Friday, September 30, 2016

Pizzas Galore!

Pizzas with Creamy Garlic Sauce, Veggies, LoSo Bacon, and Homemade Sausage

One of the easiest and tastiest low sodium meals I prepare is pizza. I know it sounds odd – eating pizza on a low sodium diet. Most restaurant pizzas are swimming in salt: full-salt crust; heavily salted sauce; lots and lots of salty cheese; loads of super salty toppings like full-salt olives, pepperoni, ham, and sausage. But lower sodium pizza can be done. And done successfully with lots of flavor.

For me, pizza is comprised of four main components:

The Dough

Since we started eating low sodium, I’ve worked my way through 4 pizza dough recipes. They all were good, and I’ve adapted each one to lower sodium. I’ve posted before about two of the recipes HERE and HERE. A couple of years ago, I started using THIS recipe for Semolina Pizza Dough and really liked it (I reduce both the salt & yeast amounts by 50%). Recently my daughter gave me some sourdough starter, and I found a recipe for Sourdough Pizza Dough on the King Arthur Flour website that uses unfed/discarded starter. I tried it for the first time last week and was impressed.

Each recipe makes 2 or 3 pizzas. I figure about 10 ounces dough per 12 inch pizza. I usually divide the dough up and use one batch a night until it’s all gone. A few times I’ve only fixed one pizza for dinner and baked the other unadorned crusts specifically for freezing.

Each 12 inch pizza is cut into 8 pieces. We usually gobble 5 pieces at dinner time, with 3 pieces left over for breakfast, lunch or snacks.

I always cut both the salt and yeast amounts in half and try to use about 50% white whole wheat flour. The whole wheat flour means that I have to add some extra water in order to make a soft dough. Also, I always dock the dough before saucing the unbaked pizza.

A note about salt in yeast doughs: Salt is a yeast inhibitor and keeps the yeast in check. Salt also strengthens the gluten and helps the bread keep its shape. Without the proper amount of salt, the dough could rise too high and too quickly. The dough might expand so much it could eventually collapse. When you reduce the salt in a bread dough recipe, you also need to reduce the yeast by the same percentage. For example, I usually reduce the salt by 50% and also reduce the yeast by 50%.

However, with a flatbread like pizza, it’s not as critical to keep the yeast in check. If you decide to make a totally salt free pizza dough, you need to reduce the yeast by at least half, possibly more, and you'll need to watch the dough carefully during rising. Salt-free dough probably should not have more than about 1 tsp. yeast per three cups of flour.

Veggie Pizza with Creamy Garlic Sauce
The Sauce

Whatever sauce you choose, don’t overdo it. Too much sauce results in a doughy, under-cooked top crust.

My husband loves this Creamy Garlic Sauce on pizza. It’s easy to prepare, and because of its creaminess, you can get away with using a lot less cheese. Always a nice thing for those of us watching our sodium intake.

If you’re a tomato sauce lover, making your own is also quite easy thanks to all the NSA added tomato products now available. I just use my Easy Tomato Pasta Sauce recipe with a few changes. To make things fast and easy, I’ll use my hand-held blender stick if I’m dealing with whole or diced canned tomatoes. Also, many times I don’t use fresh garlic or onion. Instead I throw in some dried onion bits and garlic powder.

Tomato Powder is a wonderful product to have on hand when you discover there aren’t any canned tomato products in the pantry. You can make a quick pizza sauce from tomato powder, water, olive oil, garlic powder, and dried herbs. For an even easier tomato sauce, consider using a NSA marinara sauce like Trader Joe’s or Rinaldi’s.

The Toppings

Nowadays the sky's the limit when it comes to pizza toppings. Most can be categorized as either meat, cheese, or vegetables.

Meat: Remember, you don’t have to pile on the meat. In fact, you can forgo meat altogether. Veggie pizzas are delicious. And the less meat you use, the less likelihood of producing a greasy top crust.

Hamburger Nothing could be easier than frying up some hamburger (or ground turkey). Leave it unseasoned if you want. Or add some salt-free Italian herbs along with a bit of garlic powder.

