It isn't quite pizza.

But it sort of is.

Flatbread is pizza's flamboyant cousin. There is a strong DNA connection, and they often look alike. But there is a difference, and after considerable thought and reflection I think I have determined what it is: tomato sauce.

Pizza has it. Flatbread does not. If flatbread has tomato sauce, it is pizza. If pizza does not have tomato sauce, it may still call itself pizza, but deep in its heart it knows it is really just flatbread that is putting on airs.

I am speaking here of the common use of the word "flatbread." Broadly speaking, flatbread is any bread that is thin and flat, such as pita or lavash or naan. But the flatbread I am talking about is the one that looks and acts like pizza, but isn't.

The flatbread I am talking about has toppings, which means the variety you can make is endless. You could even bake a flatbread crust and smear it with peanut butter and jelly if you wanted, and now that I think about it that would taste pretty good.

I made eight flatbreads with different toppings and they were all, if I may dispense with my customary modesty, awfully good. Kind of spectacular, actually.

But before we get to the toppings, we first must discuss the crust. I tried two different recipes.

The first was thinner and crispier. The dough took just one hour to rise, but it does take a little more work to make, and it has to be kneaded for five to seven minutes.

The second was a bit thicker, chewier and heartier. It also had a more developed taste, but to achieve that taste it took two hours to rise. On the other hand, it required no kneading at all.

I recommend either one. If time is an issue, you can make and refrigerate the dough one day before you cook it; flatbread doughs also freeze particularly well.

For the toppings, I began with a couple of flatbreads for breakfast. The first one, Steak and Eggs Flatbread, is versatile enough to be enjoyed at any meal. Here, the flatbread acts more or less as toast, but with a superior flavor, on which to enjoy a hearty meal of steak and a fried egg. It's best when you pierce the yolk, which spills sensuously over the meat and crust.

A handful of cooked whole cherry tomatoes adds extra pop _ not only of flavor but also the physical soft popping sensation in your mouth when you bite into them. I couldn't stop eating it, which was unfortunate because I had seven more flatbreads to go.

I used the same general idea of flatbread topped with eggs and meat for my next breakfast-oriented dish, Sausage and Eggs Flatbread. This time, the eggs are scrambled, which makes a vital difference in both flavor and texture. I cut up the sausage first and scrambled it into the eggs.

It is remarkable how easy it was to make something so deliciously distinctive.

I stayed with the general breakfast theme one last time for a dish I call Everything but the Bagel Flatbread. You completely bake the flatbread first _ which you do with most of these recipes _ and then smear it with cream cheese and top it with slices of smoked salmon, a sprinkling of capers and a light scattering of thin slices of red onion.

I would never suggest that anything could be better than a bagel with lox, so I will just say that a flatbread with lox is every bit as good.

For a more substantial meal, I made a flatbread with chunks of juicy chicken, melted cheddar cheese and barbecue sauce, plus a few more slices of that red onion. Photographer Hillary Levin, who took the pictures that accompany this article, took one look at it and suggested I was copying a popular dish from California Pizza Kitchen.

I cannot tell a lie. I copied a popular dish from California Pizza Kitchen. But it is just so good _ both theirs and mine. And mine is cheaper.

Next, I made what is probably the most unusual of the varieties I tried. Franks and Beans Flatbread, as I call it, is franks and beans on flatbread.

I was inspired, I guess, by the English dish of baked beans on toast, which is much better than it sounds. But it isn't as good as Franks and Beans Flatbread, for several reasons: Flatbread is better than toast, it has hot dogs in it and also I made homemade baked beans. It is quite easy, especially if you begin with canned beans. I just added ketchup, mustard, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and a little salt.

The last three flatbreads I made are all vegetarian.

Caramelized Onions and Fontina Flatbread took a minor investment of time in order to caramelize the onions. Cooking them in a bit of oil over a low heat tempers the onions' sharp notes and brings out a rich, mellow sweetness. There is nothing quite like it, but it takes about a half-hour to cook and you have to stir it frequently.

Still, it is well worth it, especially when you string the slices across a piece of flatbread with gooey, melted Fontina cheese.

Fennel Flatbread is basically the same idea. The licorice-tasting bulb of fennel is sliced thin and mixed with olive oil and Parmesan, which here takes the place of the Fontina. The fennel is not caramelized, but roasting it on the flatbread for just a few minutes makes the flavor richer and warmer.

It also melts the Parmesan, which acts in a small way as a sharp counterpoint to the rounded tones of the fennel.

And finally I took the unbeatable pairing of figs and Gorgonzola cheese, and applied it to the top of flatbread. There is something about figs that bring out the best in Gorgonzola (it's a blue cheese), and vice versa, but it is all even better when topped with a drizzle of sweet honey.

The figs sit in a creamy puddle of melted cheese, and the honey turns it ambrosial. It is not exactly what you want for a meal, but served at a party it would be an hors d'oeuvre that would be long remembered.

