Slices With Life: Gourmet Pizza Heats Up

What’s the difference between regular pizza and gourmet pizza? It's all in the way you order.

Instead of ordering a sausage and mushroom pie with extra cheese, you ask for the “Shiitake Mushroom, Chicken Sausage with Gorgonzola Neopolitan.” And then you pay $15 more.

Gourmet pizza has been around ever since some guy at a local pizza joint accidentally spilled barbecue sauce on some dough and didn’t want it to go to waste.

Now restaurants like the California Pizza Kitchen serve high-end pizza for reservation diners all across the world. The franchise, which serves pies including "The Original Barbeque Chicken," the "Shrimp Scampi" and the "Peking Duck," just reported total revenues up 17.6 percent from this time last year, to $129.7 million. So it's clear that America’s (and the world’s to an extent) appetite for high-end pizza is only growing.

“Pizza can be quite a healthy way to eat and it’s something that restaurants are realizing they can have fun with,” said Bradly Frye, student at the Culinary Arts Institute in Napa Valley, Calif. “Pizza is one of those blank canvasses — like omelets — where you have an opportunity to really put your signature on something.”

And it’s just as easy to put your own signature on one. Here’s a little secret: making your own pizza is about one of the easiest things you can do.

Forget fresh dough, there are too many available premade pizza doughs on the market to bother with that — from Pillsbury’s Pizza Crust to Boboli to a number of other products found at your local grocery store.

After you have the crust, it’s all about the right combination of recipes. Then just crank up the oven to 425 degrees and bake for 30 minutes.

Here are a few recipes that should fit an array of tastes. But a few tips first: Always use fresh cheeses — especially when using mozzarella. Same goes for vegetables. And a few small investments that will pay off big: a pizza stone for baking and a pizza cutter for, well, for ease of cutting.

Let the recipes begin:

Pesto Pizza With Goat Cheese, Sun Dried Tomatoes and Shrimp

1 Pizza Dough

6 oz. grated mozzarella cheese

3 oz. goat cheese

6 sun dried tomatoes

1/3 cup pesto

1/3 lb. (about 12) shrimp (optional)

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Reconstitute the sun-dried tomatoes by pouring boiling water over them and allowing them to soak for about 15 minutes. Slice reconstituted tomatoes thinly. Peel and wash the shrimp.

Roll out pizza dough. Cover dough evenly with pesto sauce. Spread mozzarella cheese on pizza leaving a 1/2 inch border for crust. Crumble goat cheese over pizza. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty (pizza-making should be fun). Sprinkle sun-dried tomatoes, then evenly spread out the shrimp.

Bake pizza for 10 to 15 minutes or until crust is lightly browned.

Grilled Steak and Vegetable

1 pizza dough

1 cup shredded jalapeño Monterey Jack cheese, about 4 ounces, divided

1 cup sliced steak and 2 cups grilled vegetables, reserved from grilled steak with harvest vegetables

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Roll out pizza dough according to recipe instructions. Sprinkle 1/2 cup cheese over pizza crust. Cut steak into 1 inch pieces. Top crust with steak and vegetables. Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup cheese. Bake until crust browns and cheese melts, about 15 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before slicing.

Greek Pizza

1 pizza dough

1/2 recipe garlic oil sauce

8 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese

4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup pitted/halved greek olives

6-8 pepperoncini (pickled peppers), sliced

1/2 red onion, sliced thinly

1/2 cup fresh mushrooms slices

1 tsp. dried oregano

extra virgin olive oil

Top dough crust with oil sauce, mozzarella cheese, feta cheese, olives, pepperoncini, onion, mushroons and oregano. Drizzle with oil. Bake in preheated 500° F oven on pizza stone for 8-10 minutes or until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for 2-3 minutes before cutting into wedges and serving.

And while these pies are still decadent, at least they have a few healthy ingredients.

“It’s pizza you don’t feel as guilty about," said Los Angeles pizza lover Marv Hibbert.