In preparation for this article, I thought long and hard about “healthy” pizza and I have arrived at this conclusion: when it comes to pizza, healthy is more a state of mind than adhering to a rigid dietary regimen. Diets come and diets go, but pizza will always remain popular. Take the recent attack of the low-carb diet craze—it has bitten the dust just as most all of the hottest diets did before it, and how the newer ones will in the future. Diets can be great motivators in helping a person lose unwanted pounds, but unless that person has fundamentally changed the way they live and eat for good, the old bad habits will return, as will most—or all, of their hard-earned lost pounds. Most diets do work for a while, but unless one can make a lifelong commitment to never again eat foods that are bad for us, we set ourselves up for eventual failure.
NEVER IS A VERY LONG TIME
Pizza is one of those dishes that has become thoroughly ingrained into the American psyche. To say that one will never again have pepperoni pizza because it is not healthy is to dangle the proverbial forbidden fruit under your nose. The more you can’t have it, the more you crave it, so that when you finally break down and have it, you will binge and eat way more than you would if you’d had it all along.
Am I condoning a steady diet of pepperoni pizza? No, but I do condone eating a couple of slices of pepperoni pizza every once in a while. That being said, once in a while, means every few months. Now, hold on before you begin blowing your tops about eating pepperoni pizza once in a while. I don’t mean all pizza, just the high fat, high calorie, loaded meat and cheese laden monsters. Pizza can, and should be part of a normal healthy eating habit. Responsible operators will create pizzas that offer consumers viable, tasty alternatives in making a smart choice when it comes to choosing what’s good for them and what tastes good.
SMART EATING =GOOD EATING =SMART PIES
Never before have consumers been more informed about what they put in their mouths. Reading food labels in the su- permarket aisle has developed into a national pastime. Yet, obesity, adult onset diabetes and heart disease have reached epidemic proportions. The road to a healthy life seems paved with black and white bricks, with all or nothing approaches to diets. Perhaps it is just part of our puritanical roots to pun- ish ourselves so that we can become good. Imagine that. Well, I’m here to say that smart pies make perfect sense when it comes to making sound nutritional decisions instead of reactionary ones that embody the latest diet fad.
WHAT’S SO SMART ABOUT SMART PIES?
First of all, smart pies cut both the operator and consumer some slack when it comes to strict dietary disciplines by steering clear of diet plan references such as The South Beach DietTM or The Atkins DietTM, or playing the “heart-healthy, light, low-fat or free” claim game. Whenever one of these terms is used, strict regulations must be followed regarding truth in advertising. Creating recipes that are consistently on target in regards to specific diet plans can be problematic if not strictly enforced. Other food claims must be substantiated in writing. If the pizza is independently analyzed by an outside source and it fails to deliver what it claims, legal ramifications could ensue. Smart pies draw from diet fads and current nutrition information in a more subtle and generalized manner.
WHAT’S IT GONNA TAKE?
Does the average operator have the time to study all of the various hot diet programs or, to pour over reams of nutritional information to create healthier, good tasting pizza options? No. Operators are looking for simplified answers that they can easily incorporate into their menus and consumers are looking for simple and tasty solutions to eating right. It is a proven fact that subtle dietary changes, when made consistently over time, are far more effective than more aggressive changes over a shorter time. In other words, pizzas that taste good first, and secondly, are good for us, are the answer.
OFFERING HEALTHY CHOICES
I promised myself that I wouldn’t burden you all with a load of facts and figures that would make your eyes glaze over—so I won’t. But I will ask you to read magazines or surf the Internet, or read some books on the subject. You’d be surprised what very useful information you can glean in a very short time. Go out there and create delicious smart pies that will develop a solid following based on how wonderful they are, and not what they aren’t.
SMART PIE SOLUTIONS
In part two of this piece, we are going to take a look at the basics of healthy pizza construction starting from the crust and on through to the toppings. There will be plenty of tips and tricks to choose from.