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CRISPY, THIN FLATBREAD DOUGH

Yield: 4 servings

1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast

1 cup warm water, around 110 degrees

Pinch granulated sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for coating bowl

2 1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour, divided

1. In a large bowl, mix yeast, water and sugar, and stir well to combine. Set aside until foamy, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the salt, olive oil and 1 1/4 cups of the flour, and mix well to thoroughly combine. Add another 1 1/4 cups flour and mix well with your hands, working to incorporate the flour little by little. The dough should be slightly sticky to the touch.

2. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead for 5 to 7 minutes, adding additional flour as necessary to form a smooth and elastic dough that is not sticky. Transfer to a lightly oiled 2- or 3-quart bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

3. Divide dough into 4 equal portions and form into balls. Use immediately or wrap individually in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to one day. Can also be frozen.

Per serving: 337 calories; 6g fat; 1g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 9g protein; 61g carbohydrate; 1g sugar; 2g fiber; 876mg sodium; 14mg calcium

Adapted from Emeril Lagasse, via Food Network

HEARTY FLATBREAD CRUST

Yield: 4 servings

3 3/4 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour

2 1/2 teaspoons instant dry yeast (not rapid rise)

3/4 teaspoon table salt

3/4 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 1/3 cups water, room temperature (around 72 degrees)

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until blended, at least 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the dough has more than doubled in volume, about 2 hours. Divide into 4 equal portions. Use immediately, refrigerate for up to 1 day or freeze for up to 6 months.

Per serving: 475 calories; 2g fat; 1g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 16g protein; 95g carbohydrate; 1g sugar; 4g fiber; 440mg sodium; 20mg calcium

Slightly adapted from a recipe in "My Bread" by Jim Lahey

CHICKEN, CHEDDAR AND BARBECUE SAUCE FLATBREAD

Yield: 1 serving

1 portion flatbread

1 cup cooked chicken, cut into small cubes or shredded

3/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons barbecue sauce

1 or 2 thin slices red onion

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees and place pizza stone or a baking sheet in the lower third of the oven.

2. Roll out flatbread dough until thin. Place on parchment paper on top of upside-down baking sheet, prick several times with a fork and slide parchment onto the hot pizza stone or baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 9 to 10 minutes. If dough puffs up while cooking, deflate by pricking more times with a fork.

3. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and top with pieces of chicken. Drizzle with barbecue sauce and scatter pieces of red onion on top. Return to oven and cook until the cheese melts, about 2 minutes.

Per serving: 976 calories; 39g fat; 18g saturated fat; 239mg cholesterol; 74g protein; 82g carbohydrate; 15g sugar; 3g fiber; 1,783mg sodium; 643mg calcium

Some of the nutrition information will vary based on the brand of barbecue sauce you use.

Recipe by Daniel Neman

CARAMELIZED ONIONS AND FONTINA FLATBREAD

Yield: 2 servings

1 tablespoon oil

1 large onion, sliced thin

Salt, to taste

2 portions flatbread crust

5 ounces Fontina cheese, shredded or sliced thin

1. Heat oil in medium pan over medium heat until hot. Add onions, reduce heat to low and cook slowly, stirring frequently, until they become sweet and caramelized and turn the color of coffee with a lot of cream, about 30 minutes. Salt to taste. Onions may be made a day or two ahead and refrigerated.

2. Preheat oven to 500 degrees and place pizza stone or a baking sheet in the lower and upper thirds of the oven.

3. Roll out flatbread dough until thin. Place on two pieces of parchment paper on top of upside-down baking sheets, prick several times with a fork and slide parchment onto the hot pizza stones or baking sheets.

4. Bake until dough turns a light golden brown, 9 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Top with cheese and then caramelized onions. Return to oven and cook until cheese melts, about 2 minutes.

Per serving: 700 calories; 35g fat; 14g saturated fat; 82mg cholesterol; 28g protein; 69g carbohydrate; 5g sugar; 3g fiber; 1,524mg sodium; 433mg calcium

Recipe by Daniel Neman

EVERYTHING BUT THE BAGEL FLATBREAD

Yield: 1 serving

1 portion flatbread dough

1 tablespoon cream cheese

1 1/2 ounces smoked salmon

1/2 teaspoon capers

1 or 2 thin slices red onion

1 teaspoon everything-bagel mix (sesame seeds, poppy seeds, onion flakes), optional

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees and place pizza stone or a baking sheet in the lower third of the oven.

2. Roll out flatbread dough until thin. Place on parchment paper on top of upside-down baking sheet, prick several times with a fork and slide parchment onto the hot pizza stone or baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 9 to 10 minutes. If dough puffs up while cooking, deflate by pricking more times with a fork.

