Collard Green Pesto Pizza
A cross between my father’s Italian-American heritage and my mother’s Southern childhood, this collard green pesto pizza combines culinary traditions in exciting ways. Being from the northeast, I grew up without ever seeing collard greens at home or in grocery stores. I never even tasted them until about six months ago, when I was experimenting with vegetables out of which to make pestos. I love pesto, especially on pizza, so the idea for this recipe ended up being a no-brainer as soon as I tasted my collard green pesto. A vegetable pesto has the power to transform pizza night, taking it in a different yet delicious direction.
This particular pizza eschews the layer of cheese that figures on most other pizzas, so let me explain. It’s not that I don’t love cheese, I do; however, I feel that it is often unnecessary. When I come up with pizza recipes, I prefer to omit the cheese layer - believing that a pizza that is great without cheese will be great with cheese as well. Consequently, this pizza isn’t nearly as heavy as a cheesy one, which also means that the vegetable topping gets to play a more prominent role. But if you love cheese on your pizza, by all means add a layer of cheese - it will be phenomenal.
The bitterness among collard greens can vary widely, due to how long they’ve sat around after being harvested, or the season in which they’re harvested. Cooking with the freshest produce is ideal but not always possible, so I’ve discovered a helpful trick for dealing with bitter collards. I always have some caramelized onions on hand whenever I prepare collard green pesto, and add it if the resulting pesto is too strong. I love pine nuts in pesto for the buttery richness they add, but feel free to substitute other nuts if desired.
This recipe for collard green pesto makes more than enough for one pan pizza, or two free form pizzas. Save any extra collard pesto for veggie tortilla night. (See recipe for Soft Flour Tortillas here.) The pan pizza dough is found below while the free form pizza dough is found here.
Collard Green Pesto Pizza
This recipe can be adapted to a cheesy version by topping with a combination of shredded mozzarella and shredded cheddar, if desired.
1 recipe pan pizza dough (see recipe below)
1 recipe collard green pesto (see recipe below)
Parmigiano-Reggiano or other Parmesan cheese
Remove the plastic wrap from your rested, risen pizza dough. Top your pizza with dollops of room temperature collard green pesto. Using your fingers carefully spread the pesto evenly over the dough, being careful not to tear the dough while leaving the edges free of pesto. Top with a grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake on a pizza stone (a hot oven will also suffice) in a preheated 450°F oven for ~15 minutes. For even cooking, rotate the pizza at the halfway point.
Collard Green Pesto
2 bunches collard greens weighing ~ 2 pounds 3 ounces
½ cup pine nuts (or substitute with walnuts or pecans)
1 garlic clove - peeled and chopped
~½ cup caramelized onions (optional)
½ - 1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt plus more for adding to boiling water
~¼ cup olive oil
½ ounce freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
Wash the collard greens well in a sink full of cold water in order to remove any sand. I remove the collard stalks by pulling my hand up each stalk and ripping off the large leaves. Alternately, most of the stalk can be left on while removing the thick bottom portion. If you do leave the stalk on, remember to increase the cooking time accordingly.
Roughly chop the collard leaves and submerge in a large pot of salted boiling water. Cook for 3-4 minutes (or 5 minutes if stalk is included). Drain pot, allowing collards to cool until able to handle (or cool in ice water). When cool, squeeze handfuls of collards, removing as much liquid as possible. Roughly chop the squeezed dry collards. Place in food processor with garlic, pine nuts, and ½ teaspoon salt. Pulse until finely chopped. Stream in ¼ cup olive oil while food processor is running. Taste pesto. If the pesto is too strong for your tastes, add ¼ cup of caramelized onions at a time until you’re happy with the flavor. Add more salt, ½ teaspoon at a time, until lightly seasoned. Add more olive oil, one tablespoon at a time, if a richer taste is desired. Spoon pesto into a bowl and stir in grated Parmigiano cheese. Use that day or refrigerate for later use. If refrigerated, bring to room temperature before using.
