I love frozen pizza. What? I’m single, and it’s easy and it’s delicious. It all started when I was a child in the “A” line at our school cafeteria, where our lovely hair-netted goddesses would dish out Ellio’s pizza every Friday like it was a religious ritual. (To us, it was.)
My family never ever bought frozen pizza. When we got pizza, we drove to Berwyn Pizza to pick it up instead of getting it delivered, used coupons, and the nice Greeks who owned Berwyn Pizza would “half bake” it for us so we could put all of our own toppings on it because we were cheap, and also because they didn’t have the weird homemade Indian lime-pickled jalapeños that we all craved with our pizza. My 80-something grandmothers, both of whom lived with us at some point, once at the same time, pronounced it “pidja” instead of pizza, which embarrassed me as a kid. Now of course I look back fondly at that, and I’m especially fond of how much they both loved their pidja, happily eating it in their saris at the table or out at Pizza Hut (which was also a stone’s throw from our house and set the standard for salad bars for me into my adulthood).
I don’t like fancy frozen pizzas much – like Whole Foods brand. I like Stouffer’s Pepperoni French Bread Pizza. They’re not paying me to say that, but maybe they’ll read this and send me some free pizza. But the point is, my love of pizza is low brow and covered in red chili flakes (or the Indian jalapeño, if I’m at my dad’s). The problem is that, nutritionally speaking, it’s utterly irredeemable, because I never get vegetables on it. Plus, if you do get a frozen vegetable pizza, it’s basically a tablespoon of shitty boiled vegetables, which is an insult both to vegetables and to pizza.
But I LOVE vegetables, so I decided to share some ideas about vegetables you can make alongside your pizza while it’s baking in the oven, so you can always have a balanced meal because I care about myself and you and I don’t want either of us to eat an whole meal of garbage. I tried to make sure there aren’t too many extra dishes involved nor too many ingredients because complicating things undermines the reason for eating frozen pizza in the first place. And they’re all things that I think “go” with pizza. They’re also the vegetables I typically have laying around in the fridge because they haven’t gone bad while their neighbors have all passed over to Hades.
I cook my pizza directly on the rack between 350-425 degrees for about 18 minutes, so these recipes conform to that amount of time/temperature. The recipes are below, but the typical plan is, turn on your oven, and while it’s preheating, wash and prep your vegetables. The oven roasted ones can go into the oven with your pizza (on a baking sheet), though the cooking times vary from vegetable to vegetable.
1. Roasted Broccoli
Ingredients: Broccoli, olive oil, salt, pepper, optional chili flakes
Preheat the oven to 425. Wash and dry (yes, dry with a clean towel) your broccoli, and cut it into bite-size florets. BITE SIZE. Not teeny tiny, but also not large. You shouldn’t feel like you might choke on it if you put it in your mouth. For me, this typically means that the length is about as long as my pinkie, and the “treetop” part is less than an inch in diameter. I also cook the stalk because I don’t waste anything. To prep that part, use a peeler to take off the tough exterior of the stem, and then slice it in rounds, about a quarter inch thick.
Put them on your sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. 1 TBSP of oil per 2 cups of florets is good, but try to develop a feel for how much oil to use: use your hands to toss it. This will help you develop good judgment in the kitchen if you don’t have a recipe. There should be enough oil that every piece of broccoli is covered and just a touch glisten-y, but there is no oil pooling in the bottom of the sheet pan. Season with salt and pepper (1/2 tsp and 1/4 tsp respectively for two cups of veggies) throw in some red chili flakes (1/4 tsp) if you’d like, toss again with your hands, spread them out so they’re in a single layer, and shove it in the oven. They should cook in 7-10 minutes (versus the 18 for the pizza). They should be browned and a little crisper than fork tender.
