A Croatian daytrip and “pizza extra” (Recipe: Brussels Sprout, Walnut & Pesto Pizza on Whole Wheat Crust)

Our first daytrip as a married couple went awry when we found ourselves sitting in an empty restaurant somewhere in the Croatian countryside, starving, and staring at an indecipherable menu.

The drive through the top corner of Croatia and neighbouring Slovenia had been beautiful, but about two hours past lunchtime, we were desperate. We hadn’t bothered to pack anything to eat from our villa back in Lake Balaton region of Hungary, planning to stop along the way and sample the local fare. After all, half the fun of spontaneous travel is tasting the regional cuisine; the only trouble was, we hadn’t seen anything other than the occasional farmhouse.

As our rented Opel Astra bumped along the absurdly narrow roads, I kept busy looking for a roadside restaurant or any sign of food. We finally pulled into a gravel parking lot where a low building flashed a neon Pizza sign in the window. Pizza? That was unexpected, but to us at the time it sounded glorious.

The place was the equivalent of a truck stop and of all the options available, there were two English word on the menu: “Pizza Extra”. To us, that sounded like the equivalent of an ‘all-dressed’ pie. Sure, why not. We didn’t exactly have another choice. This was long before the days of Urban Spoon or Twitter, where we could ask for recommendations on the spot. We didn’t even have a cell phone between the two of us.

Our “Pizza Extra” ordered, we sat back and waited. The two patrons behind the bar, elderly women with ample bosoms and floral dresses, observed us without the slightest expressions. The rest of the tables were deserted.  Judging from the look of the place, we were not expecting greatness, but nothing could have prepared us for what was delivered to our table.

There was a pizza crust all right, and a generous smear of tomato sauce that more resembled tomato paste. But the main, nay, the sole topping was garishly coloured mixed peas and corn, most definitely the variety found in the frozen foods aisle. A few strands of cheese draped themselves over the lumpy pizza but not nearly enough to hold the vegetables together when we tried to pick up a slice. The hardened peas and corn jumped ship and scattered across the table, then rattled to the floor like green and yellow hailstones. All that remained was a remarkably bare pizza crust slicked with red paste.

I remember us being too surprised to speak, but I wanted to giggle at the absurdity of it all. Without question, it was the most disappointing pizza of my life and I am embarrassed to say it remains as my single impression of Croatian cuisine.

What’s my point? Well, while you can make pizza with almost anything you have on hand, there is a limit as to what is acceptable – especially if it comes from the frozen food aisle.

I’ve always been one to make a soup, salad or pizza from bits of this and that in the refrigerator and it’s a good exercise in creative cooking. In fact, some of my best dishes have come from moments of desperate, like today’s Green Pizza (for lack of a better name).

I was craving pizza this week, but next to nothing in the fridge resembled traditional toppings. But at a closer inspection, I spied pesto in the freezer, alongside a bag of walnuts. Bingo. I already knew that brussels sprouts on nachos were delicious, so why not pizza? Also, walnuts with brussels sprouts? Already proven to be a winning combination in this quinoa dish.

Just like that, pizza became a valid dinner option, and I didn’t even have to open a bag of corn. Just kidding.

Brussel Sprout, Walnut & Pesto Pizza on Whole Wheat Crust | Simple Bites #dinner #vegetarian #recipe

I’ve been making pizza crust with my fresh ground soft wheat and it produces a marvellous base, with the edges crisping up like a cracker. It packs so much flavour, I like to keep my toppings thin to allow the crust to shine.

Brussel Sprout, Walnut & Pesto Pizza on Whole Wheat Crust | Simple Bites #dinner #vegetarian #recipe

Any pesto would be delicious on this pizza, but I used a homemade ramp pesto I made and froze last year. It’s held up remarkably well over the months, but it was high time I used it up. New ramps will be showing up in our back yard in just a few weeks!

For this pizza, I spread the pesto, added a layer of shredded cheese and sent it to the oven for a prebake. The whole wheat crust takes a little longer than usual and the delicate brussels sprouts only need a few minute to cook.

Brussel Sprout, Walnut & Pesto Pizza on Whole Wheat Crust | Simple Bites #dinner #vegetarian #recipe

While the crust was baking, I tossed the brussels sprout leaves with a dollop of pesto, the walnuts and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. This would be a pretty great salad on its own, but I had bigger plans for the greens.

Brussel Sprout, Walnut & Pesto Pizza on Whole Wheat Crust | Simple Bites #dinner #vegetarian #recipe

Once the pesto-cheese pizza had baked for 10 minutes, I added the brussels sprouts and walnuts on top. The whole thing went back into the blazing hot oven for barely five minutes and it was ready to be sliced and devoured.

Brussel Sprout, Walnut & Pesto Pizza on Whole Wheat Crust | Simple Bites #dinner #vegetarian #recipe

We loved this Brussels Sprout, Walnut & Pesto Pizza on Whole Wheat Crust. The walnuts were lightly toasted and the brussels sprouts were slightly charred but still crunchy. A layer of cheese hid out underneath the green and stayed soft and stretchy. And that crust! I’ve included the recipe as you are going to want to try it soon.

