August 2, 2011

Romesco Pizza With Caramelized Onions & Squash

by IsaChandra

Makes 2 large pies

Since I’m living right in the middle of the country, and right off i80, I become a rest stop for weary, traveling vegans. This weekend, some friends on their way from Pennsylvania to Portland stopped by, bearing gifts from a farmer’s market all the way in Madison, Wisconsin. I had just enough notice to conjure up a couple of pizzas, using some of the fresh produce they gifted me. The grill had run out of gas, so it was an indoor affair, but no one complained.

When it comes to pizza, I’ll make the occasional soy cheese pie, but what I’m really down with, what puts me in that state of eye-rolling bliss that only pizza can, is if you make mine cheeseless.

Now, “cheeseless” does have this dull sounding quality to it, since instead of focusing on what it has, we’re describing what it doesn’t. But even without cheese, I still like a richness to my pie. Sure, I enjoy a simple slice doused in a good tomato sauce and topped with veggies, but the more decadent Brooklyn girl and pizza-lover in me wants to have some fun, especially when I’ve got company. And so I make the base of the pizza thick and rich. It’s sort of reverse of what a traditional NYC pie would be, which is a light sauce topped with rich cheese.

There are so many different bases you can use. A creamy pesto, or a cashew-based alfredo, but here I went with romesco. Romesco is a Spanish sauce, made of roasted red peppers and toasted almonds,  with flavors that are at once deep and roasty but still fresh and light.

My visitors brought along some beautiful yellow squash that I knew exactly how to use since I’d been ogling a pizza on the cover of Vegetarian Times in June, which had pretty ribbons of zucchini that looked as light and graceful as petals. I took that idea and used the yellow squash, and while mine didn’t come out quite as flowy, I love the thin veil of vegetableness that you bite through to get to the lush spread underneath. I also added caramelized onions, for another burst of sweet richness.

But there are a million possibilities with this sauce. Something as simple as fresh basil would even make a great topping, but you can pile on heartier items, like roasted mushrooms, tempeh bacon, toasted pine nuts, breaded eggplant…the world is your pizza.

I used a store-bought whole grain crust from Whole Foods, but feel free to use your favorite double pizza crust recipe. Maybe the Pizza Dough from Vegan with a Vengeance if you’ve got that book.

The recipe looks really long, but I’m telling you how to caramelize onions and roast red peppers, so if you’ve got those two things down already, just skip over those parts.

You’ll need:
2 balls of pizza dough, for 2 large pizzas
Olive oil for brushing

For the caramelized onions:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large yellow onions
big pinch salt

For the sauce:
1 1/2 cups slivered almonds
4 red bell roasted peppers (you can also drained, jarred roasted red peppers)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion
5 cloves garlic, minced
Fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teasoon salt
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon agave nectar

For the squash:
1 large yellow squash, sliced into paper thin ribbons (with a mandoline or knife)

To make the caramelized onions:
The basic idea here is that you sweat the onions, which means you’ll be gently cooking them covered over low heat, and a lot of the cooking will be done from the steam as the water is released. You’re coaxing the sweetness out of them and locking it in. It looks like a lot of onion, and it is, but everything will cook down to manageable proportions, I promise. If you’ve never tasted caramelized onions, you might be surprised that an onion is even capable of this deep, sweet complexity, and with only two ingredients.

Preheat a heavy bottomed, preferably cast iron, skillet over low heat. Add the oil and the onions and toss the onions to coat. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, leaving a little gap for steam to escape. Stir occasionally, every 5 minutes or so. Onions should turn a nice mellow amber, but not burn, although a couple of darker spots are fine.

Remove the cover and turn the heat up just a bit, to a medium setting. Stir often for 10 more minutes. Onions should become a darker amber, and some of the moisture should evaporate.  Transfer to a bowl until ready to use.

