10 out-of-the-box pizza recipes to try at home


Have you dropped your New Year's resolution to focus on healthy eating habits, yet?

Good, let's talk pizza. 

I'm not going to try to convince you that pizza is healthy, but it doesn't have to be the nutritionless grease pile you expect. Especially homemade pizza, which is also a fun way to get dinner on the table.

Consider the dough -- whether store-bought or handmade -- a blank canvas onto which you can assemble a wide variety of ingredients. Some of them can even be vegetables! 

Pizza is the ultimate one-pan meal, requiring a small ingredient list and a simple cooking method: Top and bake.

I worked my way through some pizzamaking recently, experimenting with different ingredients and doughs to come up with 10 recipes that satisfy every time. These go beyond the takeout box: There is barely a splash of marinara sauce to be found in the following ideas, and cheeses besides mozzarella get their due.

Here are some things I learned: 

• All of these recipes have you first stretch pizza dough into a round shape. Stretching dough requires patience typically reserved for children or pets. Working with both store-bought from Publix's bakery and homemade, I am often unable to easily stretch the uncooked ball into a circle on the first try. Instead of rolling it out like cookie dough, it's essential that you pull it gently, using gravity to let it stretch down and out until it becomes thin and wide enough to act as your base. When this happens, place it on a nonstick pan and press it out a little more. It will threaten to shrink back to its original size, but once you add the toppings, that process will slow. 

• In terms of how large your circle of dough should be, that's up to you. If you like thinner crust, make it thinner. If you like thicker crust, leave it a little plump. The dough will rise and thicken a bit with cooking. In general, a 1-pound ball of dough will fill a 9- by 13-inch baking sheet. I typically split my 1-pound dough ball into two, then shape the pieces into 10-inch rounds that will feed two people.

• Not all toppings are created equal. Paper-thin ingredients like spinach and pepperoni will cook quicker than others and don't always need to be added to the dough in the initial phase. Try cooking the pizza for half the cooking time, then add the rest of your ingredients and finish the cooking process.

• The missing ingredient in your pizza is probably salt. I always salt the dough, both before and after it comes out of the oven, and notice a huge flavor difference when I don't.

• Pizzas liked to be cooked at a high temperature. It ensures crispy crust, which can turn into a soggy mess under the weight of toppings if undercooked. These recipes call for oven temps of at least 400 degrees. You'll know the pizza is done when the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown. Cook on a center rack to keep the bottom of the crust from burning.

Pesto With Ricotta and Goat Cheese 

Oven temperature: 450 degrees

Cook time: 15 to 18 minutes

Shape 1 pound pizza dough into two circles, then slather both with olive oil and fresh minced garlic, about 4 cloves worth. Transfer dough to two baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Season dough with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning to taste. Spread ricotta cheese on top in a thin layer, ½ cup for each circle of dough. Dot with goat cheese, 4 ounces per circle, crumbled by hand. Sprinkle with shredded mozzarella cheese, ¼ cup per circle. To make pesto, pulse ? cup pistachios, ¼ cup fresh basil, 2 garlic cloves and salt and pepper to taste in a food processor until gritty. Add ¼ cup olive oil and mix until blended but still coarse. Divide pesto evenly between two pizzas and drop by the teaspoonful on top of the cheese. Place pizzas in the oven and cook for about 15 minutes, or until done, making sure not to cook so long that the pesto begins to brown.

Ham, Cheddar and Apple

Oven temperature: 475 degrees 

Cook time: 18 to 20 minutes

Shape 1 pound pizza dough into 4 rounds and place on 2 cornmeal-dusted baking sheets. Dividing evenly, top the rounds with ¼ cup honey mustard, 2 cups grated white cheddar, ¼ pound thinly sliced ham and 1 thinly sliced Granny Smith apple. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bake until the crust is golden brown. Recipe adapted from Real Simple.

Greek

Oven temperature: 500 degrees

Cook time: 12 minutes

Shape 1 pound pizza dough into a large circle, then spread ? cup marinara sauce evenly on top and sprinkle with dried Italian seasoning. Top with 2 cups shredded low-moisture part-skim mozzarella cheese, ½ cup red pepper cut into 1-inch strips, ½ cup quartered marinated artichokes, 15 pitted kalamata olives cut in half and ½ cup crumbled feta cheese. Season with pepper, then transfer to a baking sheet and bake pizza on the top rack until the crust is golden brown. Transfer pizza to a cutting board and sprinkle with torn fresh basil and red pepper flakes, to taste. Recipe adapted from cookieandkate.com.

