{Life Lesson from Pizza} Easier-is-better Cornmeal Pizza Crust with Boozy Heirloom Tomato Sauce and Crispy Kale

I didn’t think making pizza crust would give me a lesson about life, but sometimes cooking is unexpected.

After meeting Stephanie at the SF Food Bloggers Meetup group, I checked out her blog, Life Tastes Like Food, and immediately started drooling when I saw her recipe for Bacon, Spinach, and Eggs Breakfast Pizza with a Polenta Crust (even though I don’t eat bacon and seldom eat eggs).

My first inclination was to try to make a vegan breakfast pizza (still to come one day).  However, around the same time, the idea of a “boozy” heirloom tomato sauce was floating around in my brain – cooking down the tomatoes and making the sauce richer with vodka.  Then I thought of putting those two ideas together, and I got really hungry.

However, I had a dilemma – I was hungry now and Stephanie’s crust was going to take me about 3 hours between cooking the polenta, chilling it, and baking it.  The recipe also said to blend the polenta and water in a blender before cooking it (which was  disconcerting because it involved dirtying another dish).

This got me thinking – don’t they both come from corn?  If the cornmeal is more finely ground than the polenta, wouldn’t it cook quicker?  Could I skip the blending step and go straight to cooking?  I decided to give it a try.

I used the same proportions (2 parts water to 1 part cornmeal), and brought it to a boil.  I almost burned it because I did not expect it to cook that fast – it cooked within a minute or two of coming to a boil. (Insert image of me yelping and flinging the pot off the stove here)

From there on, I followed the rest of Stephanie’s directions (chilling and baking the crust), and while it was baking I made my sauce.  I cooked down leeks, garlic, tomatoes, and basil until most of the water was gone, and then added some vodka and let it cook down further until I was left with a thick (delicious) sauce.

I spread the sauce on the crust, added some kale tossed with olive oil and salt (crossing my fingers that it would crisp in the oven like kale chips), and baked it for about 20 minutes.

Since pretty much every part of this pizza was an experiment, I was a little nervous about what the result would taste like.  It turned out good – really good.  The crust was crispy but tender, and actually held up to taking a bite out of a piece without falling apart.  The heirloom tomatoes made a sweet and rich sauce, with a hint of spice from the chili-infused vodka I received from the food swap.  The crispy kale added a nice crunchy texture.

To make sure that it wasn’t just a fluke, I did a taste test with my family – I made one crust with polenta (although I still skipped the blending step – I didn’t want to dirty that extra dish) and one with cornmeal.  Without revealing which was which, although they thought both were good, they hands-down preferred the cornmeal crust.  It is crispier and lighter than the polenta crust, which is more creamy and dense.  Bonus – the cornmeal crust comes together in minutes, compared to the 20 minutes over the stove stirring the polenta while it cooks.

So what was the life lesson?

Just because it’s harder doesn’t mean it’s better

There’s nothing wrong with putting in a good effort to achieve your goals.  However, I know when it feels really hard, like I’m muscling my way through it, it’s probably because I’m SHOULDing all over myself.  I’m doing it because I think I should be doing it, rather than feeling it is something I want to do.  When things are humming along at an easy pace and I feel like I can take on the world – that’s when I know things are going the right way.  It feels like the universe is telling you that you are on the right track.

Sometimes taking the simpler, easier route gets us to the same place (or better) without unnecessary effort.  Life doesn’t always have to be that hard; and it shouldn’t be.  Following my instincts and taking the easy route got me to the same, if not better, ending.

A pizza crust is a jumping off point to a whole world of creations.  What will you put on your polenta pizza crust?  Let me know in the comments.  Also, be on the lookout – I made a dessert with the extra crust that is fantastic.

Easier-is-better Cornmeal Pizza Crust with Boozy Heirloom Tomato Sauce and Crispy Kale

Print, email, or text this recipe. 

Yield 2 small pizzas, enough to feed 3 people

Polenta Pizza Crust

1 cup medium grind cornmeal

2 cups water

pinch salt

Boozy Heirloom Tomato Sauce

olive oil1/2 cup onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

3 cups tomatoes, chopped (heirloom preferred but any kind will do)

dash chili powder (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup vodka, white wine, or balsamic vinegar (optional)

Crispy Kale

3-4 leaves lacinato (dinosaur) kale, cut into ribbons

olive oil


Prepare the Crust

Combine the cornmeal, water, and salt in a sauce pan and bring to a boil, let simmer a couple of minutes until it is thick and creamy.  This will go quickly, so keep an eye on it.

Remove from heat, and spoon into two rounds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Allow to cool to room temperature (20 minutes), and then cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate an hour (or until you are ready to cook).

Preheat oven to 375.  Brush the crusts with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Bake the polenta crusts 35 – 45 minutes, until firm and golden.

Make the Sauce

While the crusts are baking, coat a large skillet with olive oil and bring to medium heat. Sauté onions until translucent, add garlic and cook a few more minutes. Add tomatoes and spices, and cook until most of the water has evaporated, about 20-30 minutes. Add alcohol or vinegar to deglaze, and cook until completely evaporated. Remove from heat.

Assemble and Bake

Spoon sauce on the baked crusts.  Toss the kale with olive oil and sauce, and then sprinkle on top of the pizzas.  Bake for 15 minutes, and serve immediately.

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13 thoughts on “{Life Lesson from Pizza} Easier-is-better Cornmeal Pizza Crust with Boozy Heirloom Tomato Sauce and Crispy Kale

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