To make the romesco:
If your red peppers aren’t already roasted, then do it now. Just place them on a rimmed baking sheet, into a 425 F oven, and turn occasionally. They’re ready when they’re blackened and collapsed, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove them from oven and immediately place in a paper bag. This will steam the skin off as they cool. Place in the fridge and once cool, remove from bag, peel off skin and remove seeds.

Now toast the almonds. Preheat a large, heavy bottomed pan over medium low heat. Spread the almonds out in a single layer and toast frequently until fragrant and honey brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer almonds to a food processor. Now we’ll prepare the rest of the sauce.

In the same pan over medium high heat, saute onions in olive oil for 5 to 7 minutes with a pinch of salt, until lightly browned. Add garlic, several dashes fresh black pepper, dried marjoram and salt, and saute for 30 seconds more, then turn off the heat.

Now pulse the almonds in the food processor until they’re a finely ground powder. Add the roasted red peppers, the onion mixture and the red wine vinegar and agave nectar. Puree until fairly smooth. Taste for salt, and set aside until ready to use.

To assemble pizza:
Preheat oven to 500 F.

This post is getting really long, so it won’t be a treatise on how to perfectly roll out a pizza crust. But I’ll just say, use a lightly floured, cold surface and I’m just fine with using a rolling pin.

Roll dough out onto a large, lightly greased pizza pan. Spread a cup or so of romesco sauce onto the pizza. Place squash ribbons artfully over the sauce and drizzle with a little olive oil. Also, brush the crust with olive oil.

Place pizza on the bottom of the oven (yes, right on the bottom, no rack required) preferably on a pizza stone, but it’s ok if you don’t have one. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until crust is golden. Remove from oven, top with splotches of caramelized onion, sprinkle on some fresh black pepper if you like, slice and serve. Then prepare your next pizza the same way!

  • August 2, 2011 at 5:13 pm: mamachandra

    yum! thanks to you, roasted red peppers and almonds is a go-to sauce at our house (revolutionary spanish omelet, anyone?). I hadn’t thought to use it this way until now. Looks super yum!

  • August 2, 2011 at 5:43 pm: Sarah S.

    Lovely! I am a big fan of the Appetite for Reduction Romesco Dressing so I’m sure that I’d love this pizza sauce.

  • August 2, 2011 at 6:03 pm: Grace@ Food-Fitness-FreshAir

    I love your blog! Awesome photos, and the recipes sound just as enticing. My tomato plants fared better than my pepper plants this year, but I’d love to make a pizza soon.

  • August 2, 2011 at 6:46 pm: Emma

    Yummers! I was introduced to Romesco with your delicious vcon chickpeas romesco. This is pizza so it’s sure to be even better!! Thank you

  • August 2, 2011 at 7:28 pm: Jennifer

    Mmm, here in Cambridge MA you can get a romesco, portobello caramelized onion, and tofu ricotta pizza. Very heavy = great comfort food.

    • August 2, 2011 at 9:19 pm: IsaChandra

      Oh wow, where at?

  • August 2, 2011 at 7:58 pm: Sara A.

    This looks yummy! Last time we made pizza we used hummus as the “sauce” and it was good. I had some Daiya cheese pizza in a restaurant and it was good, but I have yet to see if we can replicate it at home. I will have to try this though! it looks great!

  • August 2, 2011 at 7:59 pm: Colleen Galofaro

    Ok, maybe I’m just being retarded, but is this recipe is for one or two pizzas? In the beginning, you mention using two balls of dough for one large pizza, but you say “Then prepare your second pizza the same way!” so I’m a bit confuzzled. Which isn’t hard, believe me.

    Also, I just want to say I went vegan a year and a half ago, and the Veganomicon is my go-to cookbook anytime I want to impress some omnis. And the how-to sections for preparing singular veggies, grains, beans, and what kitchen staples to keep was super-useful for a greenhorn like me. Made this whole vegan thing a lot less scary….so thank you!

