Well, we’ve made it to the end of an entire week dedicated to perfecting homemade pizza and no better way to finish it off then to talk about toppings. While the dough is pretty critical, the toppings are just as important to get right. Specific toppings will boil down to personal preference, although I give my favorite recommendations below, but here are FIVE nifty tips that will help your homemade pizza be even more perfect.
Tip #1: The Cheese
I’ve harped on this before but it’s really important that you shred that mozzarella cheese yourself. Preshredded mozzarella (and other types, too) are coated with a powdery-like substance that keep the cheese from sticking together. What that means is that in a side-by-side comparison, preshredded cheese baked on top of a pizza is going to be tough and chewy and won’t melt well while cheese you shred yourself is going to be melted and creamy and absolutely gooey and delicious. I always use part-skim mozzarella cheese on basic pizzas (but change it up for specialty pizzas which I’ll talk more about below) and then sprinkle just a touch of freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top to give it a salty punch. That’s not completely necessary but we love it that way.
Tip #2: The Number of Toppings
I actually love a totally loaded pizza but it’s really hard to get a pizza piled with 59 toppings to bake evenly. So generally, I try to keep the toppings at three max (not including the cheese). One of you commented recently that Jim Lahey (bread baker extraordinaire) says this, too, although I don’t know if he’s including the cheese or not. I don’t. I think three glorious toppings in addition to the cheese is just right. But really? You want the supreme of all supremes pizza? I say go for it.
Tip #3: The Order of Toppings
I can’t base this in scientific proof, but better pizza is made when the cheese goes on first followed by the other toppings. That’s how we make it at least. The cheese kind of acts like the glue that keeps everything from sliding off (although that has been known to happen a time or two anyway and we all know how unfun it is to bite into piping hot pizza only to have the entire triangle of molten cheese and toppings land in your mouth so basically, eat pizza at your own risk). Plus, it’s just nice to see what you are eating (read: no scary anchovies hiding under my cheese thankyouverymuch). There are a few pizzas where I make an exception and add half the cheese over the sauce and wait to add the last half over the toppings (like BBQ chicken pizza).
Tip #4: The Sauce
99% of the time, I use my favorite homemade pizza sauce. I’ve been using this recipe for years. And years. And years. I don’t bother cooking a fussy pizza sauce. This no-cook, blender sauce tastes delicious and comes together in just a few minutes. You can process it to be as chunky or smooth as you like. Be sure to choose good-quality canned tomatoes – that flavor is really going to come through. When we want a white/alfredo sauce, this creamy garlic alfredo sauce is amazing on pizza. But sometimes, I don’t want to cook any sauce (gosh, I’m lazy), red or white. I’ve found this blender white sauce to be awesome: 8 ounces light cream cheese softened, pinch of salt, pepper, and garlic powder, enough milk to make it thick but spreadable (start with 2-3 tablespoons and go up from there). Also, pesto (homemade or storebought) makes a great sauce for pizza as well.
Tip #5: Avoiding Soggy Issues
I really hate soggy things. Especially soggy bread. So soggy pizza is a total no-go for me. This can be a problem when using wet toppings like fresh or canned pineapple, fresh tomatoes, etc. When I use fresh or canned pineapple, I drain it very well (the canned stuff) and then I pat the fresh and/or canned dry with paper towels. Like, I kind of smush it even. Pineapple has a tendency to create soggy pools of liquid in the pizza so drain well. For fresh tomatoes, I slice the tomatoes and then squeeze them over the sink to get rid of the seeds and juice; I just use the tomato shell, basically, for the pizza and it still imparts lots of flavor especially if the tomatoes are super ripe and sweet. Same goes for olives (drain well!) and other ingredients where the liquid factor could cause issues on the pizza.
