Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Writer's Snack: Crust-Free Pizza from Cleo Coyle

Yes, you're right. I promised you crust free pizza, and I aim to deliver. 

I'm showing this little pizza first for those of you who really, really need that crust.

In that case, this baby should make you happy. The pizza pictured is actually a frozen, grocery store pizza "doctored" with fresh mushrooms and sausage.

To read my Frozen Pizza Doctor post, which gives you tips on an Rx for your favorite frozen pizzas, click here and have fun...

For those of you up for a
"crust-free" pizza, well, here's what
I'm talking about today...

Cleo Coyle, fan of faux pizza,
is author of The Coffeehouse
Cleo Coyle's
Crust-Free Pizza

What is pizza? At its most basic, the tastes in your mouth are bright tomato sauce topped by sweet cheese and lively herbs like oregano and basil, both of which are carried on a bed of bread--three ingredients that go so well together. But, when you write for a living, spending hours and hours in front of a computer screen, a steady diet of pizza would be deadly. And so...in the spirit of "two out of three ain't bad," comes my crust-free solution.

This easy (and healthy) snack idea came to me when I was enjoying a delicious pizza bianca from a local pizzeria. The Italian cooks put fresh ricotta on the "white" pie, and I absolutely loved the combination of tangy tomato and sweet, fresh cheese.

First we'll need tomatoes. Yesterday was the first full day of Spring. Living in the Age of Irony (not to mention a town that never stops with the practical jokes), I actually watched snow fall on New York City. Oh, to see the sun again. :) Sadly, as winter lingers, so does the dearth of fine produce.

Tomatoes may be blah at this time of year, but even the blandest of tomatoes can be transformed into a truly delicious treat by the simple addition of caramelizing heat. That's why I make these babies year round, and that's the best thing of all about this healthy snack...

Cleo's Crust-Free
Pizza Bites

To get a free, illustrated PDF of this recipe that you can print, save or share, click here.

Makes 8 mini crust-free pizza bites


4 tomatoes
1/2 cup ricotta cheese (whole milk or part skim)
Dried oregano (sprinkling)
Sea salt, to taste
(optional additions) dried basil, dried rosemary, or an Italian Seasoning mix
Grated finishing cheese like Pecorino Romano or Parmesan

Step 1 - Slice and prep tomatoes: I like to use plum tomatoes because they slice into little oval boats that remind me of potato skins... (see picture below). Roasting these babies will create a bit of a mess. To make clean up easy, simply line the pan with aluminum foil and coat the foil with non-stick cooking spray. Place the tomatoes on the foil and coat the them with non-stick spray, as well. (You won't need to add extra oil if you do this.)

Step 2 - Sprinkle on spices and salt: I use sea salt and plenty of dried oregano. Certainly dried basil and rosemary would be delicious, too. Or try a pre-made "Italian Seasoning" mix from the spice aisle, whatever evokes the flavor of pizza sauce.

Step 3 - Roast the tomatoes: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and roast the tomatoes for at least an hour. Do not UNDER roast these babies. You are not simply baking them, you are roasting them to the point when they caramelize and become sweet. Trust me, I've done this many times. If you do not reach a point where the tomatoes' acidic nature transforms into something sweet (as you would taste in a well-cooked pizza sauce), the combo of ricotta and roasted tomato just won't taste as good.

Step 4 - Finish with ricotta: Remove the sizzling, caramelized tomato halves from the oven. Plate them and add a tablespoon of fresh ricotta on top of each half. Garnish with another sprinkling of oregano (or Italian Seasoning mix) and your favorite salty, finishing cheese like Pecorino Romano or Parmesan, and...

Eat with joy!
 ~ Cleo Coyle, author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

To get more of my recipes, win free coffee,
or find out more about my books, visit me
 at my *virtual* coffeehouse:

Click on the book covers above
to learn more about Cleo's culinary mysteries.


A final, quick note for our mystery reading fans.
The latest Mystery Readers Journal with the theme Hobbies, Crafts, and Special Interests is now available.

The issue, edited by Mystery Fanfare's Janet Rudolph, includes many mystery authors who have guest posted for us over the past year. You can check out the contents by clicking here, which will also give you info on how to purchase a copy (hard or electronic) for yourself.



  1. This looks amazing, Cleo! Good tip about being sure to roast the tomatoes until they caramelize. Only a handful of ingredients and they look wonderful (I bet they taste wonderful, too!)

  2. I love this idea! I'm always looking for something easy and this looks delicious. I bet they would be over the moon good with the fresh tomatoes we're going to be having in a few months..Thanks for sharing!

  3. Oh my goodness this looks mouth watering delicious. The boys asked if we could make our own pizza's tonight and this can be added as they will want crust, but they might surprise me and love it as much as I know I will. I love there are only a few ingredients. Who can go wrong with ricotta cheese :).

