The flavor-packed “sauce” and topping for this unconventional pizza may be prepared in advance so the pizza can be simply assembled and baked when ready to eat. Even those who dislike mushrooms have fought over the last slice!
I fully realize that photos depicting shades of brown may not convince you that this pizza is worth your time and effort. Perhaps some additional insight (and a gentle nudge) would be helpful!
Let me start by saying that, when asked for a first-choice pizza order, three out of my fellow four family members would choose pepperoni. One would even tell you that he doesn’t love mushrooms.
And yet they all adore this pizza!
In fact, this pizza has subsequently led Christian, my younger son, to be open to－and ultimately enjoy－mushrooms in other recipes as well.
When allowed to cook down, mushrooms release their liquid and transform from spongy and mild tasting to meaty and flavor-packed. When sautéed long enough to caramelize and take on deep, golden brown color, the robust flavor increases.
The transformation is a result of naturally occurring glutamates. These compounds provide “umami,” which is considered one of the five basic tastes (along with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty).
Tomatoes and tomato paste help to illustrate this point. Like mushrooms, tomatoes have naturally occurring glutamates. When cooked long enough to remove their abundant moisture, the resulting sauce, and eventually, paste, have a far deeper flavor because those natural glutamates have been concentrated.
Thankfully for this pizza, the process of cooking the mushrooms in order to elicit the desired flavor doesn’t take too awfully long, and this step may be completed in advance. In fact, all of the topping components can be fully prepared and refrigerated. Then when it’s time to eat, simply spread them over the cooked crust and quickly bake.
Helpful hint: Depending on precise heat and the surface area of the pan, cooking mushrooms to the point of releasing their moisture and becoming deeply golden takes roughly 8-10 minutes. The key is to not shortchange the process. If you keep this in mind whenever you cook mushrooms, you’ll be rewarded with a memorable flavor boost.
The shortcut I have been taking lately is with a prepared crust from Thom’s Bread, a local artisanal baker whose breads are incredible. For a gluten-free option, we’ve been enjoying a ready-made cauliflower crust pizza, which is thin and crispy and complements the toppings beautifully.
You may absolutely start with fresh dough and bake it according to the recipe or package instructions before topping and returning to the oven. Because we have big eaters, I often make 1½ to 2 times the mushroom mixture (in the former case, I use one 12-inch and one 8- to 9-inch crust), and serve with a salad on the side.
Another helpful hint: If scaling the recipe up by a half, you’ll want to use a 14-inch pan if possible. If the pan seems really full at first, know that it may take a couple of extra minutes, but the mushrooms will cook down and all will be well. If doubling, it will ultimately be easier and almost as quick to cook in separate batches.
True beauty arrives when half of the mushrooms, which have been cooked with onions and a touch of seasoning for good measure, are pureed with a small amount of (who would have guessed?) cream cheese. The result is a thick puree which serves as the sauce and base for the remaining vegetables and shredded cheese.
If you happen to make a smaller pizza and end up with leftovers toppings, feel free to use on French bread, a bagel or even multigrain toast. I’ve stirred some leftover into pasta and even mashed a bit of the pureed mixture into a baked potato. Sort of like homemade pesto, it has the ability to flavor and transform a wide variety of base ingredients. As I type, I’m thinking the mixture would be rather tasty on chicken.
For those who are gluten-free or looking for a low-carb option, a cauliflower crust offers a delightful alternative to the traditional crust. I recently purchased a frozen cauliflower crust that was quite good. (Note that these are usually smaller than the standard flour crust, so you may be able to make two or have some leftover toppings to enjoy later.)
There are also some very good prepared gluten-free crusts that more closely mimic the traditional. For a worthy homemade option, I really like Favorite Thin Gluten-Free Pizza Crust.
- 1 (12-inch) cooked pizza crust (pairs well with cauliflower crust, too)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided use
- 1 pound fresh wild mushrooms, sliced*
- 1 small yellow onion, sliced (about 1 lightly rounded cup)
- 2 ounces (¼ cup) cream cheese
- ¾ teaspoon salt, divided use
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- ½ cup (2 ounces) shredded Gruyere cheese
- ¼ cup (1 ounce) shredded Parmesan cheese
- Fresh basil, optional
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- In a large (12- to 14-inch) skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high. Sauté the mushrooms and onions until deeply golden brown in places, about 8 minutes, sprinkling with ¼ teaspoon of salt as they cook and drizzling in the second tablespoon of oil when the skillet starts to appear dry.
- In a food processor, process half of sautéed mushrooms/onion mixture (you can eyeball it) with the cream cheese, dried thyme and remaining ½ teaspoon salt. I aim for a mostly smooth mixture that still has some texture. Taste for seasoning, adding another pinch of salt (or even a pinch of red pepper flakes), if desired.
- Spread the pureed mixture evenly over the crust. Top with remaining the mushroom mixture and both cheeses. Bake until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted, 12-14 minutes. (Tip: to avoid burning the crust, check a few minutes early, as all ovens vary. Also, thin crusts and cauliflower crusts tend to brown more quickly.) If desired, garnish with a tablespoon or two of chopped fresh basil.
*I like to use an assortment of wild mushrooms (oyster, shitake, maitake, etc.), but anything from cremini to portobellas and regular button mushrooms may be used.
A few more things:
•The mushroom/onion mixture (through step 3) may be prepared in advance and refrigerated until ready to eat. It will keep for 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
•As an option, you could make French bread pizza or mushroom toast. The mushroom mixture would probably taste great with pasta, too. (I’m thinking you could thin the puree with pasta cooking water just enough to be able to toss it into the cooked pasta and then stir in the remaining mushrooms and onions from the skillet, adding a sprinkle of either or both cheeses.)
•Those who enjoy the flavor of garlic may add 4 minced cloves in the last minute or so of cooking the mushrooms and onions.
•If you start with fresh dough, simply press it into a 12-inch round pizza pan or skillet and pre-bake according to the recipe instructions.
•Leftovers taste great and may be gently reheated in the oven or toaster oven.