newly popular Cauliflower Pizza Crust. Although there are many recipes out there (and admittedly mine isn’t any easier to make) I like to think this one is maybe a bit “healthier” and at least has one short-cut using the prepared cauliflower ‘rice’. And I hope you give it a try… no it can’t hold a candle to traditional locally made Italian-American pizza – but it tastes pretty darn good and, at least for me and my family, we know it meets our new dietary goals.
Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”