Steak and Blue Cheese

Oven temperature: 450 degrees

Cook time: 15 minutes

Start by cooking your steak. Place a large skillet, cast iron if you have one, over medium-high heat and heat 1 tablespoon canola oil until hot. Add 1 (about 8-ounce) New York strip steak (or other cut of your choice), season with salt and pepper, and cook for about 5 minutes on each side, until medium-rare. Remove from heat and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices. Set aside. Shape 1 pound pizza dough into a large circle, place on a baking sheet, then top with 1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese, ½ cup crumbled blue cheese, cooked steak and salt and pepper to taste. Bake, then remove from the oven and top with 1 cup fresh arugula tossed with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately.

Chicken, Cranberry and Walnut

Oven temperature: 400 degrees

Cook time: 20 minutes

Chop 2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves into bite-sized pieces. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a medium skillet until hot over medium heat. Add chicken, season with salt and pepper and saute until browned and mostly cooked through. Spread 1?½ cups cranberry sauce over 1 pound pizza dough stretched into a circle. You could also use cranberry jelly or jam, or ?1 cup fresh cranberries cooked down in a saucepan with ½ cup sugar until congealed. Top dough with cooked chicken, 6 ounces chopped Brie, 6 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese and ½ cup chopped walnuts. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bake.

Four Mushroom

Oven temperature: 450 degrees

Cook time: 15 minutes

In a small bowl, combine 1?¼ cups part-skim ricotta cheese, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary and 1 teaspoon garlic salt. Set aside. To a saute pan set over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons butter and 2 cups sliced assorted mushrooms. Try button, porcini, shiitake and baby portobellos. Cook until softened and cooked through. Season with salt. Spread ricotta cheese mixture evenly over 1 pound pizza dough stretched into a circle. Add the mushrooms in a single layer, then sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella cheese and drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, then bake. Recipe adapted from noblepig.com.

Potato and Bacon

Oven temperature: 475 degrees

Cook time: 18 to 20 minutes

Shape 1 pound pizza dough into 4 rounds and place on 2 baking sheets. Very thinly slice ½ pound red potatoes. A mandoline would work really well here, but a sharp knife can also get the job done. Top the dough rounds evenly with 2 cups grated Havarti, the potatoes, 4 diced scallions and 4 strips uncooked bacon cut into ½-inch pieces. Season each round with salt and pepper, then bake. Recipe adapted from Real Simple.

Sheet Pan Pizza

Oven temperature: 450 degrees

Cook time: 10 to 12 minutes

Heat ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1?½ pounds hot Italian sausage, casings removed, and cook, breaking it into small pieces. Then cook, undisturbed for about 8 minutes, until browned. Remove from heat. Line two 9- by 13-inch or 8- by 13-inch baking sheets with parchment paper. Stretch 1 pound pizza dough until it reaches the edges of the sheet. Brush with 2 tablespoons olive oil and press the dough with your fingers to create dimples. Repeat with a second pound of dough. Bake crusts for 5 to 7 minutes, until puffy and dry on top. Remove them from the oven, then increase the temperature to 500 degrees. Spread 1 cup marinara sauce on each pizza, then top each pizza with 6 ounces sliced fresh mozzarella. Divide the cooked sausage between the pizzas, along with 1 small thinly sliced fennel bulb, 2 thinly sliced serrano peppers and 4 ounces freshly grated Parmesan. Bake on the bottom rack until the crusts are brown and the tops are bubbly, then cut into pieces and serve. Recipe adapted from Real Simple. 

Pear and Prosciutto

Oven temperature: 450 degrees

Cook time: 12 minutes

Stretch ½ pound pizza dough into a circle. Place on a baking sheet, then brush evenly with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with 6 ounces crumbled goat cheese. Top with 3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, 2 thinly sliced Bartlett pears and ½ cup mozzarella cheese, then bake. While the pizza is cooking, toss in a bowl 4 cups fresh baby spinach, 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme and 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice. Remove pizza from oven, then place spinach salad on top so that it wilts a bit from the heat. Serve.

Grilled Shrimp

Oven temperature: 450 degrees

Cook time: 12 minutes

Cook 1 red onion, sliced into rounds, and ¾ pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp on the grill or in a hot skillet for about 5 minutes until lightly browned. Remove to a bowl and toss with ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil and ½ teaspoon dried oregano. Stretch 1 pound pizza dough into a circle or rectangle, then top with shrimp mixture, 1 cup halved grape tomatoes and ½ cup crumbled feta cheese. Bake, remove from oven, then top with 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley. Recipe adapted from Food Network Magazine.

Contact Michelle Stark at mstark@tampabay.com. Follow @mstark17.


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