Run While the Dough Rises: Zucchini, Leek, and Mushroom Focaccia-Style Pizza

Focaccia was an absolute favorite of mine growing up. My grandmother used to serve at holidays and special events and on occasion, my father would bring it home from a local Italian deli for Saturday lunch. I loved the thick bread covered in my favorite pizza toppings. Fast forward 15 years or so and it seemed like focaccia bread was on every San Francisco Bay Area restaurant’s menu. However, the plain bread version that became popular with so many was no substitute for my grandma’s. Several years ago, I reconnected with some cousins in possession of the beloved family recipe. I used this as a base to create my own focaccia-style pizza recipes that I now enjoy sharing with friends and family.

Sunday is my favorite day of the week. Not because I get to sleep in and be lazy – that’s far from my typical Sunday. Generally, I wake up at 6 a.m., and meet friends for a run followed by breakfast. Not only is it my long run day, but it’s also my favorite day to have family or friends over for dinner.

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Focaccia-style pizza is easy, but because it has to rise, it takes several hours from start to being able to indulge.  If I’m making it on a Sunday, I start it before I go for my run. By the time I’m back, the dough is ready for step two.

Use an oversized bowl to mix the dough and let it rise. If your bowl isn’t large enough, the dough will rise too close to the top. This doesn’t affect the dough, but it will cause it to stick to the cloth. If you remember grammar school arts and crafts, you know that flour and water make a paste which, in large quantities will cement itself in your cloth. You want the dough to rise for at least two hours, but don’t worry if it’s a little longer than that. You can always punch the dough down to release some of the gas bubbles formed during rising.

When I get back, it’s time to transfer the dough to a large, rimmed baking sheet. I use a 12 1/2 x 17 sheet. You can use a smaller sheet if you prefer a thicker pizza crust. Once in the baking sheet and formed to the pan (this may require some stretching) the dough needs another 30 minutes to rise, giving me just enough time to shower and change.

Bake in a 400º oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the bread comes out clean.

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After it’s done baking I let the bread cool on the counter until my guests are about to arrive. You can prepare the bread in advance, wrap tightly in foil and freeze until you’re ready to serve it. Leftovers will keep for a couple of months in the freezer.

Have fun experimenting with different combinations of seasonal fresh vegetables  – or try your hand with classic pizza toppings like pepperoni and black olive. Whatever you decide, remember to cook all vegetables first to reduce their water content. Skipping this step will result in a soggy pizza crust.

Sauteé vegetables for 7 to 10 minutes, then spread the toppings on the bread, sprinkle with the mozzarella and place the baking sheet under the broiler for 4 to 5 minutes, watching carefully so the toppings don’t get too brown.

Slice and enjoy! I love serving this alongside charcuterie and cheese platters for a fun happy hour with friends. It pairs nicely with a bottle of Vinho Verde or Lambrusco. It also works well as a side dish along with a mixed-green salad and rotisserie chicken.

Full Recipe:

Zucchini, Leek, and Mushroom Focaccia-style Pizza

Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 30  Minutes
Cook Time: 34 Minutes
Passive Time: 2 1/2 Hours
Servings: 10-12


5 cups unbleached flour (I prefer Bob’s Red Mill Artisan Bread Flour)
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1  packet yeast either rapid rise or regular will work
3 cups water
Olive oil


Pizza Topping
1 leek white portion sliced thinly
2 medium zucchini, sliced
2 cups mushrooms Baby Bella or white mushrooms work well
6 oz pesto spread (I prefer Sprouts Organic Basil Pesto)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups mozzarella, shredded
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix together flour, sugar, and salt in an oversized bowl. Dissolve yeast in warm (not hot) water and add to the flour mixture. Combine using a spoon. Handle lightly and don’t knead the dough. Take the dough out of the bowl (or move it to one side) and add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the bowl. Place dough back in the bowl and spread a thin layer of olive oil to the top. Cover with a towel and let rise for 2 hours.

Spread a thin layer of olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet. I use a 12 1/2 x 17 sheet. You can use a smaller sheet if you prefer a deeper dish pizza. Stretch dough to fit the sheet. Let stand for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, use the end of a wooden spoon to make indentations in the dough and spread a thin layer of olive oil on top.
Bake in a 400-degree oven for approximately 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.

Let cool in the sheet and prepare the toppings. The focaccia can be made earlier in the day and sit out until you’re ready to top it or it can be cut into sections and frozen for later use.
Pizza Topping

Sauté leek, mushrooms and zucchini in olive oil over medium heat for 7-10 minutes. Towards the end of the cook time, add minced garlic. Salt and pepper to taste. Do not skip this step. You may be tempted to add the raw toppings to the pizza, however, this will result in a soggy crust.

Spread a thin layer of basil pesto spread on the focaccia bread. Spread the vegetable mixture on the focaccia, then sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.

Place the baking sheet in a hot broiler for 4 to 5 minutes or until cheese melts. Watch carefully so your toppings don’t burn.

Slice, serve, and enjoy!