3. Allow flatbread to cool for a couple of minutes, then spread with cream cheese and cover with smoked salmon. Sprinkle capers on top, and scatter with thin pieces of red onion. Finish with everything-bagel mix, if desired.

Per serving: 538 calories; 16g fat; 4g saturated fat; 81mg cholesterol; 36g protein; 67g carbohydrate; 2g sugar; 2g fiber; 1,178mg sodium; 69mg calcium

Recipe by Daniel Neman

FIGS AND GORGONZOLA FLATBREAD

Yield: 1 serving

1 portion flatbread dough

1/4 cup Gorgonzola cheese

¹/³ cup sliced dried figs

2 teaspoons honey

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees and place pizza stone or a baking sheet in the lower third of the oven.

2. Roll out flatbread dough until thin. Place on parchment paper on top of upside-down baking sheet, prick several times with a fork and slide parchment onto the hot pizza stone or baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 9 to 10 minutes. If dough puffs up while cooking, deflate by pricking more times with a fork.

3. Scatter Gorgonzola on top of cooked flatbread. Add figs and drizzle with honey. Return to the oven and cook until the cheese has melted, about 2 minutes.

Per serving: 535 calories; 14g fat; 6g saturated fat; 24mg cholesterol; 16g protein; 89g carbohydrate; 25g sugar; 4g fiber; 1,217mg sodium; 185mg calcium

Recipe by Daniel Neman

FRANKS AND BEANS FLATBREAD

Yield: 2 servings

2 portions flatbread dough

1 (15.5-ounce) cannellini beans or great northern beans, undrained

1/4 cup ketchup

1 teaspoon mustard

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

2 hot dogs, sliced into small pieces

Salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees and place pizza stones or baking sheets in the lower and upper thirds of the oven.

2. Roll out flatbread doughs until thin. Place on pieces of parchment paper on top of upside-down baking sheets, prick several times with a fork and slide parchment onto the hot pizza stones or baking sheets. Bake until golden brown, 9 to 10 minutes. If dough puffs up while cooking, deflate by pricking more times with a fork.

3. Meanwhile, put the beans and their liquid in a small pot over medium-high heat. Add ketchup, mustard, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and hot dog pieces, and cook until heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Use a slotted spoon to spread the franks and beans mixture over the flatbread, keeping some of the liquid in the pot.

Per serving: 754 calories; 13g fat; 1g saturated fat; 6mg cholesterol; 36g protein; 67g carbohydrate; 2g sugar; 2g fiber; 1,550mg sodium; 165mg calcium

Recipe by Daniel Neman

SAUSAGE AND EGGS FLATBREAD

Yield: 1 serving

1 portion flatbread dough

1/2 tablespoon butter

2 ounces sausage, cut into small pieces

3 eggs, lightly beaten

Salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees and place pizza stone or a baking sheet in the lower third of the oven.

2. Roll out flatbread dough until thin. Place on parchment paper on top of upside-down baking sheet, prick several times with a fork and slide parchment onto the hot pizza stone or baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 9 to 10 minutes. If dough puffs up while cooking, deflate by pricking more times with a fork.

3. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add sausage. Cook until done. Season eggs with salt and pepper, and scramble with the sausage in the skillet. Spread scrambled-egg mixture on top of cooked flatbread, and serve.

Per serving: 795 calories; 44g fat; 15g saturated fat; 616mg cholesterol; 36g protein; 62g carbohydrate; 2g sugar; 2g fiber; 1,659mg sodium; 122mg calcium

Recipe by Daniel Neman

STEAK AND EGGS FLATBREAD

Yield: 1 serving

1 portion flatbread

1/2 tablespoon oil

6 ounces New York strip or sirloin steak

Salt and pepper

About 6 cherry tomatoes

1/2 tablespoon butter

2 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees and place pizza stone or a baking sheet in the lower third of the oven.

2. Roll out flatbread dough until thin. Place on a piece of parchment paper on top of an upside-down baking sheet, prick several times with a fork and slide parchment onto the hot pizza stone or baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 9 to 10 minutes. If the dough puffs up while baking, prick with a fork to deflate.

3. Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium-high heat in a skillet large enough to hold the steak. Season the steak with salt and pepper and cook to desired doneness. When you flip the steak, add the tomatoes to the pan.

4. Remove the steak and tomatoes from the pan and allow to rest while cooking the eggs. Heat a separate skillet over medium-high heat (the steak pan will be too hot). Melt the butter and then carefully crack in the eggs. Cook gently until the eggs are done sunny-side up, with runny yolks.

5. Slice the steak across the grain and place the pieces on the flatbread. Scatter the tomatoes and top with the eggs.

Per serving: 832 calories; 35g fat; 11g saturated fat; 260mg cholesterol; 60g protein; 65g carbohydrate; 4g sugar; 3g fiber; 1,274mg sodium; 137mg calcium

Recipe by Daniel Neman

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