“I put the red bell peppers under the cheese, because when I put the pizza in the oven, the peppers kept rolling off.”
That’s a smart thing to do, right?
It depends on the bell peppers. Are they raw? If so, you’re probably going to end up with a soggy pizza.
This is one of those things that any of us can do thinking we’re being smart (been there, done that) and it results in unintended consequences--like a tasty but wet pizza.
A smarter thing to do might be to roast the bell pepper chunks first so there's not so much moisture in them. And then, they're also less likely to roll around so you can put those little pretties on top of the cheese again.
Wanna talk about ping-pong pizza?
I enjoy whole olives. They taste better when they still have the pit. But try putting whole olives on a pie and launching it with abandon.
Hello, bouncing baby table fruit! Olives pinging all over the oven.
If you put the olives under the cheese, they might stay in place—but you don’t get to see them on the pizza, which is half the fun.
(Solution: pit the olives by smacking them with the flat side of a chef’s knife. The olive still has some wholeness to it, but no longer has a desire to roll into the oven.)
So what’s happening, physics-wise, when you put toppings under the cheese?
Hello, Evaporation Prevention Department!
That’s not such a big deal with olives. They’re a pretty dense, meaty fruit.
But a bell pepper is about as close to 100% water as you can get without it being a glass of water.
When you’ve got all that water, you’ve got a problem.
As your pizza’s cooking and that topping is trapped beneath the cheese, the water’s gotta go somewhere.
It often ends up soaking the pizza crust.
There are many toppings I’ve stopped putting onto a pizza raw. Bell peppers are among them.
Yes, it’s fun to experiment with pizza toppings. That’s why I’ve made a lot of pizzas nobody is ever going to see.
Like the Cheeseburger In Paradise pizza. (I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and a French-fried potato, big kosher pickle and a cold draft beer—just not all at once on the pizza. Hold the ketchup and the pickles, please.)
When you’re experimenting, it’s a good idea to ask: What will this topping do to my pizza?
Will it make the pizza wet?
Will it prevent baking and leave me with a gum layer?
Will I just want to throw it away? (See also: Cheeseburger In Paradise pizza.)
And if that topping is likely to offer something from the Wet & Greasy Catalog, what can be done to mitigate that?
These days, I’m roasting a lot of my vegetable toppings, like mushrooms or broccoli. Pre-cooking toppings that contain a lot of water will evaporate a lot of that moisture.
If the mushrooms must go on the pizza raw, they’re thinly sliced.
I also don’t do caramelized onions anymore.
The in-house Pizza Judgment Department doesn’t care for the sweetness that comes with caramelization. (And I have no great love for it.)
So the onions go on raw and thinly sliced. Or they go on sautéed (evaporation), or they go on roasted (see previous parenthetical). I’ll roast thick onion slices in the oven and cut them up.
Some toppings don’t go on until the last minute. Anchovies, for instance.
Do you hate anchovies?
That’s because, on a commercial pizza, they’re typically baked to a nasty black finish. Any of the bacon-of-the-sea deliciousness is cooked right the hell out of them.
Anchovies are a delicate thing (especially if they’re good anchovies). Putting them into a 600-degree oven for 6 to 10 minutes is a menacing plan for culinary delight.
The Fabulous Honey Parker and I were just at the famed Pizzeria Beddia in Philadelphia. They had some decent commercial anchovies for the pizza.
But on the small plates menu, they had Cantabrian anchovies for $18. I was not going to pass up trying those nifty little fishies. And they certainly weren’t going to bake them onto a pizza.
So when the cheese pizza arrived, we tried adding some of those meaty, firm and flavorful umami bombs to it.
Yes, I know I could buy a whole jar of decent Cantabrian anchovies for the price of that small plate. But where? I live in a place where the gourmet ingredients are found in the Cajun foods aisle at Walmart (not that there's anything wrong with that!).
When trying a new topping, another good question to ask is: Will this topping get hammered?
A lot of things you might want to put on the pizza are delicate.
Some toppings are delicate enough that they might want to go on after the bake.
Like the above anchovies.
Or fresh basil. (But not always—some chefs are basil bakers.)
Fresh cilantro. (Don’t bother whining that you hate the soapy taste. I don’t care.)
Raw tuna. (No, I’ve never put raw tuna on a pizza. But chef Tuan Tran has, and it looks glorious.)
There are some pizzas that arguably have salad on them.
Raw spinach. (Though I prefer cooked spinach.)
What happens when you use those toppings?
(Hint: you don't bake them!)
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction—or maybe a complementary reaction. This isn’t nuclear physics. It’s pizza. Be adventurous, but also ask questions. It can change everything.
Have you embarked on your pizza adventure yet? If you’re thinking about spinning flour, water, salt and yeast into cheesy discs of delight, check out my simple and silly how-to manual for making pizza happen: Free The Pizza—A Simple System For Making Great Pizza Whenever You Want With The Oven You Already Have.
Blaine Parker is the award-winning author of the bestselling, unusual and amusing how-to pizza book, Free The Pizza. Also known as The Pizza Geek and "Hey, Pizza Man!", Blaine is fanatical about the idea that true, pro-quality pizza can be made at home. His home. Your home. Anyone's home. After 20 years of honing his craft and making pizza in standard consumer ovens across the nation, he's sharing what he's learned with home cooks like you. Are you ready to pizza?
When you click those links to Amazon (and a few other sites we work with), and you buy something, you are helping this website stay afloat, and you're helping us have many more glorious photographs of impressive pizza.