Pan Pizza Dough
This dough recipe is identical to the one found here, but with different quantities in order to fill a half sheet pan. Again, you should try to use a high protein flour (as high as you can find). At most grocery stores, the highest protein option is a bread flour (12-13% protein) which works beautifully. But an even better option than run-of-the-mill bread flour is King Arthur Hi-Gluten Flour (14% protein), which is available online. The following recipe is designed for a high gluten flour, which will need a bit more water than other flours in order to properly hydrate. If you are using regular bread flour, decrease the total water used by 2-3 tablespoons.
Even though the pizza is cooked in a pan, I like to use a pizza stone (if available). Setting the pan on top of the stone gives you a nice bottom crust. The pizza stone should preheat for ~45 minutes.
3¼ cups Hi-Gluten or bread flour (14 ounces) - divided (see note for accurately measuring flour here)
1 teaspoon instant yeast (see tip for converting to active dry yeast)
2 teaspoons kosher salt (decrease if using table salt)
1½ cups water - divided (decrease water if using regular bread flour). More water may be necessary, especially in the drier winter months
Make the Tangzhong: In a saucepan, whisk together 1.3 ounces flour (5 tablespoons) with 6.5 ounces water (¾ cup + 1 tablespoon) until smooth. Heat and continue whisking until the mixture is thick, and gelatinous, (it happens at 150°F but I recommend heating until bubbling to assure the mixture reaches the necessary temperature), and switch from a whisk to a rubber spatula if necessary. Stir continuously as you want a smooth mixture without lumps. Remove from the heat, and add enough of the reserved water (about ½ cup) to cool the mixture sufficiently so as not to kill the yeast when added to the flour and yeast.
Place remaining 12.7 ounces of flour into a large bowl with the instant yeast and salt. Stir. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the cooled, diluted gelatinous mixture to the bowl. Add ¼ cup water (cool is fine). Stir all of the ingredients together, then let it sit for 1 minute as the flour absorbs the liquid. After 1 minute, add more water as needed (this amount will vary based on humidity levels and the season, but you'll probably need 1 or 2 tablespoons). You want a moist and craggy dough. Cover with plastic wrap (no need to knead) and let rise until its size doubles (~2 hours). (If your dough needs a boost, see tip on getting a faster rise).
Rather than knead the dough, stretch and roll it. The wet dough benefits from the no knead method. Using a rubber spatula, lift part of the dough, stretch it, and then fold it back onto the ball of dough. Rotate the bowl 90° and repeat 3 more times. Lift the dough ball and stretch it under itself, pulling it into a ball shape. If you do not plan on using the dough until the next day, place each ball into an un-greased bowl, then cover it with plastic wrap in a refrigerator. (I prefer making the dough a day ahead because 1) a slow rise results in a more flavorful dough, and 2) working with cold dough is easier - you are less likely to tear a hole in the dough or stretch it too thin.) The next day, proceed as below.
Pour about 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a half sheet pan, spreading the oil so that it covers the bottom and the sides of the pan. Lightly flour the ball of dough. Press it into an oval disk on a lightly floured board, but make sure to retain the rim around the outer edge. Press the center of the oval while slowly pulling the dough outward, in order to replicate a pan shape with a lip. Lift and stretch the dough, letting gravity help form it into an oval. If it fights back and shrinks when you lay it back on the board, let it rest for a few minutes, then stretch it out again. Repeat this process until your dough is the desired size. Don't use a rolling pin to roll out your dough because this flattens the edges and deforms the beautiful crust. Lay your dough in the oiled pan and carefully flip the dough over so that both sides have a thin coating of oil. Cover with plastic wrap and push the dough outward from the middle so that it fill up the pan. You may need to let it rest for 5 minutes before pushing it outwards again. Let it rest so that it can rise one final time before baking (~1-1½ hours for cold dough, ~45 minutes for room temperature dough). Preheat oven (with the pizza stone on the top rack of the oven) to 450°F. A long preheat of at least 45 minutes allows the pizza stone to get sufficiently hot.