Unless, that is, you're one of those poor souls who is sensitive to gluten. Happily, here's a pizza that swaps out the traditional Italian wheat-based crust for a chickpea "flour" crust that's popular in many parts of the world. And it's just in time for the start of tomato season.
Chickpea flour is nothing more complicated than ground-up dried chickpeas. A widely-used ingredient in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines, it is known variously as besan, gram flour, garbanzo bean flour and cici bean flour. The direct inspiration for this pizza was the popular Provencal street food called socca. There they turn the chickpea flour into a pancake, bake it in a wood-burning stove, and serve it straight up or with toppings.
Most American supermarkets stock chickpea flour these days, though you will want to check the label to be sure it's gluten-free. Of course, there's more to be said for chickpea flour than that it lacks gluten. It's a very good source of protein and fiber, and boasts a robust nutty taste.
To make pizza crust using chickpea flour, you just mix it with water and a little salt, no yeast required. But as with wheat flour, chickpea flour needs to be carefully mixed once the water is added to smooth out the lumps. And like wheat flour, chickpea flour benefits from a rest on the counter after it's mixed before cooking.
Chickpea crust will never be as sturdy as a wheat crust. But you certainly can get it crispy enough to pick up easily using my method of cooking it in a non-stick or stick-resistant pan on the stovetop. Be sure, though, to follow the prescribed temperatures and timing; given its relative delicacy, the crust might otherwise fall apart. Also, don't flip it until you see a nice even brown colour on the bottom.
With tomatoes now in season, I've topped my chickpea pizza with the classic Margherita combo: tomato, basil and mozzarella. Start by salting the tomatoes, which drains them of excess liquid and maximizes their lusciousness, then toss them with a little minced garlic. The tomatoes drain while the batter rests.
This recipe yields four 10-inch crusts. You can make them ahead of time, pop them in the oven at the last minute, then add the toppings. I'm betting that after you try this chickpea pizza just once, you'll want to experiment with other toppings. My pizza-loving family — none of whom is sensitive to gluten — were wild about this new twist on the traditional pie.
CHICKPEA CRUST PIZZA MARGHERITA
If you want slightly crispier crusts, bake the pizza shells in the middle of the oven for 5 minutes before topping them.
Start to finish: 1 hour
1 1/2 cups (6 1/4 ounces) garbanzo bean (chickpea) flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/3 cups water
1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes (cut into 1/2 inch pieces)
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
5 ounces coarsely shredded mozzarella cheese (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup shredded fresh basil
Into a medium bowl, sift together the chickpea flour, table salt and pepper. Add 1/3 cup of water and whisk until the mixture has the consistency of a smooth paste. Add the remaining 1 cup of water, 1/2 cup at a time, whisking until the batter is smooth with each addition. Let stand for 30 minutes while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
In a colander, toss the tomatoes with the kosher salt. Set over the sink or a large bowl and let drain for 15 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to dry, then in a medium bowl combine them with the garlic.
Heat the oven to 400 F.
In a 10-inch nonstick or stick-resistant skillet over very high, heat 2 teaspoons of the oil. Whisk the batter and add a quarter of it (about 1/2 cup) to the skillet. Tip the pan to spread the batter evenly over the bottom of the skillet and reduce the heat to medium-high. Drizzle 2 teaspoons of the oil on top of the pancake, spreading it with a rubber spatula and cook the pancake until nicely browned on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes. Peek underneath the pancake to see if it is browned. Do not attempt to flip it until it is browned.
Flip the pancake and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, or until browned on the second side (it will not brown as much on the second side). Transfer the pancake to a sheet pan, browner side down. Repeat the procedure with the remaining batter and oil to make 3 more pancakes, transferring them as they are done to the sheet pan. You will need 2 sheet pans.
Divide the tomatoes among the 4 pizza crusts, then top each with a quarter of the cheese. Bake the pizzas in the middle of the oven for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Cut the pizzas into wedges, sprinkle the basil on top and serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving: 370 calories; 200 calories from fat (54 per cent of total calories); 22 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 20 mg cholesterol; 690 mg sodium; 24 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 17 g protein.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."