USE THE CRUST YOU HAVE
My first bit of advice is to start with what you have, and use less of it. For example if you use 12 ounces of dough for your 12 inch pizza, use six or seven ounces of dough, that is rolled out thinly. The result: 40-50 percent less fat, calories and carbohydrates without changing a thing in your dough formulation. The crust will come out thin and very crispy, and will enjoy a big following with those that tend to leave their crust ends on the plate. (For a six to eight-inch personal thin and crisp pie, use four to five ounces of dough).
The lightest, lowest in calories and fats option is good old plain chopped or crushed tomatoes in juice or puree. Prepared tomato sauces have sugar, oil and other flavorings in them that contribute significantly to their fat and caloric content.
NON-FAT CRISPY DOUGH
Formulate a dough recipe using only flour, (try to make it unbleached and organic) water, yeast and sea salt. Avoid using any kind of sugar (honey is still sugar) fats or chemical additives.
HIGH FIBER MULTI GRAIN DOUGH
Here’s a high fiber, whole grain, deliciously chewy and flavorful crust. This is a fantastic crust, but it is not low calorie. The addition of the wheat berries, rolled oats, sunflower seeds and bran create textural interest.
There are lots of whole grain
able that make formulating your special crust a snap. Do try mixing in some sunflower seeds, bran, rolled oats or sprouted wheat berries to add additional fiber and texture.
SPECIALTY FROZEN AND PAR-BAKED CRUSTS
Other alternatives to making or mixing your own dough are fro- zen doughs based on non-gluten grasses and grains like spelt, soy flour, chickpea flour, rice flour and cornmeal. Low-carb crust options are also pretty commonly available too.
READY-MADE CRUST OPTIONS
Corn, flour or whole wheat tortillas make excellent thin crust substitutes—especially for Latino light pizzas. Lavash is another great quick, thin crust option.
Whether you choose to make a from-scratch dough, or to bring in a separate frozen dough, or to use ready-made crust substitutes, there is plenty of choice.
The lightest, lowest in calories and fats option is good old plain chopped or crushed tomatoes in juice or puree. Prepared tomato sauces have sugar, oil and other flavorings in them that contribute significantly to their fat and caloric content. If you want to season the crushed tomatoes, add a bit of black pepper, oregano and chopped fresh basil—leave out the salt, they already have plenty. Add chopped fresh garlic directly onto the empty pie skin before saucing. This type of “sauce” has an extremely bright-fresh flavor that is sure to spill out to your general customers. I call it, Italian Style Crushed Tomato Sauce.
Oven Roasted Tomato Sauce
This has a wonderful intensity to it and a rustic look and taste. Halve fresh ripe roma tomatoes onto a sheet pan and sprinkle with salt, pepper, fresh garlic slivers, and fresh basil. Drizzle very lightly with olive oil—or don’t use any oil. Place in a 400 ̊F oven until the tomatoes are just tender. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Remove the tomato skins and reserve the tomatoes, seasonings and all of the accumulated juices. These tomatoes can be used as is on pizza, or coarsely chopped as a sauce.
Pick two packed cups of fresh basil leaves and place in a food processor with 1/4 cup olive oil and 1/2 cup of non-fat chicken broth and process until smooth. This pesto puree is ready to flavor all kinds of sauces or to spread on pizza. For a low-fat creamy pesto sauce, mix 1 tablespoon of pesto with 1/4 cup of low fat mayonnaise and 1/2 teaspoon of chopped fresh garlic. Use this as a base, spread over an empty pizza shell.
Formaggio Bianco Base
Per one pint of low-fat or non-fat ricotta, mix in one tablespoon grated Parmesan and one tablespoon of grated Romano, a generous grating of fresh nutmeg and fresh ground black pepper. Use this cheese base for a creamy low-fat alternative.
THE CHEESE DEPARTMENT
I prefer to use a very full flavored part-skim milk mozzarella that’s been very finely shredded, because it will impart the best flavor with just a small amount. I tend to stay away from non-fat cheeses because it often takes too much product to taste like anything and their melting capabilities are often pretty poor. Smoked mozzarella has a lot of flavor, and again, you tend to use less.
