Featured recipe: BBQ Chicken Skillet Pizza
Sponsored by Muir Glen Organic
Pizza night. Are there any two words, strung together from the culinary lexicon, that inspire as much joy and anticipation? Hardly. Pizza night is a favorite of kids and adults. It's a $45 billion industry in the U.S. alone. Clearly, we love pizza.
But that pizza feast can quickly weigh us down, what with all that cheese and dough and pepperoni cradling pools of grease. Like most foods, there are better, healthier ways to enjoy the same thing, and that starts with making the dish at home. You'll control the ingredients, you'll save money and you can still get some veggies in.
By stocking certain pantry goods, stashing some extra balls of dough in your freezer, and memorizing a few key rules, you can make exceptional pizza that's as easy as pie—and light enough for any day of the week! Here are our essentials to keep on hand for pizza night.
Try These: Healthy Pizza Recipes
Featured recipe: Asparagus & Smoked Mozzarella Pizzettes
Must-Have Ingredients: Store-bought dough
Fast Alternatives: Self-rising flour, Greek yogurt
In the not-so-distant past, the necessity of making dough from scratch was a major deterrent to homemade pizza night. But most grocery stores (and even some local pizzerias) now offer perfectly good premade options.
Store-bought dough can last up to three months in the freezer and simply needs to be thawed overnight (or for at least 12 hours). Just make sure to bring the dough up to room temperature on the countertop, flour liberally and remove any air bubbles by gently pressing down with your fingertips.
If you strike out at the store, there are several great recipes to aid in your pizza-making endeavors, including one whole-wheat version and even a yeastless, two-ingredient alternative that relies on self-rising flour and Greek yogurt.
Related: How to Grill Pizza
Featured recipe: Thai Peanut & Herb Grilled Pizza
Must-Have Ingredients: Crushed tomatoes, olive oil and garlic
Tasty Alternatives: Prepared pesto or jarred sauces
One of the real unsung heroes of any successful pizza is the sauce. Bright and acidic, it acts as a tangy foil to the fat and starch of the cheese and dough.
Nothing could be simpler than a classic red sauce: Start with a 28-ounce can of high-quality crushed tomatoes, such as Muir Glen Organics, and add a clove of grated garlic, a tablespoon of olive oil and a little salt and pepper. There's no need to pre-sauté anything, as the sauce will cook in the oven along with the rest of the pizza components.
Another great option is to go green, with a coating of prepared pesto. Granted, nothing is going to top a freshly made parsley or basil pesto blended in your food processor. But for the sake of time and convenience, there are a handful of great store-bought options.
Pro tip: Green sauce tends to work best with other herby flavors. So err on the lighter side with toppings such as fresh arugula, herbs or grilled kale studded with some salty feta.
Don't shy away from prepared simmering sauces as alternative pizza toppers either. Thai peanut sauce works beautifully on an Asian-inspired pie. You could use a bit of Alfredo sauce for an all-white pizza. Even a little enchilada sauce would be welcome if you choose to give the decidedly Italian meal a quick Mexican makeover. Different sauces let you think outside the (pizza) box.
Keep Reading: How to Turn Any Herb into Pesto
Featured recipe: Chicken Parmesan Pizza
Must-Have Ingredients: Low-moisture mozzarella
Fun Alternatives: Buffalo mozzarella, smoked mozzarella, feta
Probably the biggest calorie mistake people make when assembling a pizza is going overboard with cheese. A word to the wise: Not every square inch of the pie has to be cloaked under a blanket of dairy to achieve gooey, delicious results. In fact, a heavy hand with the cheese can create too much grease and make the dough prone to falling apart under all that excess weight.
You can use preshredded mozzarella for a quick option, or opt for a block of low-moisture mozzarella that you can tear into manageable chunks. Then, judiciously dollop the cheese across the pizza surface, understanding that it will melt and spread in the oven.
If you do choose to use fresh mozzarella, remember that the inherent moisture in the cheese can lead to a soggy, watery pizza. So, take extra precautions by drying your sliced mozzarella ball on paper towels for 20 minutes before using. And add the cheese in the last few minutes of cooking, ensuring that any excess moisture won't seep into the dough. Then wait. Always give your pizza an extra three minutes to cool after you pull it out of the oven, allowing the cheese time to set.
Featured recipe: Grilled Pizza with Prosciutto, Corn & Basil
Must-Have Ingredients: Mushrooms, olives, fresh peppers (such as Anaheim or bell), sautéed leafy greens (such as kale and Swiss chard), red onion
Light Alternatives: Fresh herbs, caramelized onions
There are easy (and tasty!) ways to add some veggies and flavor to your pizza.
Olives are high in vitamin E and heart-healthy fats. Mushrooms are rich in B vitamins. Heartier greens, like kale, are a great source of vitamin C, vitamin K, iron and fiber.
For a little fun, go ahead and divide the pizza into sections for each diner. Once the sauce is down, everyone can claim their own area and add toppings they prefer. This way, you cook one pizza but please everyone in the family.
Featured recipe: Broccoli & Sausage Skillet Pizza
Must-Have Ingredients: Chicken sausage, thinly sliced salami
Quick Alternatives: Grilled chicken or shrimp
As with the cheese, crowding your pizza with an exorbitant amount of heavy toppings can have an adverse effect. As a general rule: the more toppings you pile on, the longer it'll take in the oven. And that can result in uneven cooking times, where your crust is burned before everything else is browned. Plus, a little bit of intensely flavored ingredients, like salami or prosciutto, goes a long way.
Not only will that rule of thumb save your pizza from blackened bottoms or undercooked top layers of cheese, it'll help streamline some of the more indulgent ingredients like pepperoni and sausage—a win-win for your dinner and your health.