Creamy, crispy, and savory with a rich walnut pesto sauce, this is my version of cheese pizza, though possibly even more addictive. I use a cashew based cheese with nutritional yeast to give the pizza a deep flavor and a gorgeous melty texture, all on top of a spongy focaccia. You can find nutritional yeast in most health food markets.
My version of basil walnut pesto uses miso paste instead of cheese. Miso paste, the fermented beans I’ve raved about elsewhere (see my miso soup post), is my go-to substitute for Parmesan because it replaces the umami-rich taste inherent in cheese. You can serve it over pasta dishes, white beans, or slathered on top of toast.
This dish will come as a welcome surprise to vegans and die-hard pizza lovers alike because it’s unique, yet comforting and satisfying all at once. It’s also quite healthy.
Since it’s still winter, I’ve opted for canned tomatoes which are harvested at peak ripeness. If making this dish in the summer, try using cherry tomatoes instead. I realize that some of you might be intimidated by the advanced preparation required, but it’s easy and I’m sure you’ll appreciate having left-over meals. I recommend prepping the focaccia dough and the other ingredients the day before you’re ready to assemble and cook the pizza.
Focaccia Pizza with Walnut Pesto
Yield: 8 portions
Make the Focaccia:
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm filtered water (110-115°F)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 russet potato
- Make the sponge: Activate the yeast by combining it with the warm water. Stir to blend and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the 2 tablespoons of oil and 1 1/2 cups flour. Cover and move to a warm spot to ferment for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Meanwhile, boil or bake the potato until completely soft in the center. Peel and mash.
- Make the dough: Uncover the sponge and add the remaining ingredients (numbered 4-9). Stir vigorously for 3 minutes to develop the gluten. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours.
- Remove the dough and allow to rest at room temperature for 2 hours. Oil a sheet tray with olive oil and dump the dough on top. The dough will appear wet, bubbly, and loose. Spread it out so that it evenly covers the entire pan. Preheat oven to 400°.
- Bake for 25 minutes until slightly golden brown.
Make the Pesto:
- 1/4 cup walnuts
- 2 tablespoons chickpea miso
- 1 1/2 cups packed basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Combine all the ingredients in a food processor. Process until smooth. Refrigerate in a sealed container until ready to use. Adjust salt to taste.
To make the cashew cheese:
- 9 oz cashews, soaked for 8 hours
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast or miso paste
- 3/4 cup water
- Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Process until the mixture is creamy and smooth.
To assemble the pizzas:
- 12 oz spinach leaves, cooked until wilted, then squeeze out excess moisture, roughly chop
- 1 cup cremini mushrooms, quartered
- 28 ounces canned whole tomatoes, seeds removed, simmered for 5 minutes with about 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Top the focaccia bread with a layer of cashew cheese, cooked spinach, and basil walnut pesto. Top with tomatoes and cremini mushrooms.
- Roast the pizza in a 400°F oven for 15 minutes.