In the Kitchen
Artisan pizza, the healing food: The Pizza Chef
Did you know that women aged 19 to 49 require more than twice as much iron in their daily diet as men? And while you may already be eating foods with iron, depending on what you’re eating with them, your body may not be absorbing much of it. There are two kinds of iron: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron, found in meat, fish, and poultry, is well absorbed by the body. Non-heme iron, found in beans, lentils, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and eggs, is not as well absorbed by the body.
You can help your body absorb more non-heme iron by eating foods high in vitamin C and/or heme iron at the same time.
I have been borderline anemic for most of my life, and I take iron supplements. After reading an article in a cycling magazine about healthy pizza toppings providing a great body replenishing and body-building meal, I wanted to create a pizza that would be incredibly high in iron but also taste delicious. Something that would satisfy all the requirements of a healthy, nutritious meal but not taste like the meal we think of when we’re trying to eat healthy. So I selected each ingredient specifically to increase my iron intake, decided how they would be prepared and put them all on one of our 100 per cent whole-wheat, thin, artisan pizza crusts. I call it “di prim’ordine nutrimento,” which means top-class nourishment, and it has olive oil and herbs sauce, roasted red peppers, minced garlic and pesto chicken with baby spinach and black olives.
Wow, talk about tasty! It instantly became one of my favourites. But I didn’t know if anyone else would like it. For most people, the words “healthy pizza” bring up images of those things we’d rather blend and drink instead of bake up on a nice pizza crust. I frequently host tasting evenings where I sample some of my newest artisan pizza creations and everyone who tasted this one gave it top marks.
Since then, I have been working with unique-to-pizza vegetarian ingredients and preparing them as toppings, and creating entirely new vegetarian and vegan artisan pizzas. I’ve been having a lot of fun creating these recipes and giving them jazzy names. One of my new favourites – “Jack and the Beans Talk” – has red kidney beans, chickpeas, baby spinach and Monterey Jack cheese. It’s very tasty, and the samples have all been very well rated.
I’ve also been working on a from-scratch vegan pizza cheese for the past few months. While there are non-dairy options available, none is designed specifically for pizza, and, as we all know, baking an ingredient in a 500-degree or hotter pizza oven changes the texture and mouthfeel of the ingredient. It’s been my experience that most vegan cheeses turn into puddles in commercial pizza ovens and I wanted something that would still have a nice bite to it. I also wanted it to taste so delicious that even the carnivores would like it! I spent a little while dreaming up and playing with ingredient matrixes to create just the right balance of taste and function.
Earlier this month, I hosted a vegan cheese pizza tasting evening, and at first I wasn’t sure there would be any real interest in it. But, it turned out incredible! I sold out, packed the lounge and had people who didn’t get to buy tickets just showing up. Lucky for us, we have a patio and the weather was nice that evening, so we managed to accommodate everyone. It was a little crazy – the good kind of crazy – with every plate we owned out on the tables that night. The feedback was phenomenal! People wanted to order one or more of the vegan pizzas they’d sampled to take home and several guests wanted reservations for the weekend so they could bring friends back with them.
While I am busily getting ready to fully launch my vegan pizza cheese on our menu, I am also seeing the possibilities of so many more artisan pizzas designed as body-healing meals – for example, other artisan pizzas designed for those with low potassium. No processed ingredients: into the oven, artisan pizza dough, marinara, tomato slices, massaged kale and roasted asparagus, out of the oven, drizzled with honey. Mmmm, now I’m hungry.
Until next column, be well.
Diana Cline is a two-time Canadian Pizza magazine Chef of the Year, three-time winner of “Canada’s Best Pizza Chef” at international pizza competitions, a judge for international pizza culinary competitions in Las Vegas, Italy and France, and a partner with Diana’s Cucina & Lounge in Winnipeg. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is a consultant to other pizzeria owner/operators in menu development, creating systems to run a pizzeria on autopilot, along with marketing and positioning to help operators grow their business effectively and strategically. She is available for consulting on a limited basis, for more information contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org