Whenever I’m watching my waistline, I always pine for pizza.
When done right (to my preference, anyway), it’s chock full of a dieter’s cardinal sins: bread, cheese and cured meats. But it doesn’t have to be on the list of contraband! When you make it yourself, pizza can actually be healthy. Yes, it can even count as a vegetable.
The first thing you should do is try to wrap your head around making your own crust. With all the fast, no-knead recipes out there, it’s only a fifteen minute commitment, but if you really don’t have the time, you can always use store-bought dough. Try to find whole wheat dough to squeeze in a few extra grams of heart-healthy fiber.
For toppings, experiment with strong cheeses, so you don’t have to use as much. Go beyond mozzarella. Why not blue cheese? Or chevre? Feel free to pile on the veggies, but keep in mind that they release liquid when cooking, so don’t go overboard. If you like meat, opt for lighter varieties like thinly-sliced ham or turkey pepperoni, or just use your favorite meat more sparingly. My last pointer: Forget about the red sauce. Once you stop trying to pair flavors to marinara, the sky’s the limit.
Need inspiration? Here are five healthy, delicious topping combos that will get you big flavor without making a big dent in your calorie budget.
1. Shaved winter squash and onions with smoked mozzarella.
Shaving a squash like butternut or kabocha on a mandoline (or thinly slicing with a sharp knife) allows it to cook in the time it takes for the crust to brown. Onions are a great way to get a little more savory, and shaving them means they will turn roasty-sweet. Smoked mozzarella or fontina brings huge flavor, and you don’t need to use cups of it. With this much goodness, you won’t even miss the sauce.
2. Prosciutto and pear with gorgonzola.
This is another good one for winter. The pears will get a little caramelized on the edges, and the smoky prosciutto gets chewy. You can strew the ham luxuriantly across the pizza or chop it finely for easy slicing. I like to add a handful of arugula for extra vitamins, and drizzle with a tiny amount of walnut oil to finish. Healthy fats like those from nuts are good for your heart!
3. Escarole with caramelized onions, fontina and bacon.
Yes, bacon. Just use one slice, finely diced, and cook it in a pan first so it doesn’t grease up your whole pizza. You can use any greens you want, but I like the slightly bitter flavor of escarole or frisee with sweet onions, creamy fontina and smoky, salty bacon.
4. Wild mushrooms with asparagus and chevre.
Mushrooms release a lot of juice when cooking, so be sure and slice them pretty thin so you don’t end up with a gloppy mess. But leave the asparagus whole, draped on top of the pizza, so that it will get nice and roasted.
5. Rethink “Supreme.”
“Finally,” you’re thinking, “a normal pizza with sauce.” Well, almost. First, skip the pepperoni. Next, use chicken or turkey Italian sausage, or use soy sausage and add extra garlic, oregano, chile flakes and fennel seed. Thinly slice onions, peppers and olives, and top with shredded mozzarella (but not too much!). Finally, use fresh mozzarella—the kind that comes in liquid whey (called bocconcini). Bocconcini melts like a dream, so you don’t need to use as much.
Any one of these selections—eaten in proper portions, of course—can certainly meet the standards of both your diet and your taste buds. Enjoy!