    • August 2, 2011 at 9:18 pm: IsaChandra

      I didn’t say to use 2 balls of dough for one pizza, the serving at top says it makes 2 large pizzas and then the directions say to make a second pizza. I’m not sure how I can make it clearer or where the confusion is coming in. Glad you’re getting use out of vcon!

  • August 2, 2011 at 11:49 pm: Jennifer (Delicieux)

    What a fantastic pizza! I love the idea of adding romesco sauce, so different, and I love caramelized onions.

  • August 3, 2011 at 1:14 pm: Amber

    I think Jennifer is talking about Veggie Planet- a place in Harvard Square. This pizza looks amazing!!

  • August 3, 2011 at 3:11 pm: Sara

    Freakin’ YUM. Making this next week!

  • August 3, 2011 at 4:52 pm: Gina

    Beautiful recipe (and photo). I am making this now, for tonight (How lucky am I to have all of the ingreds on hand? Very!) Can’t wait to bite into the first slice… Thanks a mil!

  • August 3, 2011 at 10:09 pm: Jenn

    You must have been reading my mind. I was just telling my boyfriend that he should go make me a vegan pizza for dinner (not that we have any of the ingredients)XD
    and when I went to look up the recipe for lentil tacos (ingredients we have) I saw this and thought it must be fate! I think im gonna buy the ingredients and suprise my boyfriend with this pizza this weekend

  • August 4, 2011 at 4:20 am: Jen

    Regarding the confusion: perhaps the first ingredient on your list should say 2 balls of pizza dough, for 2 large pizzas. Currently, it says “for a large pizza”. I think that is where the confusion came from.

    No confusion about how it will taste – sounds great!

    • August 4, 2011 at 6:31 pm: IsaChandra

      Ok got it!

  • August 4, 2011 at 9:23 pm: Alexis

    How do you think this would work as a calzone? I’m thinking romesco as the dipping sauce. Also, the farmers’ market has been selling avocado squash – too wet to work? Thanks so much!

  • August 4, 2011 at 10:15 pm: wzgirl

    I used my vegetable peeler to cut my squash “ribbons” – worked great!! FanTAStic recipe, Isa. Just fantastic. Thanks.

  • August 5, 2011 at 4:19 am: Amy

    Thank you, it was delicious – especially when paired with a game of Celebrity!

  • August 5, 2011 at 11:25 am: Martine

    Oh my, this is what I’ve been waiting for! We’re making the transition to eating (more) vegan food, but I have not yet had the courage to veganise pizza-night, especially since the boyfriend is a real cheese addict. I think may be able get him to eat one vegan pizza, but if that one won’t taste really really great, I don’t think I’ll be able to get him to try another anytime soon. We’re in Holland here, so vegan cheese is really expensive and not very tasty (Daiya has not reached these parts yet), so a vegan pizza will have to be a cheeseless pizza. I have really high hopes for this recipe, it looks so yummy!

  • August 7, 2011 at 8:00 pm: Amanda

    How would you prepare this on the grill?

  • August 8, 2011 at 6:40 am: danny

    Wow thanks for sharing this was yummy my two year old actually ate it with onions and all !

  • August 8, 2011 at 10:07 pm: Tracy

    This sounds amazing! I had a great vegan romesco pizza at the Giving Tree Cafe in Ithaca, NY (was formerly the ABC Cafe, but both versions have since sadly closed)—they made it with a similar sauce and topped it with avocados. I’m interested to try it with caramelized onions and squash, but also highly recommend avocado!!

  • August 9, 2011 at 6:59 pm: Lauren

    This sounds delightful! I an going to the grocery store now to get the few ingredients I don’t already a have and making it for dinner! Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait!

  • August 10, 2011 at 4:23 pm: Bill taylor

    What a dish, pizza is awesome.My brother loves it very much. in other words he is mad for it.i will surely prepare i for him.

