Pie-in-the-sky thinking: Putting pizzazz into pizza

(JTA) — The mere mention of Shavuot sends images of cheesecakes dancing before my eyes and calling my name. I love cheesecakes and they love me — so much they plant themselves on my hips forever.

On the two-day festival, which this year begins on the evening of May 26, the Jewish people became the People of the Book. When we said "yes" to accepting the Torah, we created a bond — like marriage, our sages say — with our Creator that will never be broken.

So in honor of my marriage to a man that does not like cheesecake — not really sure what to do about that — and my waistline, I’m forsaking the cheesecake and making his favorite dairy delicacy, pizza, to satisfy the custom of enjoying dairy delights on Shavuot.

When I met my hubby-to-be eight years ago, I was a bachelorette on a perpetual diet; my go-to foods were salad, fruit and yogurt. Bachelor food looks more like a slice (or two or three) of pizza daily — could be for breakfast, lunch, dinner or all three.

So as a cultured pizza connoisseur, my future spouse introduced me to pizza shops all over New York: the good, the great and the fabulous, complete with running commentary on the specialties of each. I discovered that a New York pizza shop is so much more than just plain pies. It was almost surrealistic to experience — fries and onion rings and fried eggplant on a pizza, even salad. I pretended especially to go for the salad pizza, but I must confess I loved, loved, loved those onion ring pies and all the rest!

Plain pizza is so yesterday, I concluded. And since that time, I must have my slice all dressed up, piled with everything, like it’s going to the pizza party of the year.

Of course, now I make my own. There’s no point to standing in line at the pizza place when it’s so easy to do it yourself. I have developed some amazing pizzas that are healthy and quick, and one oh-so yummy carb-fest for my other half. You won’t find these at your local pizzeria.

First up, Onion Lovers Pizza: Eat this with those you love and serve Listerine for dessert. This one takes the prize for color: the red onions give it a real splash, and combined with shallots, Vidalias and chopped chives, it’s a sure winner.

I’ve never seen a local pizza shop put potatoes (that aren’t fried) or avocado on a pie – so I thought I should be the first. The avocado, as I see it, is one of God’s gifts to this world. My goal, before 120, is to try it on everything. Hey, I just saw Martha (as in Stewart) put zucchini ribbons on a Bundt cake, so why not throw avocado on a pizza? Heavenly!

Try this super summer concoction: Peach and Arugula Pizza. It’s not too sweet, as the arugula has a bit of a bite, but it’s summer perfection in a pie.

My hubby’s favorite slice is piled high with Creamy Baked Ziti. Cover your dough with sauce and top it with as much ziti as you can handle. Bake until the crust is golden and the cheese bubbly and browned. Bake any extra ziti in a casserole, as per the recipe instructions. (I must admit, I kinda love that version too!).

The idea here is to be so satisfied that you won’t even crave the cheesecake for dessert. Maybe I’ll bum a slice off my neighbor.

Happy Shavuot!

ONION LOVERS PIZZA
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Ready time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients:
1 small Vidalia or sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 cup sliced shallots
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 frozen pizza dough, defrosted (9-ounce)
2 to 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons chopped chives
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preparation:
In a medium saute pan, saute Vidalia onion and shallots in olive oil over medium high heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until softened and beginning to caramelize.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Sprinkle a rimless baking sheet with 1 tablespoon flour and set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out pizza dough to a 10-inch circle and transfer to prepared baking sheet. Prick dough all over with a fork to help prevent large bubbles from forming during baking. Spread dough evenly with ricotta cheese and sprinkle with salt. Top with sauteed onion mixture, red onion and mozzarella cheese.

Bake for 12 to 16 minutes or until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly. Garnish with chives and pepper, and slice into 6 to 8 wedges to serve.

POTATO AND AVOCADO PIZZA

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Ready time:
30 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients:
1 medium Yukon gold potato, scrubbed
1 frozen pizza dough, defrosted (9-ounce)
2 to 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 green onion, chopped
1/2 medium avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced

Preparation:
In a small saucepan, cover potato with 1/2-inch water and bring to a boil. Simmer until just tender when pierced with a fork, about 12 to 14 minutes. Let cool until comfortable to handle. Slice into 1/4-inch thin slices and set aside.

While potato is cooking, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Sprinkle a rimless baking sheet with 1 tablespoon flour and set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out pizza dough to a 10-inch circle and transfer to prepared baking sheet. Prick dough all over with a fork to help prevent large bubbles from forming during baking. Sprinkle with sliced garlic, olive oil and salt. Layer potato slices all over pizza and top with cheese and green onion.

Bake for 12 to 16 minutes or until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly. Top with avocado slices once out of the oven. Slice into 6 to 8 wedges and serve immediately.

PEACH AND ARUGULA PIZZA
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Ready time: 25 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients:
1 frozen pizza dough, defrosted (9-ounce)
2 to 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 small yellow peach, pitted and cut into 10 slices
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup arugula, washed and dried thoroughly
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Sprinkle a rimless baking sheet with 1 tablespoon flour and set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out pizza dough to a 10-inch circle and transfer to prepared baking sheet. Prick dough all over with a fork to help prevent large bubbles from forming during baking. Top with sour cream, peach slices, cheese and pepper.

Bake for 12 to 16 minutes or until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly. Top with arugula and drizzle with olive oil. Cut into 6 to 8 wedges and serve immediately.

CREAMY ZITI
This is it, the Geller ziti! Hubby and I are famous in our neighborhood for this yummy dish. It’s a quick prep, but it lasts long in people’s memories.

Prep time: 12 minutes
Ready time: 12 minutes
Servings: 6-8

Ingredients:
1 (1-pound) box ziti or penne rigate
2 (26-ounce) jars prepared marinara sauce
1 (32-ounce) container ricotta cheese
2 (8-ounce) packages shredded mozzarella cheese, divided

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Cook ziti about 2 to 3 minutes less than package directions for al dente pasta. Drain, rinse with cold water to stop the cooking and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix marinara sauce, ricotta and 1 cup of mozzarella. Pour about 2 cups of the sauce mixture in prepared pan, spreading over bottom.

Combine ziti and remaining sauce mixture and stir until well combined, making sure there are no dry patches of pasta. Pour into pan and spread to edges.

Sprinkle remaining mozzarella over ziti to cover.

Spray a sheet of aluminum foil with cooking spray and cover ziti. This will keep the cheese from sticking to the foil.

Bake, covered, at 375 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Uncover and continue baking until cheese is golden brown and bubbly. Serve hot, straight out of the pan.

Tip:
One secret to this ziti is that the pasta is slightly undercooked before it goes into the oven, which helps prevent it from becoming too mushy. 

(Jamie Geller is the author of the best-selling "Quick & Kosher" cookbook series and creator of the Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller magazine. She is the host of the popular "Quick & Kosher" cooking show online at youtube.com/joyofkosher and on-air on JLTV. Follow more of Geller’s Quick & Kosher cooking adventures on Twitter @JoyofKosher and on facebook.com/joyofkosher.)

NEXT STORY