2. Roasted Kale
Ingredients: Kale, olive oil, salt, pepper
Preheat the oven to 350. This recipe is for one bunch (usually a little over a pound) of kale. Prep your kale by removing the center stalk and tearing into bite size pieces (about the size of those large tortilla chips). Wash the kale and dry well. A salad spinner would be ideal here, but if you don’t have one, just dry the leaves between two clean tea towels. Arrange on a large sheet pan, drizzle with 1-1 1/2 tbsp of olive oil, use your hands to toss to coat. The kale should feel slick but not slimy with oil. Season with a 1/4 tsp salt and a 1/4 tsp pepper, toss to coat, arrange in a single layer (this is very important – use two baking sheets if necessary or do this in batches), and stick in the oven. Roast for about 15 minutes until they become crispy but are not charred. Check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
3. Shaved Brussels Sprouts
Ingredients: Brussels sprouts, oil with a high smoke point – like canola, grapeseed or avocado – salt, pepper, optional fresh lemon
I love brussels sprouts, but I don’t love waiting around for 35 minutes for them to roast. So this is what I do instead. Take your brussels sprouts (let’s say 1 cup of sprouts). Wash them and dry them, and remove any diseased looking leaves. Then, using a sharp knife, thinly slice each sprout so you end up with a fine slaw of the leaves.
Heat one TBSP of oil in a large skillet on medium high heat. When the oil moves very loosely around the pan, add the brussels sprouts, quickly and continuously stirring them to coat them in the oil and ensure they don’t burn. Continue to cook, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes or until much of the moisture as cooked off and the slaw is browned and tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste, remove from heat. I love brussel sprouts with a fresh squeeze of lemon, but they’re also good as is.
4. Simple salad
Ingredients: good lettuce – washed and dried, highly delicious dressing, optional herbs
I know, this is lame, but I often just eat a salad of chopped romaine hearts and Olive Garden brand dressing (did you know you can buy this? It’s wonderful! You literally never have to go to Olive Garden ever again!) During the summer, I always have fresh herbs lying around so I often throw in some of those to really zest up the jawn. You’d be shocked what a few cilantro and mint leaves thrown into a salad can do. Romaine leaves, despite their reputation, are incredibly nutrient rich, and parsley (if you choose to include it) actually has one of the highest nutrient densities of any green. Voila, takes 2 minutes, zero extra dishes, and pairs perfectly with a pizza.
5. Tomato salad
Ingredients: Good tomato, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, optional Herb de Provence or a fresh herb like basil, minced thyme, or tarragon
Because it’s February, and all I’m dreaming of is a juicy beautiful tomato, I’ve included this one too. My favorite summer vegetable: a delicious, juicy, three napkin tomato.
Wash and dry your tomato and cut to your preferred texture – thick slices, diced, god forbid wedges. Put in a bowl along with all of the juices, and drizzle with good olive oil, a tiny splash of balsamic vinegar, a sprinkle of salt (flaked salt if you have it), and cracked pepper. If you have it, a sprinkle of herb de provence or some fresh herbs does wonders here too.
Test for seasoning – tomatoes typically need more salt than you would guess. Toss well, eat, and slurp up all collected juices at the bottom in order to honor the tomato.
*Notes about my weirdness*
- I know it’s weird to tell you to dry your vegetables – I KNOW IT’S WEIRD – but it helps the oil adhere better to vegetables so you get that brown roasty goodness. I usually wash my heartier vegetables as soon as I get home from the store so I don’t have to bother with drying. If you don’t have a clean towel, the other thing you can do is just stick them in the oven for a minute while it’s pre-heating. The dry heat from the oven will help the water evaporate. Then take them out and toss them in oil and season. For salad ingredients, drying also helps making sure your dressing doesn’t get watered down and plus, who wants to eat a wet salad?
- The “arrange in a single layer” business is about adhering to the “don’t crowd the pan”rule, which applies to any food you are trying to brown. If you crowd, your food will just steam or stew, which I find depressing if what you’re going for is roasty-toasty-goodness.