Homemade Italian Sausage A little more work but with a lot of flavor, especially if you let the seasoned meat mixture rest in the fridge for at least two hours to overnight.

Store Bought Sausage A little trickier. Both Gallo and Columbus make lower sodium salami. They’re definitely lower in sodium than the regular stuff but still a bit high (220 and 290 mg per ounce respectively). When I buy a pillow-pack of loso salami, I divide it up into portions for two servings each and freeze. Then, when I make pizza, I’ll use one serving’s worth for one night’s pizza and the other for the next evening’s.

Grocery store Italian sausages can range from a low of 400 to almost 700 mg sodium per link. Trader Joe's sells Sun Dried Tomato Chicken sausage that’s 400 mg sodium per link. Also Safeway sells O Organics Hot Italian Sausage with the same sodium level. The key to using these store bought sausages is to select the product with the least amount of sodium to start with. Then use only 1 link per pizza, cutting thin slices. When I buy a package of the TJ sausage, I portion it up into five individual links and freeze. Then, when I make pizza, I’ll use only one link thinly sliced.

Cheese: You also don’t need a mountain of cheese either. You can use as much or as little as you feel comfortable with.

Fresh Mozzarella Find the lowest sodium version available, and chop it up. I recommend chopping because it’s impossible to shred fresh mozzarella. And even slicing thinly is difficult. Just be sure to squeeze dry the cut cheese with paper towels. It’s a very watery cheese. Bel Gioioso and Trader Joe's Ovoline are two really low sodium brands.

Shredded Swiss Combine the fresh mozzarella with some shredded Swiss. The combo will give you lower sodium, yummy flavor, and creamy texture. Trader Joe’s has a good blend as does Sargento.

Homemade Sausage Pizza with Tomato Sauce

Check out a menu from a pizza restaurant to get some vegetable ideas: red onions, green onions, mushrooms, green pepper, chopped/sliced tomatoes, artichoke hearts, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes are our favorites.

The only caveat with vegetables is to make sure everything is sliced thinly or chopped into smallish dice. For some of them (Tomatoes especially), you should also drain or squeeze dry in paper towels. You don’t want the veggies to exude a bunch of water and mush up the pizza. Also important don’t pile on vegetables. All the veggies need to be exposed to the heat so their water can evaporate.  Finally, put the vegetables on top of the cheese. Let the oven heat get to them first to avoid a soggy pizza.

The Baking Method

To pan or not to pan? That is the question. If you want an easy time with pizza, use a pan. Grease it. Plop in the dough, and spread it out with your fingers. If it doesn’t want to cooperate with you, cover it and let it rest for about five minutes. Once it’s filled the pan, cover and let rise.

Heat your oven to 450 for about 20 minutes. If you’ve got a baking stone, place the prepared pan on the hot stone and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the dough is crisp and brown. Remove from the oven and slide the pizza onto a cutting board.

Baking without a pan is a little trickier because it requires a pizza stone. Pre-heat the oven about thirty minutes at 450-475 degrees with the pizza stone on the lowest rack.

Roll the dough out and stretch it a bit. A while ago I learned THIS great shaping technique from King Arthur Flour. Place the dough over an upside down mixing bowl and let gravity do the work. Gently stretch the dough evenly over the outside of the bowl, turn it over, and place it on a parchment lined pizza peel. Once the oven is sufficiently pre-heated, slip the pizza with the parchment onto the stone and let it bake for about 8 minutes. Then remove the parchment and let the pizza finish baking directly on the stone. After an additional 4-6 minutes baking, the crust should be crisp and brown. Remove it with the peel, slice, and serve.

Pizzas with Tomato Sauce, Creamy Garlic Sauce, Salami, TJ Sausage, and Homemade Sausage

So there you have it. Low sodium pizza – easy to make and tasty to eat. And simple to adjust to your specific low sodium needs. Everything – from the crust, to the sauce, to the toppings, to the baking method – can be modified to fit your unique requirements.

Well, it’s time for me to feed my sourdough starter. Guess what I’m going to make with the unfed discard?

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