The Best Pizza Combinations and Favorite Toppings
Many of you say that you get stuck in a rut with the same old toppings and I totally get that! My kids are pretty simple pizza lovers – pepperoni, cheese, sometimes olives and a sprinkle of bacon or ham if we have it around. But Brian and I like variety to pizza night so along with making a few classics (like pepperoni and cheese) I always throw at least one specialty pizza into the mix (that is, if I’m on my A-game, but there are a lot of pizza nights where it’s just pepperoni and cheese pizza and we get gourmet by throwing chopped olives onto one of them). While I have a few “official” pizza recipes on the blog, sometimes a recipe isn’t really even necessary. I will often use leftovers like chicken from these fajitas or shrimp from this dish to top the pizzas with. Leftovers make great pizza toppings (if used in wisdom: say no to hot dogs on pizza).
Here are a few of our favorite combinations:
Black Bean Pizza (kind of like a meatless taco pizza of sorts)
Kale, Sausage and Ricotta Pizza
Lightly steam a skillet full of kale in a bit of broth or water and some salt and pepper until the kale is wilted and bright green. Drain well (and even pat dry with paper towels). Top the rolled out pizza crust with a ricotta mixture (ricotta cheese mixed with a bit of milk to soften, 1 minced clove of garlic and salt and pepper to taste), then top with the steamed kale and browned and drained sausage. Finish off with a dusting of freshly grated Parmesan. This pizza is kind of a newer find for me and takes a really, really close second to my favorite love: pizza margherita. The kale gets a bit crispy in the hot oven and the entire pizza is just completely divine.
Cover crust with a light helping of this sauce and drizzle with just a touch of olive oil. Top with slices of fresh mozzarella. Bake. Sprinkle torn fresh basil over the top right after it comes out of the oven. I am helpless when there’s pizza margherita at the table. It’s my favorite of all time in the history of ever.
BBQ Chicken Pizza
I like to use leftover cooked, shredded chicken tossed with a bit of this BBQ sauce. Mix BBQ sauce with a bit of ranch dressing or sour cream (about 2 parts BBQ sauce to 1 part creaminess) and spread it over the crust. Top with the chicken, half moon slices of red onion (I like to cook these down in a skillet first until they are translucent), mozzarella cheese and just a bit of shredded cheddar. This is one pizza where I use half the cheese on bottom of the toppings and half on top of everything (usually, I put all the toppings on the cheese). This is Brian’s fave pizza of all time! BBQ sauce that tastes good is key.
Nothing too crazy here, I like to use Hormel Natural Ham and fresh pineapple chunks when I have them (if not, canned works just fine as long as it’s drained really, really well!) on top of the mozzarella cheese with a sprinkle of fresh Parmesan. I’m not sure when/how Hawaiian pizza was invented but man, it’s good.
Shrimp and Bacon Pizza
This might sound strange but it is seriously yum. When I have leftover shrimp, I spread it over the mozzarella cheese (on a rolled out pizza crust with a little homemade pizza sauce or no sauce at all), sprinkle on cooked bacon and red onions and bake!
And don’t forget about dessert pizza!
Apple Cinnamon Streusel Dessert Pizza
Here’s a quick list of our go-to pizza toppings when it’s make-your-own pizza night (or when we have company over for a pizza bar, if you will):
Pepperoni (turkey pepperoni usually), chopped ham, cooked sausage, bacon, cooked chicken (grilled chicken makes great pizza!), diced green, red or yellow peppers, spinach or kale (I precook the kale but not the spinach), mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, fresh or canned pineapple, olives, cooked red onion, fresh basil, lots of cheese (part-skim mozzarella, fresh mozzarella and fresh Parmesan usually), homemade red sauce, alfredo sauce, pesto.
I know there are others I’m forgetting so feel free to add your suggestions in the comments (it’s my kids’ first day out of school and the chaos and fun is taking over my brain!).
Now It’s Your Turn!
What are you favorite pizza toppings or pizza combinations?
Update: Thanks for all your comments on your favorite pizza toppings! I compiled them into a downloadable document (PDF) in case anyone else wants easy inspiration for planning an upcoming pizza night! Click on the image below to download.