In Defense of Pizza!
In light of childhood obesity awareness, more and more foods get blamed for the problem and recommendations to remove these “bad” foods from our diets are presented as the solution. Pizza is often presented as a food to eliminate for health reasons. I don’t know how you feel about this, but I will fight to the end to defend my family’s right to enjoy pizza because I know that it’s not breaking our commitment to healthy eating.
Here’s my defense…
I credit pizza, and my parent’s willingness to expose me to a variety of foods, for promoting the versatile palate I have today. As a child, my father and I would enjoy a mushroom, olive and anchovy (yes, I said anchovy) pizza together. I never even knew anchovies were unusual until I went to my first childhood party and asked, “Can I have a side of anchovies and red pepper flakes, please?” It wasn’t until I studied nutrition in college that I realized the many nutrients that this pizza provided, such as calcium, protein, carbohydrates, B-vitamins and omega-3s, just to name a few.
Pizza, if prepared correctly, can include all of the food groups. How many foods out there can do that? The crust is made of grain, which provides the carbohydrates and B-vitamins we need for fuel and energy. The tomato sauce, which would count as a vegetable serving, is a great source of the antioxidant lycopene, which is important for heart health. Cheese is packed with calcium and protein for strong bones and muscles. Top with mushrooms, onions, bell peppers and even pineapple and you have added servings of vegetables and fruit that provide other important vitamins and minerals. Want to include some extra lean protein for a boost of iron? Add some Canadian bacon, which is lower in fat and calories than pepperoni, or grilled chicken breast. Put all of these ingredients together and you have one delicious and nutritious meal that kids and adults love!
Pizza is the perfect communal food because it’s meant to be shared. Pizza has a long, rich history in our country. It started out as a diet staple for many poor Italian immigrant families. However, it wasn’t long until this delicious, inexpensive, handmade food increased in popularity among all Americans. To this day pizza is enjoyed by groups of people gathered together. What a perfect way to enjoy a wholesome meal with the family!
There are many things in life that I am passionate about, with the highest on my list being family, friends and food. Most of my significant memories involve at least one of these things and many involve all three. It was my love of food and its ability to bring families together in a positive way that led me to this career. My most important role as an RDN and as a mom, is to help others continue to experience the joy of consuming all foods, just doing it in a way that is conducive to health and well being. So I encourage you to continue to serve your family pizza and to feel confident that you are making a good choice. And if you really want to be adventurous, try adding a few anchovies.
Here’s how to make a classic Italian homemade pizza with a tangy pizza sauce, gooey mozzarella, and a perfect chewy pizza crust.
• 1 ball Pizza Dough Master Recipe
• 1/4 to 1/3 cup Easy Pizza Sauce
• 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese or 2 to 3 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese
• Parmesan cheese for garnish
• 1 handful fresh basil leaves
• Semolina flour or cornmeal, for dusting the pizza peel
1. Make the pizza dough: Follow the Pizza Dough Master Recipe to prepare the dough.
2. Place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat to 500°F. OR preheat your pizza oven (here’s the pizza oven we use).
3. Make the pizza sauce: Make the Easy Pizza Sauce.
4. Prepare the cheese: If using fresh mozzarella cheese, slice it into 1/4 inch thick pieces. If it’s incredibly watery fresh mozzarella (all brands vary), you may want to let it sit on a paper towel to remove moisture for about 15 minutes then dab the mozzarella with the paper towel to remove any additional moisture.
5. Bake the pizza: When the oven is ready, dust a pizza peel with cornmeal or semolina flour. (If you don’t have a pizza peel, you can use a rimless baking sheet or the back of a rimmed baking sheet. Stretch the dough into a circle then gently place the dough onto the pizza peel.
6. Spread a thin layer of the pizza sauce over the dough, using about 1/4 to 1/3 cup. Add the mozzarella cheese. Top with a thin layer of fresh grated Parmesan cheese and a few pinches of kosher salt.
7. Use the pizza peel to carefully transfer the pizza onto the preheated pizza stone. Bake the pizza until the cheese and crust are nicely browned, about 5 to 7 minutes in the oven (or 1 minute in a pizza oven).
8. Allow the pizza to cool for a minute or two before adding the basil on top (whole leaves, lightly torn, or thinly sliced). Slice into pieces and serve immediately.
Recipe courtesy of acouplecooks.com. Visit their website for pizza dough and pizza sauce recipes!