  • August 10, 2011 at 9:57 pm: Caroline

    Oh, Isa…I love you…well, my tummy loves you…for this pizza. My omnivorous better half – who scoffs at pizza sans cheese – passed up his mozz-covered mess to devour an entire one of these himself. Annnnnnnd he really really really hates onions.

  • August 11, 2011 at 1:54 am: vegancouchpotato

    That looks amazing :)

  • August 15, 2011 at 6:19 pm: Hope

    I made this over the weekend (using the crust from Vegan with a Vengeance) and it was AMAZING. My husband took one bite and began thanking me profusely. I said “Actually, you should be thanking Isa”. Thank’s Isa!

  • August 25, 2011 at 11:19 am: Preeti

    Oooh Yummy, this pizza looks mouthwatering!

  • September 4, 2011 at 3:23 pm: Sarah

    Made this yesterday and it’s fantastic! I underestimated my almond stash and didn’t have enough so I used part almonds and part cashews and it turned out fine. I’d never made (or even tasted) romesco sauce before…sooooo good, a great substitute for cheese in terms of richness and decadence. Your recipes never disappoint, thank you!

  • September 4, 2011 at 4:51 pm: Tracey

    I made this pizza for my non-vegan boyfriend last night and he said it was quite possibly the best pizza he’s ever had. The flavors were rich but still light all at the same time. We devoured the entire pizza between the two of us. This was my first recipe I’ve made from your website and needless to say, I’m buying your book now. Thanks for the amazing meal!

  • September 11, 2011 at 5:17 pm: Kristi

    Mmmm . . . I have all your cookbooks, Isa. Is this one in one of them, by chance? I’ll start hunting for it!

    • September 11, 2011 at 9:36 pm: IsaChandra

      Nope, it’s not in a cookbook, just on the blog.

  • September 12, 2011 at 1:24 am: RaniP

    This was a hit, even with a picky 4-year-old and 2-year-old who both despise onions. I used California Lavash Pizza flatbread as the crust (because I am lazy and rolling pin-challenged), and it was delicious. My severely lactose-intolerate-vegan-during-the-week husband loved it. Thanks!

  • October 12, 2011 at 10:03 pm: Dusti

    WOW! I just made this sauce… SO great! My little family is just adopting the vegan diet (we are only in week 3) and this website has been a real inspiration!! I’ve already used 4 or 5 recipes and they have all been delicious. I made this sauce according to the directions, except that I used regular white vinegar, because that was all that I had on hand, and it still turned out really great! I can’t wait to put it on our pizza. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  • December 18, 2011 at 8:41 pm: sheila

    homesick for boston so about to make this. another commenter mentioned a pizza like this in cambridge, ma. i know and love that pizza! it’s at veggie planet, a vegetarian restaurant w a lot of vegan options. their version is called the portobello redhead and though they make it w feta chess, i always subbed that w tofu mash. so, so good.

  • December 25, 2011 at 1:25 pm: alex

    I made this for christmas dinner last night. and it was DELICIOUS. My mom couldn’t get enough of the base, and I think I’m going to start putting it on everything: sandwiches, as pesto, oh, I just can’t wait to try this out.
    Thank you so much!

  • January 15, 2012 at 9:20 pm: Ashley

    This was an amazing pizza. I attempted to veganize pizza night for my brother and I and wasn’t sure what to expect without cheese. We were so pleased! It is not missed at all, in fact the flavors here are so much more creative and complex. Making it again tonight, this time for me boyfriend, with your Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodles (his fav) for desert :)

  • February 22, 2012 at 7:54 pm: Hannah

    So funny that people mentioned the Portabella Redhead at Veggie Planet in Cambridge–I stumbled upon this recipe because I’m trying to copycat the Redhead at home. Can’t wait to try it, Isa. I always knew you were a gift from vegan heaven. Thanks!

  • March 30, 2012 at 4:38 pm: Jorge

    I made it when we had a pizza night. It’s really a nice pie. I’d put it out as an appetizer for any party.

