Vegan with a Vengeance: Pizza
Really, vegan pizza is not that big of a leap. There are authentic versions of pizza and pizza-like foods that fit the vegan framework, from focaccia to pizza bianca. All you have to do is strip the cheese off of a "standard" pie, and you've got a vegan one. Of course, when most folks are after pizza, they're not after pizza bread. I wanted to find something that hit all (or most) of the craving points that come along with pizza.
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall I'm often irritated by my wife's tendency to throw chili sauce on everything. Not this time.
The biggest stumbling block, for me, was the cheese. I didn't want to go the way of processed imitation cheese, because gross. I did want to capture some of the creamy, rich qualities of cheese, though. Toward that end, I decided to go with a modified mushroom duxelles.
Finely minced button mushrooms, sweated down with a few shallots and some olive oil, would form both the base of my pizza, replacing sweet/tart tomato sauce, and replace some of the creaminess of the absent cheese. Toward the end of cooking, after deglazing with a bit of vermouth, I stirred in a half cup or so of silken tofu. The day before, I'd whisked it up with the a bit of lemon juice and zest, and a few sprigs worth of thyme. After 24 hours in the fridge, it tasted and felt startlingly like freshly made ricotta.
The duxelles took on a rich, earthy, slightly sweet and mildly creamy character. Not quite cheese-like on its own, but hitting enough of the same pleasure points, not to mention delicious enough in its own right, to replace the dairy without compromise. I spread it liberally on a focaccia base (something like this, only subbing sweet potato, and enriched with a good glug of olive oil), leaving scattered bare spots for more textural contrast in the finished product.
Repeating the flavors in the dough, I shaved rounds of sweet potato and tiled them across the surface. Thin slivers of red onion went on next, for a bit of sharpness. Brussels sprout leaves and a drizzle of olive oil finished the pie.
Oh. I forgot to mention one thing. When I plopped the dough out on a sheet pan to proof and spread, I did so on top of a generous slathering of olive oil. I wanted the bottom of the crust to crisp and brown in the oil. A little tip, however: While you can technically pull this dough together and bake in about an hour, it really works better if you allow it to rise for a few hours to overnight, just to get a bit more lift out of the dough. One of the great things about focaccia is the pillowy interior, and mine was a bit shy of that mark.
After a quick bake, with a few extra Brussels sprouts thrown on halfway through, for color, the pie was done. I cut it into squares, scattered a fine chiffonade of raw sweet potato on top, gave it another good drizzle of olive oil, and served. When I'd told the kids I was making vegan pizza for dinner, they groaned. They groaned again as they ate it, but in a very different tenor.