Local And Seasonal: Amaranth Greens Pizza

Amaranth is known mostly for its highly nutritious grain-like seeds, but the ornamental plant also has tasty leaves. They range in color from fern green to iridescent reddish-purple, and are tender enough to be tossed raw into salads yet hearty enough that they hold up well when sautéed with onions.

If you are looking for a new leafy green to shake up your spinach routine, try amaranth. It is a terrific source of vitamin A, folate, iron, and calcium, and it tastes pleasantly earthy, each bite reminding you of the plant's nourishing dietary minerals.

Though pre-Columbian Aztecs once cultivated vast fields of this warm weather crop, praising it as "the food of immortality," amaranth greens are now rather difficult to find in American markets. Look for them in Indian grocery stores and farmers' markets, sometimes labeled as Chinese spinach, or try planting the leafy vegetable at home--amaranth grows with the vigor of a weed.

Once picked, the greens should be stored in the refrigerator and eaten within a few days. They are a delightful surprise in this recipe for deep-dish pizza.

Deep-dish Amaranth Greens Pizza
It's true that this recipe isn't exactly suitable for a quick weeknight dinner. There are multiple steps that can be done ahead of time -- make a dough, roast the tomatoes, cook the amaranth -- and once they are finished it's a snap to assemble this magnificent pizza just before your dinner guests arrive.
Serves 8

2½ teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
4 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup cornmeal
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 28-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes
2 - 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, sliced into ½-inch wedges
1 bunch (about ½ pound) amaranth greens
½ pound fresh mozzarella, sliced into bite-sized pieces
½ cup grated Parmigiano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine yeast and sugar with 1¼ cups lukewarm water, and stir to dissolve. Set aside for 10 minutes, or until the yeast bubbles and looks foamy.

In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, and 1½ teaspoons salt. Pour in the yeast mixture, 4 tablespoons melted butter, and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix the dough into a shaggy mass, then transfer it to an un-floured surface. Knead the dough for a few minutes, until it feels homogenous, slightly sticky, and springy. Return the dough ball to the large bowl, cover it with a kitchen towel, and set it aside to rise for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the tomato sauce. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Strain the tomatoes, reserving their liquid. Slice or tear the tomatoes in half, and place them in a 9-by-9-inch (or equivalent) baking dish. Bury the garlic slices in the tomatoes, tucking them in so that they won't burn. Drizzle the remaining 4 tablespoons melted butter evenly over the tomatoes, and sprinkle them with ½ teaspoon salt and lots of pepper. Roast for 40 minutes. Remove the tomatoes from the oven, then lower the oven temperature to 400ºF.

While the tomatoes are roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the amaranth leaves for a minute or two, then drain and let cool. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for a minute or two. Swirl in 2 tablespoons olive oil, add the onion, and cook for about two minutes. Add the blanched amaranth leaves to the skillet, stirring occasionally until they combine with the onions and release some of their color, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil.

To assemble the pizza, pour the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil into an oven-safe 12-inch skillet. Stretch the dough across the backs of your hands and forearms. When it is roughly 14-inches in diameter, drape it into the skillet, pressing your fingers along the bottom and sides. Place the mozzarella evenly across the dough, add the cooked amaranth and onions, then scatter the roasted tomatoes. Pour in the reserved tomato juice. Sprinkle the grated Parmigiano over the tomatoes. Bake the pizza until the crust is golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes.

About the Author

Maria Zizka is a Berkeley-born food writer and cook. She writes recipes and stories from a little cottage near Santa Monica Beach.
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