Saturday, March 8, 2008

Italian Sausage Pizza

Thanks to Trader Joe's, I have an easy to use low sodium marina sauce in the house, I wanted to make pizza. Believe it or not, making good tasting homemade low sodium pizza is really not that difficult. However, it does take some planning. Obviously not as easy as picking one up from a restaurant or having it delivered.

First, you have to make a crust. I used the following recipe created by Lou, one of the Cooking Forum members. Even without the full complement of salt, it makes a tasty dough that is super easy to work with and roll out. So far, I've only used it for pizza, but others on the forum have successfully used it for calzones & stromboli.

Pizza Crust
Lou from Cooking Forum
(Printable Recipe)

1 cup of warm water
1 Package rapid rise yeast (2 1/4 tsp. - I use 1 1/8 tsp)
2 tsp. sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt (I use 1/4 tsp.)
3 cups flour
½ cup whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur White Whole Wheat)

Combine the water, 1 cup of AP flour, whole wheat flour, yeast, sugar in a mixing bowl. Let it sit to see if yeast begins bubbling. (I omitted this testing step.)

Add the oil and salt and most of remaining flour. Add just enough AP flour to make a soft ball of dough, that doesn't stick to your hands. (I used less than the remaining 2 cups; I always prefer a softer, wetter dough to a too sturdy dough that will bake up dense & hard.)

Knead until smooth. (I mixed it all up in my food processor.) Put it back in the bowl, smooth side up and lightly coat with some vegetable oil.

Cover and set in a warm place to rise until it doubles in bulk. When doubled, punch it down and divide into balls, about 12 ounces and place in oiled pans.

(I divided the dough into two pieces, rolling out one piece and refrigerating the other. If you divide the dough into three pieces, you'll end up with slightly smaller pizzas. I placed the rolled out crust on a large piece of parchment paper on a wooden peel. I let the dough rest on the peel while I prepared the toppings. At the same time, I preheated my oven and positioned the baking stone on the bottom rack.)

Bake at 450 for 12-15 minutes. (After about 7-8 minutes, I removed the parchment paper, so the pizza would continue baking directly on the stone.)

Lou's Note: For pan pizza, dough should be about 3/16 " thick on the bottom and about ½" around the edge.

OK, so now I had a good crust ready to bake and a good tomato sauce. Time to work on the toppings. It goes without saying that sliced/chopped vegetables are the perfect solution for low sodium pizzas. Mushrooms, onions, garlic, & peppers are all great as long as they're fresh. (But be sure to slice thinly and don't overload. Veggies are watery and exude liquid when cooking. Too many or too thick can result in a soggy pizza.) Avoid olives and pickled vegetables of any kind. All good and well. But sometimes you want MEAT! Pepperoni, sausage, most salami, & ham are out. But ground beef can make a tasty low sodium meat topping. Just brown it with some Italian herbs, and you've got a flavorful addition. But nothing beats homemade Low Sodium Italian Sausage. I've combined several recipes I found online to come up with the one I use -- for pizza, spaghetti, meatballs, etc. It's easy to make, tastes good, and is definitely low sodium. It requires crushing fennel seed; I use a marble mortar & pestle.

Italian Sausage
(Printable Recipe)

2 lbs. ground pork
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon Italian herbs blend
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon crushed fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried minced onion
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil if pork is extra lean

In a small bowl, combine the parsley, Italian herbs blend, garlic powder, crushed red pepper flakes, crushed fennel, paprika, & minced onion flakes; mix well.

Place pork and oil in a separate large bowl and add the spice mix to it. Mix this thoroughly with your hands. I put on disposable vinyl gloves for this)

Cover well and let sit for at least an hour so flavors will meld (I've kept it overnight, too). Form into patties and either cook, or freeze for later use. (For pizza, I crumble and brown)

As discussed in an earlier post, fresh mozzarella is very low sodium, as are most blocks of Swiss cheese. For pizza, I like to use a combination of shredded regular mozzarella and Swiss with a few strategically placed slices of fresh mozzarella.

This time I spread a thin layer of the TJ Marinara on the rolled out dough, lightly sprinkled on the shredded cheeses and topped with some sliced mushrooms, red peppers & onions and some already browned sausage. The results of all this effort? Yummy pizza, tasting as good or better than restaurant style and low sodium too. So yummy, in fact, that we ate too much.

A couple of days later, I made another pizza with the remaining dough. I could have frozen the extra, but why? Pizza is such a treat and eating it twice (or even three times) in one week is no problem for us.

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