This tangy cheese is a wonderful option, it is very full bodied and a little goes a long way, and, it melts into great strings.
Shredded 2 percent fat works best, it has good flavor and still melts nicely
Shred it rather than grating, for a bigger flavor punch
Grated or shredded, Romano has plenty of flavor bang for not a lot of calories.
This is another full-flavored cheese that benefits being shredded—especially after the pie comes out of the oven
Mild, tangy and very low in fat and calories, goat cheese is a great healthy cheese
Similar to goat cheese, Feta is saltier and has a bit more tang to it. Feta delivers excellent flavor with little fat.
Gorgonzola or Blue Cheese
While these cheeses do tend toward higher fat and caloric content, a little goes a very long way. They are excellent crumbled over a pie as it comes out of the oven.
Low-fat or non-fat ricotta creates and excellent, low fat creamy, almost custard effect. Ricotta is a must-have low fat ingredient.
I prefer to use low fat versions of cheese instead of the non-fat because they have so much more flavor and better texture, that I find I am satisfied with a lot less product on the pie. Stronger flavored cheeses are pretty important to satisfying those cravings. Another trick I use, is to coarsely shred cheese over the top of the pie as it comes out of the oven—which gives a great cheese hit—without a lot of cheese. I also love to crumble Feta or Blue Cheese over the pie after it bakes, so that I get the most out of their flavors.
MEAT, POULTRY AND SEAFOOD TOPPINGS
When it comes to meat, forget pork sausage, pepperoni or chopped beef. However, bring on the Canadian Bacon, smoked ham, chicken breast, chicken sausages, turkey bacon, turkey pepperoni, turkey salami and turkey sausage. Most seafood is naturally low in calories, so pile on the shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops, smoked salmon, smoked tuna, smoked oysters and domestic fish caviars.
My hands down favorite pizza is made with home-made Italian style pork sausage—and I do indulge in this delicacy every few months, but when I want to eat a pizza with sausage on it the rest of the time, I use an excellent Italian style turkey sausage or Turkey pepperoni to flavor the rest of the topping—a little goes a long way.
Bacon and Ham
Low-fat ham is great on pizza as is Canadian bacon, but once again, turkey steals the show with excellent, meaty, turkey bacon, turkey ham and turkey salami.
Chicken breast is perhaps the most popular healthy meat topping option for pizza—it can be grilled, diced, shredded or sliced. Chicken is so versatile and so good for you.
Traditional seafood toppings star on smart pies. Seafood is the best entrée into upscale toppings—who can turn down a shrimp pizza?
Here lies the heart and soul of healthy pizza. Eating your vegetables never tasted so good. Try to roast most of your cooked vegetables, as this process brings out their natural flavors and sugars without the added fat of sauté.
Leafy greens like spinach, kale, chard, broccoli di rape, broccoli and escarole are traditional Italian toppings that are loaded with nutrients, tasty and low in fat and calories.
Fresh tomatoes: heirlooms, cherry tomatoes, sweet 100’s, yellow, golden and green tomatoes are made for pizza. They are low in calories and high in flavor.
The Rest of the Crew
Peppers, onions and mushrooms form the happy healthy veggie trio of pizza.
Other Top Contenders
Eggplant has a rich flavor and meaty texture, Zucchini is light and satisfying, and of course, pizza wouldn’t be pizza without garlic. Try it chopped fresh or roasted.
The Salad Bowl
Salad topped pizzas are not only good for you, they are also hugely popular in the main stream. Toss mixed spring greens, or baby Romaine or Arugula.
CONDIMENTS AND TOPPERS
Capers, olives and anchovies may not be for everyone, but they work miracles in adding bolts of flavor to pizza. Chopped fresh herbs like parsley, basil and chives are important flavoring agents.
Turn up the Heat
Heat and spice are extremely popular trends that add kick without guilt. There are hundreds of hot sauces, hot pepper condiments and salsas out there to choose from.
As you can see, smart pie palette is quite broad; there is no reason why someone would have to suffer through a healthier pizza option. In fact, this segment stands ready to become a major player on menus and will be coming to your pizzeria soon.