Perfect Pizzas: Tasty Toppings with a Healthy Hit

Pizza is one of the world’s most popular foods and here in the UK it is purported that 49% of people eat pizza at least once a week. It is estimated that each year around five billion pizzas are sold the world over, which is certainly an awful lot of pizza! So where did this popular food actually come from and how can we make this popular food both healthy and super tasty at the same time.

Although pizza is synonymous with Italy, its origins actually derive from the Middle East and dates back to ancient times when the Greeks, Egyptians, Armenians and Israelis, were all making some derivative of pizza. Pizza as we know it today, is not how it was originally, in fact back in ancient times it was really just a piece of flat bread baked in a mud oven and was eaten because it was cheap and filling, so popular amongst those with little wealth. In later years this flat bread was then topped with olive oil and herbs, but no tomatoes. It wasn’t until the 16th century that tomatoes started to be consumed amongst the poorer populations in Europe as there was still a lot of uncertainly about this fruit, which for many years was thought to be poisonous and initially just used as table top decorations. The working poor of Naples started to add tomato onto their flat bread dough and there was born the foundations of pizza as we know it today.

In 1889 Queen Margherita of Italy traveled around Italy to observe her kingdom and it was during these travels that she became familiar with this ‘flat ‘bread’ as she watched peasants consume it. She herself sampled one and found it delicious and summoned a chef to her Royal palace to make her a variety of these ‘pizzas’. As an honor to the Queen, the chef made a pizza with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil, which represented the three colours of the Italian flag, red, white and green. This pizza continues to this day to be known as the Margherita after the Italian Queen. 

Unfortunately many ready-made supermarket pizzas are loaded with salt and have a high fat content, this is especially the case with meat based pizzas. You can easily make your own pizzas that are far healthier and often more delicious that those readymade ones, and no they don’t even have to contain tomato! So know we have familiarized ourselves with the origins of this popular and delicious food, let’s see how we can make it even more delicious, yet also packed with goodness.

Asparagus

This is a highly seasonal vegetable at the moment, so a great time to enjoy this delicacy. These green spears are packed full of vitamins and minerals including Vitamins K, C, B1 and B2, as well as selenium and zinc, great for energy and immunity.


Asparagus also provides a good source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, both of which we know to be paramount in the risk reduction of chronic disease such as heart disease, type II diabetes and some cancers. Asparagus is also an excellent vegetable as it aids digestive health due to a special type of carbohydrate it contains called Inulin. Inulin is an important prebiotic, which means it acts as a food source to our ‘good’ gut bacteria, which is essential for gut health and improves nutrient absorption in the body as, well as lower the risk of colon cancer. Artichoke also contains inulin and again can make a great tasty addition to a pizza

Asparagus goes deliciously well with goats cheese, in fact the two are a combination made in food heaven. One delicious and very easy pizza you can make is to use Delamere Dairy honey goats’ cheese log. Cover your pizza base with garlic butter or garlic oil (no tomato needed for this pizza) and then place the chopped honey goats’ cheese log over your base. Chop the asparagus spears in half lengthways and place amongst the goat cheese. Sprinkle over some artichoke leaves and fresh rosemary and place in the oven until golden or until you can’t resist the smell any longer and you just need to eat it!

Olives

These are a common feature on many pizzas and make a great healthy topping. Olives are actually a type of fruit and have a powerful anti-inflammatory ability. Both olives and olive oil contain

oleocanthal, a powerful antioxidant, which prevents the production of pro-inflammatory enzymes in the body and therefore reduces inflammation. As mentioned in an earlier article, this oleocanthal has a very similar action to the prescribed drugs called NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), which are used widely in the treatment of arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.  So definitely make olives one of your chosen pizza toppings.

Butternut squash

This may not be a vegetable that you associate with pizza toppings, but once tasted, it will become one of your new favourites and a healthy one to boot. Butternut squash is a very rich source of carotenoids, which are strong antioxidants that help protect against many chronic diseases, including heart disease. Carotenoids are also essential for skin and cell health, healthy vision and male fertility. Research has shown that the many nutrients found in butternut squash could be very beneficial for the control of blood glucose levels and therefore are of potential benefit for those suffering with Type II diabetes and the prevention of it.

The addition of this winter vegetable to pizza is therefore a worthwhile addition and like asparagus it goes wonderfully with goats’ cheese. Chop the squash into small squares and place on a baking tray. Add three to four garlic cloves to it and some rosemary sprigs and roast in an oven until tender. Remove from the oven and take out the rosemary sprigs and then purify with a hand held blender, or squash into a puree with the back of a fork if you don’t have one. Spread this butternut squash ‘paste’ over your pizza base and then add thinly chopped red onions, freshly chopped red chili (it does not need to be a hot one) and tender stem broccoli. You can now decide whether you add Delamere Dairy Greek style cheese to the top, or decide to add their plain goats’ cheese log, or even a bit of both. Place in the oven and bake until vegetables are tender and cheese is soft.

Apples

Most people are familiar with adding pineapple to pizzas, but when it comes to apple, it hasn’t quite got the popularity of pineapple when it comes to pizza toppings. But, if you are someone who loves that combined sweet and savoury taste then you will love this pizza. Most people are familiar with the old saying ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’, and with apples packed full of phytonutrients, dietary fibre and essential antioxidants, this saying may well have a lot of truth to it. Research has shown that apples have a very positive effect on respiratory health especially asthma and lung cancer risk, where apple consumption is associated with decreased risk of asthma and lung cancer risk is reduced.

Apples go beautifully with caramelised onion and when you throw goats cheese into that mix too, it can’t help to make a winning pizza topping. Thinly slice a red onion and sauté in some oil stirring slowly on a medium heat until caramelized. Remove from pan and set aside. Add some Delamare Dairy goat butter to the same pan and thinly slice an apple or two (including the skin as this is where most nutrients are found). Sauté in the butter until softened. Combine the apple and caramelized onion together and lay over a pizza base. Sprinkle over some walnuts (a great healthy addition and excellent for brain health due to its omega 3 fatty acid content). Grate over some Delamere Dairy medium goats’ cheese and bake in an oven until the cheese has melted. For the meat lovers amongst you, an addition of finely chopped smoky bacon to this topping adds an extra je ne sais quoi.

 

The choices are really endless when it comes to the variety of healthy and delicious pizza toppings available and it’s hard to go wrong. Seafood such as salmon or smoked salmon are healthier additions than processed meats such as pepperoni or chorizo. With Delamere Dairy’s award winning varieties of different goats’ cheeses, ranging from the soft logs (plain, honey & herb) to the more mature cheddar style cheeses, there is no excuse why your pizzas can’t taste delicious!

Prebiotic effects: metabolic and health benefits, 2010. British Journal of Nutrition

Health Function and Utilization of Asparagus, 2008. Food Research and Development

Apple phytochemicals and their health benefits, 2004. Nutrition Journal

The Role of Carotenoids in Human Health, 2002. Nutrition in Clinical Care

Minor components of olive oil: evidence to date of health benefits in humans, 2006. Nutrition Reviews

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