Soft Wheat Pizza Crust
5.0 from 2 reviews
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Recipe type: Dinner
Author:
Prep time:
Total time:
Serves/Yield: 6
Pizza crust made with fresh ground soft wheat produces a marvellous base, with the edges crisping up like a cracker. It packs so much flavour, I like to keep my toppings thin to allow the crust to shine.
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 Tablespoon traditional yeast
  • 1 Tablespoon liquid honey
  • 1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 3 3/4 cups freshly ground soft wheat
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Instructions
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, sprinkle yeast over the warm water. Let stand for 5 minutes. The yeast should dissolve and foam slightly.
  2. Pour in honey and olive oil. Mix to combine with the hook attachment.
  3. Dump in 2 cups of flour and the salt. Mix until a smooth batter forms.
  4. Add the remaining flour and mix just to combine. Turn off mixer and let the dough rest for 10 minutes to absorb the flour.
  5. Knead on the lowest speed for 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed.
  6. Remove the dough hook. Lightly oil the top of the dough and cover the bowl with a clean tea towel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
  7. Turn dough onto a lightly floured table. Divide dough into four pieces. Each piece can be rolled into a 16-inch round thin-crust pizza.
  8. Proceed with toppings and bake as per the recipe below.
Notes
The recipe yields 4 rounds of dough, enough for four - 16 inch pizzas.

Brussels Sprout, Walnut & Pesto Pizza
5.0 from 2 reviews
Print
Recipe type: Dinner
Author:
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves/Yield: 4
Lightly toasted walnuts and crunchy brussels sprouts top this cheesy pesto pizza a true treat, especially with a crunchy whole wheat crust.
Ingredients
  • 1 pizza crust
  • 1 teaspoon cornmeal
  • 3 Tablespoons pesto
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella or cheddar
  • 2 cups brussels sprout leaves
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425F. Dust a baking sheet or pizza stone with cornmeal. Roll pizza crust into an approximate 9x13 oval. Place on the baking sheet.
  2. Brush pizza crust with 2 tablespoons pesto. Top with shredded cheese. Bake for 10 minutes.
  3. Toss brussels sprout leaves and walnuts with remaining tablespoon of pesto. Remove pizza from the oven and heap the brussels sprouts on top of the bubbling cheese. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and return to the oven for 4-5 minutes. Keep an eye on the pizza as the greens can blacken quickly.
  4. Remove from the oven. Slice into wedges and eat hot.

What is the wackiest pizza you’ve ever eaten?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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Comments

  1. What a lovely, outside-the-box pizza! Pinned 🙂

  2. Yum Yum Yum! This looks crazy good! There’s hardly anything I wouldn’t try on a pizza crust . . . I’ve even been known to occasionally eat a mushroom on a pizza, which wouldn’t happen any other way.

  3. Such a fun pizza recipe! I love it!

  4. What a sweet story. I love the Brussels on this.

  5. Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies says:

    That is a pretty gorgeous green pizza. What is it about Europe that doesn’t get the need for restaurants open during the day? James and I had more than one experience like this when driving across Wales and Scotland.

  6. this is perfect for Spring.

  7. Thanks for the funny story. And the pizza looks great too!

  8. What a disappointing pizza! There definitely are Croatian dishes you’d have liked better–one of our neighbors is Croatian, and we’ve gotten an introduction to some of the customary dishes through parties at their house.

  9. YUM! And original! Now I’m going to have to go find some ramps…

  10. What a great story. Croatia has long been high on my list of places to go, simply because its not that poplar.
    I want to make ramp pesto this spring, do you have a recipe or formula?

  11. Oh, I loved the reference to your Opal! My grandparents lived in Europe (Army appointments) for 20 years and my parents, brother, and I visited one summer when I was 12. All six of us drove around western Europe in an orange Opal we named, “Le Grande L’Orange!” Great memories.

    I, too, am a clean the fridge pizza maker. Thankfully, the internet seems to have no end of good combos, so I can google “chard leek pizza” and come up with some reasonable recipe. Can’t wait to try Brussels Sprouts… but I think the kids might just get plain cheese on that night.

  12. On our honeymoon in Italy we were served pizza topped with hardboiled eggs and artichokes. When I’m out of typical pizza toppings I will often turn to these… and it always brings back nice memories.

  13. Aimee this is stunning. love pizza so I absolutely have to try this. I think the craziest one we’ve done is a dessert pizza. It was cherry cobbler pizza, turned out amazing but I was really worried at first.

  14. Aimée,
    I was deployed to Croatia 1996-7 and ate some amazing sausages and sauerkraut during that time, though I’m not sure I ever had any pizza. My main memory was getting giant chicken breasts (cut in front of my eyes by women with amazingly strong forearms) at the market in the center of town, and taking them back to our clinic to grill. Yum.
    I’d like to say the beer was also good, but that would have been in violation of General Order #1, so I won’t comment.
    As far as the wackiest pizza? Well, whatever I made last week? 🙂

  15. Croatia! ♥♥♥ Beautiful place!! Back in the day, we were countrymen – I’m from Macedonia. This pizza?? ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥ 🙂 I love every bit of it, especially the brussels sprouts. I am madly IN LOVE with those little beauties.

  16. I love that story about the Croatian truck stop pizza so much- haha! It reminds me of an I Love Lucy Episode where they are traveling across the country and are forced to stop for the night and all the place offered was a cheese sandwich…and what they got was rubber cheese in cardboard. The owner says, “well I just order a bunch whenever the salesman passes through town”. (I’m sure my rendition here doesn’t do the episode justice.) BUT your recipe is lovely!! 😉

  17. That is so funny about the pizza in Croatia! I actually lived in Croatia for 2 years and I can tell you they have some very yummy food including some very good pizza (depending on the place). Since they’re close to Italy there is definitely some Italian influence as you get closer to that side of the country. But I always thought some of the topping options were so funny to my American eyes – every pizza place there always has an option to order pizza with fried eggs on top.

  18. This looks like a very interesting combination of flavors! I love pesto on just about anything though…thanks for sharing!

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