  4. Oh, yes! My husband and I are trying hard to avoid breads, pasta, and all those other wonderful foods that are high in carbs - and I don't mean the complex kind. Your timing is perfect. This one is being made this week, just as soon as I get out to the store for ingredients!!

  5. HMMMMM...


    I'll be the bee in your bonnet. This is a terrific appetizer, but by definition, a pizza is crust, sauce and topping.

    I'm just full of myself as far as pizzas this year, and I apologize for being the only wet blanket.

    BUT, for some reason I am picturing cornmeal crusted fried green tomatoes which would then count as a crust, the tomatoes would soften enough to count as a sauce and the ricotta as a topping works for me.

    I could also picture this as a crostata, and then it would indeed count as a pizza. But then it would not be crustless.

    OR... how about a slice of potato as a crust with the tomatoes sliced and roasted on top (either parboil or use a leftover baked potato). This way you avoid the bread.

    BTW, if you hunt hard (I did), you might find a local hot house farmer that trades a finished pizza for a small bucket of fresh tomatoes (boring people could just find a local one and pay for them, but barter is more fun). If you have to, Roma Tomatoes survive the trip with more of their flavor intact than what they call "vine ripened" tomatoes.

    You know i love ya, It is indeed a great appetizer (but not yet a pizza). Now I am becoming obsessed with finding green tomatoes. Gotta go call my hot house friend (it's good to live in a Cul de Sac)


  6. Cleo, what a fantastic idea for that time in the summer when we have too many tomatoes! I love this idea. Great appetizer, too. I'm not a big ricotta lover, but so many cheeses would work here. Love it.

    ~ Krista

  7. Cleo, what fun these are. Love 'em. I adore ricotta cheese because it's so versatile. You can add all the spices and just get the texture of the cheese. The tomatoes will pop. Excellent!



  8. Eat with joy? NO KIDDING! I always have to be careful with carb amounts. This is like a get out of jail free card for pizza! Yay.

  9. This sounds amazing! I need to keep the carb count under control, too, and this will really help!!

  10. Replies to…

    @Elizabeth/Riley: Thanks! The caramelization thing is definitely key. (And they look so pretty on the plate, too. :))

    @TNelson: You’re absolutely right. Garden fresh tomatoes are delicious roasted like this. Growing up, I had a father (as did my husband) who took great pride and joy in his back yard garden. Roasted tomatoes were a common treat in my house (and Marc's). We made them all kinds of ways (sprinkled with crushed garlic, swimming in olive oil, topped with capers or scallions, spread on Italian bread) but always with just picked tomatoes still warm from the sun.

    @Babs: I could not agree with you more! (Like our Avery), I adore all kinds of cheeses, but there’s something very special about ricotta (fresh and dried). Kids and pizza really go together, don't they? My “un-crust” version may be a challenge for some kids, but I can tell you it's a delicious way for adults to cut carbs and calories.

    More replies to come...

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  11. Replies to...

    @Julie: I’m so glad you like the recipe! I’ve been admiring your own posts about trying to eat healthier. With warm weather coming, this is a great time of year for us all to do the same. Soon all of those fresh summer fruits and vegetables will make it even easier.

    @Dave (Year on the Grill): I have been admiring your pizza-making posts for weeks now, and I’m grinning at your reaction to this post. In my defense, I can tell you that with foods like “pizza bagels” and “pizza pockets” floating around the universe, I figured, hey, it’s open season on the very word *pizza*. Your ideas sound great, by the way! I’ll watch your blog for fried green tomatoes (with cheese).

    @Krista: You’re so right. Like gourmet pizza, many types of cheese (or even a combo of cheeses) can be used for toppings here—and this recipe *will* be fantastic when the Jersey heirlooms hit our market here in NYC! I often use this recipe as my antidote to the out-of-season store tomatoes. The roasting process pulls a surprising amount of flavor out of even the less-than-spectacular specimens.

    More replies to come…

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  12. Replies to…

    @Avery: Thank you so much. You are our cheese expert, so I appreciate the thumbs-up on using the ricotta. It’s one of my very favorite cheeses.

    @MJ: The lack of carbs is a *major* benefit of this snack! I’m so glad you like the recipe. :)

    @Harbingerc: Very glad I could help a fellow warrior against the evil Carbo onslaught. It’s an ongoing battle, to be sure.

    Thanks to everyone for your wonderful comments…

    Cook with love, eat with joy!

    ~ Cleo
    Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  13. What a great idea! Looks so great!

  14. That is such an awesome idea Cleo! I can honestly see eating this as a meal, or even as a great appetizer! Thanks!

  15. Lovely, what a beautiful snack for a girls' get together!

  16. Cleo,
    This would be a great appetizer in place of the bruschetta, which I often make. I can't wait to make it. Thanks for sharing the healthy alternative to pizza!

  17. so orignial! love it! very thrifty too!