On April 1st, CJ and I began a 40 day adventure with a veganism. Having already phased meat and most dairy out of our diets over the past year, the first week of the Adventure was relatively simple and uneventful. Nine days in, however, I began to feel differently. I craved CHEESE. Gouda. Brie. Havarti. Fontina. Burrata. It didn’t matter. I wanted alllll the cheese. Despite the craving, I held steadfastly and didn’t feed the impulse to purchase a ball of fresh mozzarella and chomp on it like an apple. I made pizza instead – a wondrous Purple Potato and Romanesco Pizza with a vegan white Béchamel sauce and dairy-free mozzarella shreds.
Melissa’s introduced me to romanesco, a very unique looking member of the same family as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. It’s sometimes referred to as Roman Cauliflower or Romanesco Broccoli and is packed with dietary fiber and vitamins C and K. Romanesco looks like a vegetable beamed down from an alien planet. The shade of green is almost neon, its florets the shape of spiral cones – called fractals. Romanesco is actually a mathematical marvel, so of course it’s now CJ’s favorite vegetable.
Romanesco can be prepared in ways similar to cauliflower. Steamed, roasted, sautéed and even raw. You can even roast the whole head as an appetizer or side dish as I did in the picture above, slicing and serving it like a cake after cooking. It may look like broccoli, but romanesco’s compact florets are more like cauliflower. Its flavor is not nearly as strong or distinct as cauliflower, however; the flavor is much more mellow and subtle.
I love romanesco on this pizza because of its flavor and texture profile, offering a different experience that broccoli and cauliflower. I find that broccoli tends to bake too soft on top of pizza, losing crunch altogether. Cauliflower has a very distinct and forward flavor, which is wonderful as the highlight of a dish, but often too assertive in a medley. Romanesco is juussttt right. The flavor is noticeable, but not overbearing. The texture not too crunchy, but still with just enough bite.
Melissa’s purple potatoes seem an unlikely companion to romanesco, especially on a pizza. Sliced thin, they soften during baking and still retain their stunning purple color, which contrasts beautifully against the brilliant green romanesco. The mellow flavor of the romanesco pairs well with not only the earthy purple potatoes, but also the sweetness of the sautéed leeks.
While the potatoes adorn the pizza raw, the romanesco is sautéed along with sliced leeks for a few minutes prior to pizza decorating time. This opens up the flavors and gives both a cooking head start before baking on top of the pizza crust. Sautéed ahead, the leeks caramelize during baking, the crunch softened out of the romanesco.
The vegetables are sandwiched between a creamy Vegan White Béchamel Sauce and a melted layer of vegan mozzarella style shreds on top. I love Madison’s quick and simple Béchamel sauce recipe from her blog, Veggieful. Even with unsweetened soy milk, the sauce still bore a hint of sweetness that worked well on this pizza, balancing out the flavor of the romanesco and potatoes.
Not only did this pizza satisfy my craving for creamy, melty cheese – it also showcased just how beautiful and creative vegan meals can be if you allow yourself to let go of what’s familiar, embracing the different and unknown.
So, what do you say. Will you give romanesco a try today?
- 1 box Betty Crocker's Gluten-Free Pizza Crust (10.5oz)
- ⅔ cup warm water (not boiling)
- 1 packet yeast included in pizza crust box
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2½ tbsp water
- 1 tbsp flaxseed meal
- ⅛ cup gluten-free all-purpose flour (for dusting)
- ¼ cup finely diced yellow onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup vegan butter
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 2 cups unsweetened soy milk
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
- ⅛ tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 head romanesco, cut into bite-sized florets
- 1 medium leek, white part only, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp vegan butter
- 2 tbsp vegetable broth
- 2 small purple potatoes, washed and thinly sliced
- 1 cup vegan mozzarella style shreds
- Preheat oven to 425 F. Lightly spray a baking sheet or pizza stone with cooking spray. Position oven rack in center of the oven.
- Thinly slice the purple potatoes, leaving the skins on. Place slices in a bowl and cover with cool water. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine the 2½ tablespoons of water with 1 tablespoon of flaxseed meal to make a "flax egg." Let sit for 5 minutes to thicken. In the meantime, in a stand mixer or large bowl, combine the ⅔ cup warm water with the yeast packet, stirring to dissolve.
- In the same bowl as the yeast, add the pizza crust mix, oil, and "flax egg." Stir until a soft dough forms. Cover and set aside for 5 minutes.
- Lightly flour your counter or working surface with gluten-free flour. Roll out the pizza dough into a 12-inch circle (or alternatively, press it into a rimmed baking sheet). Bake crust without toppings in the oven for 13-15 minutes, until the crust begins to golden.
- As the crust bakes, make the sauce and prepare the toppings. Begin by melting ¼ cup vegan butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes, until softened and fragrant. Add cornstarch and whisk until a paste forms.
- Add the soy milk, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, and nutmeg to the pot, stirring well to combine. Reduce heat to low and whisk until the sauce begins to thicken. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Remove from heat (the sauce will thicken more as it cools).
- In a medium skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon vegan butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and toss until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the romanesco florets and cook for 2-3 minutes, until softened. Pour the vegetable broth into the pan, then cover. Cook for 5 minutes until the romanesco is tender, but still has bite (i.e. al dente).
- Once the crust has baked golden brown, remove from oven. Pour enough sauce on top to cover the crust. Drain the purple potatoes and pat dry. Arrange around the top of the sauce. Sprinkle the leek and romanesco mixture evenly around the crust. Top with 1 cup (or more, if desired) vegan mozzarella shreds.
- Bake pizza in the oven for 10-12 minutes, until the cheese in the center of the pizza is melted. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
-For a bit of heat, sprinkle crushed red pepper flakes on top of the romanesco and leek mixture after you layer it around the crust.
-You will likely have extra sauce leftover. It's very versatile and can be used on pasta!
Disclaimer: Melissa’s graciously provided the purple potatoes and romanesco used in this recipe – thank you, Melissa’s! No other compensation was provided. All thoughts, opinions, and use of the vegetables are completely my own.