The crowd was made up of everything from local riff raff, bikers, and sun-weathered retirees wearing neon colored fishing shirts. That night Jay and I were the youngest couple at the Ragged Ass Saloon, and possibly all of Pine Island. An old Yuengling six-pack housing silverware, menus, and condiments was set in the middle of the table. Before ordering, I instinctively grab the Tabasco and set it by me.
It’s hard to believe one week ago Jay and I were visiting good friends near Fort Myers, Florida. We spent each day on their Carolina Skiff exploring the intracoastal waterway and fishing the mangrove-lined coast while our Michigan winter skin soaked in much needed sun.
Per tradition, the last night of our trip was spent at my favorite bar on the island our friends spend their winters on. Whenever we dine out in Florida I typically order some kind of grouper, whether it be in sandwich or taco form. But this night Jay and I opt to split a pizza. And not just any pizza. The Ragged Ass Saloon specializes in something called the ‘He-Man.’ A monster of a pizza with pepperoni, sausage, and ham heaped on a delightfully crispy thin crust. When our pie arrives, I douse my slices with Tabasco and enjoy each meaty, cheesy bite, amazed that such a thin crust could hold up with all the toppings.
We ate good during our visit. On top of the pizza, we enjoyed fruity cocktails, conch fritters, and more kinds of fish than I can count. I don’t regret anything I indulged in, but I believe in balance and find the best way to bounce back after a vacation is by removing process foods and ramping up my fruit and veggie intake for a few days.
While this pizza is far from the He-Man we ordered from the saloon, it does have a light, crispy crust that stands up to all the toppings. Even if those toppings are vegetables. Because, if you’re like me, sometimes you want a pile of meat and cheese and other times you want creamy sauce, chewy sun dried tomatoes, and bright balsamic vinegar. Balance, friends.
I’ve been experimenting a lot with vegan cheeses. I love real cheese, but it doesn’t always love me. This is not the stringy mozzarella I’m used to on a pizza, but it is creamy, garlicky, and nutty thanks to nutritional yeast. Very similar to an alfredo sauce.
To get the crispy-bottomed crust I love so much, I use high heat and a cast iron pizza stone. I leave the stone in the oven while it preheats, but if you’re using a regular baking sheet you can go ahead and skip this step. I prep the pizza on a sheet of parchment paper then place the whole sheet either on my pizza stone or baking sheet.
This recipe also features the laziest balsamic reduction ever. Place vinegar in microwave and ta-da; a perfect syrup-like consistency. You might think about skipping this step, but please don’t. It’s so easy and the bright vinegar contrast the rich, creamy cashew sauce perfectly.
With no cheese or meat, this pizza might be a hard pass for many, but if you’re up for trying something veggie packed and dairy free I’d highly suggest you give this a go.
Vegan Kale Pizza with Cashew Cheese and Balsamic Reduction
For the Cashew Cheese
- 1/2 Cup Raw Cashews
- 2 Cups Hot Water
- 2 Tbsp Nutritional Yeast
- 1 Clove Garlic
- 1/2 Tsp Dijon
- Pinch of Salt
- 2 Tbsp – 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
For the Pizza
- 1 Pizza Dough Round (I use this recipe, but store bought pizza dough would work)
- 2 Kale Leaves, stems removed
- 1/2 Tbsp Olive Oil
- Pinch of salt
- 1/4 Cup Sliced Sun Dried Tomatoes
- 1/2 Cup Balsamic Dressing
- Handful of Basil (Optional)
Make the cashew sauce by soaking the cashews in the hot water for at least half an hour, and up to an hour. Drain, then place the cashews in a blender or food processor along with the nutritional yeast, garlic, dijon and salt. blend or process on high until the ingredients are chopped. Keep the blender or processor running while drizzling in the olive oil 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture is creamy and about the consistency of caesar dressing. Taste and add more salt, if necessary.
Preheat the oven to 500, or as hot as your oven will go. If using a pizza stone, place in the oven while it preheats. If using a baking sheet, skip this step.
Prep the kale by shredding the leaves with your hands and place it in a bowl. Add the olive oil and salt and massage until the kale starts to soften. Set aside.
Spread a piece of parchment paper on the counter and lightly flour it. Spread your dough out on the parchment paper and stretch it until it’s reached the desired size and shape. Spoon the dressing over the top and spread around. Add the kale and sun dried tomatoes. Lift the pizza up by the parchment paper and place the pizza with the parchment paper either on your pizza stone in the oven or on your baking sheet. Place the baking sheet in the oven. Bake for 8-10 minutes until the bottom of the crust is golden.
While the pizza is baking, pour the balsamic vinegar into a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high for 1-2 minutes, until the vinegar has thickened to a syrup-like consistency. Keep an eye on this to make sure it doesn’t boil over and remember different microwaves may take longer.
Remove the pizza from the oven, drizzle with the balsamic reduction, top with basil (optional), cut, and serve!