  • June 20, 2012 at 2:19 am: Stacy

    this pizza kicked ass. i’m allergic to almonds so i used raw cashews instead – and didn’t use any oil. wonderful flavors. thank you!

  • July 14, 2012 at 3:01 am: Keely

    My husband brought home some romesco sauce from work so we took inspiration from this recipe and used what we had on hand – zucchini, smoky maple bacon tempeh, pine nuts, and basil pesto on the crust. Super delish! I think that we’ll be using romesco as a pizza sauce base very often now. Thanks for inspiring us!

  • July 25, 2012 at 2:30 am: holly

    Hey Isa!! We made this pizza for dinner tonight. I am always looking for new recipes. I love your use of nuts and minimal oils. Super yummy, and healthy. There is never going to be a day that I can check off that i made all your recipes, but I am working on it. Just bought, your vegan pie cookbook, and I am kicking myself in the butt for not buying it sooner. Made your banana chocolate cheesecake the other night. It was so good, and reading it on my kindle fire makes me even happier cause i don’t need to worry about pages getting wet or yucky from cooking. :)

  • August 10, 2012 at 1:55 pm: Ellie

    I can’t wait to try this tonight–Friday is pizza night, and I am getting a little tired of roasted broccoli and Daiya pepperjack. This sounds like a perfect change!

  • October 31, 2012 at 12:20 pm: Johanna

    I made your Chickpea Romesco twice this week, and i put the leftovers (not pureeing) on some homemade dough, and added mushrooms, red bell peppers, and smoked mozzarella. It’s not vegan with the cheese, but it could easily be replaced with a vegan cheese or smoked tofu.

  • December 12, 2012 at 4:19 am: Colin

    Great recipe, made it for the second time last night. I like topping mine with mushrooms, olives, and caramelized onions. Was inspired to make this after visiting Veggie Planet in Cambridge like a few others here.

  • January 27, 2013 at 11:44 pm: angela r.

    made this last night with the following subs: Romesco sauce- used walnuts instead of almonds, balsamic instead of red wine vinegar (didn’t have any), omitted onions, marjoram and agave and added about a tbsp. of *nutritional yeast* (mmmm). For the toppings I used zucchini, and Tofurkey brand pepperoni in addition to the caramelized onion. I halved the sauce recipe and still ended up with enough for two medium sized pizzas with some left over. Not that I’m complaining. it came out delicious!

    (ps my second pizza had Daiya pepperjack and spinach on top, which went really well with your sauce. thanks again!)

  • April 5, 2013 at 7:39 pm: MamaJ

    Ohlala! I used some leftover Romamesco in some stuffed peppers. I mixed it with quinoa and peas. Delish!

  • April 13, 2013 at 11:36 pm: Dylan

    I live in a very close-minded town. Like, you mention anything having to do with being vegan, and they automatically dismiss it as being gross. We had a cultural foods day in my History class. I brought this in, and didn’t tell anybody it was vegan. It was a HIT!! There was none left after fifteen minutes!!

  • April 27, 2013 at 2:29 pm: Victoria

    This sauce is soooo good!! I only made 1 medium pizza so I had some leftover sauce. I used it for quesadilla filling.

  • May 20, 2013 at 9:44 am: Johanna

    You know what I do? I take the leftover Chickpeas Romesco from your book an put it on a nice, homemade pizza dough with added roasted red peppers and mushrooms.

  • October 12, 2013 at 10:26 pm: Betsy

    Just made this for dinner tonight. I added some fresh parsley sprinkled with olive oil and lemon juice after it came out of the oven. So delicious and so satisfying!

  • May 29, 2014 at 2:17 pm: Leah

    YUM! Making this tonight! If my fiancé likes it, perhaps I will make a gob of them for the wedding! I think it would be very easy to make ahead and have the aunts pop into the oven while we have photos taken.