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Ben Picks Ten: Veggie Pizza Toppings July 1, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Back in the day, our friend Ben’s favorite pizza was topped with black olives, anchovies, and pepperoni. But since meeting Silence Dogood, my pizza horizons have broadened, and now I enjoy veggie-topped pizzas as much (well, almost as much, but don’t tell Silence!) as my former favorite.

Last Thursday night, Silence and I were visiting our friends Delilah and Chaz, who had arranged a make-your-own grilled pizza party for us. Delilah and Chaz have a wonderful outdoor entertainment area, and when they do something, they do it. Their outdoor countertop was literally blanketed with yummy pizza toppings, from a jar of tomato sauce and a big bowl of mozzarella to platters of grilled veggies, chunks of sweet potato and oven-browned baking potatoes, feta cheese, raw veggies, fresh basil, and chorizo sausage and shredded chicken. (And trust me, that’s not the half of it.) They had also made and pre-grilled a platterful of pizza crusts, so all we had to do was grab a crust, load it with the toppings of our choice, and pop it on the grill.

Our friends Mary and Dave first introduced us to grilled pizzas, and let me just say, they are sooooo good. Perfect for summer. (Or anytime!) Delilah and Chaz even put unglazed tiles on top of their grilling rack and set the pizzas on the tiles to make sure the crusts crisped up just right. And of course they have a wooden pizza peel—the cutting-board-shaped, long-handled, thin wooden “spatula” that’s the best way to get the finished pizza off the grill.

Our friend Ben concocted such a perfect pizza that everyone demanded a bite and then oohed and aahed, which made me think I should share some of my topping combos with you all, pizza being, after all, one of my favorite foods. (Enshrined as it is in the pantheon of the four Ps: pizza, pasta, potatoes, and popcorn.) In honor of Silence and summer, all these use veggie toppings. Try ’em, you’ll like ’em! And please share your own faves with us.

1. Pesto pizza. After coating the crust with tomato sauce, add a layer of pesto before you put on the mozzarella. This gives a great flavor boost to the finished pizza without being as overwhelming as pesto alone sometimes is. Once you’ve added the cheese, use any toppings you like—any of the combinations that follow will work just fine (except for #10, the Indian pizza)—and finish with some shredded fresh basil to echo the pesto flavor.

2. Grilled veggie pizza. Coat the crust with tomato sauce, top with mozzarella, and add grilled rings of sweet onion (Vidalia, Walla Walla, or Candy type), strips of grilled red, yellow, and/or orange peppers, and grilled slices of portabella, baby ‘bella, and/or button mushrooms. Sprinkle with oregano, thyme, and coarse salt before sliding the pizza onto the grill.

3. Greek pizza. Coat the crust with tomato sauce, top with mozzarella, and add artichoke hearts or bases, black olives (sliced canned or seeded kalamata), and crumbled feta cheese. Top with fresh basil and/or fresh mint leaves. Simple but fabulous! To convert it to a Middle Eastern pizza, add crumbled falafel patties and diced grilled eggplant, with some yogurt cheese added prior to the mozzarella, and make sure you add the fresh mint leaves. Yum!!!

4. Pepper pizza. If you love peppers, this is the pizza for you! Coat the crust with tomato sauce and top with mozzarella. Add sliced button mushrooms and/or diced sweet onion (optional). Then top with strips of red, green, orange, yellow, “chocolate,” and/or purple bell peppers, jarred jalapeno rings, and jarred sweet pickled pepper rings to taste. Fanatics can season this pizza with a liberal sprinkling of crushed red pepper before putting it on the grill.

5. Mexican pizza. This is one of my all-time faves. Coat the crust with tomato sauce or salsa and top that with a thin layer of cilantro paste (available in tubes in the produce section of most markets). Add a layer of refried beans, a very thin layer of hot sauce (optional), and a thin layer of sour cream. Top with a mixture of mozzarella and the shredded “Mexican cheese” mixes you can buy at the store. Add diced red bell pepper, jarred jalapeno rings, sliced black olives, diced onion, minced garlic scapes (if available), and minced fresh cilantro. Allow guests to add sliced green onions, additional sour cream, hot sauce, and jalapenos, and more minced cilantro to their grilled slices before eating. 

6. Mushroom-lover’s pizza. If you really love mushrooms—if you’re one of those folks who has to make an effort to refrain from referring to them as “mushies” or “‘shrooms” in company—then this is the pizza for you. Marinate sliced portabellas in a marinade of tamari soy sauce, sliced green onions (including white part), minced garlic scapes (if available), and red wine (your choice; we usually go with chianti or whatever’s available) in the fridge overnight, shaking the container occasionally. Grill some button mushrooms over mesquite chips (or your favorite) and slice them. Saute sliced shiitake and oyster mushrooms, or one of the gourmet mushroom blends available in the produce section of most supermarkets, in butter, and drain, reserving the butter (it’s luscious on pasta; try it with sauteed sweet onions and roasted red pepper strips or arugula cooked just until wilted). Make a standard pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella (a thin layer of pesto between the tomato sauce and mozzarella is delish on this pizza), then top with the marinated portabella slices, the grilled button mushroom slices, and the sauteed mushrooms. Add fresh or dried thyme sprigs and rosemary. Sprinkle liberally with coarse salt (we like Real Salt, but you could use sea salt or Kosher salt if you prefer), and add fresh-cracked black pepper if you wish.

7. Buffalo pizza. Bufalo mozzarella is actually made with the milk of water buffaloes, not milk from American bison (aka buffaloes), a most disappointing discovery on our friend Ben’s part. So much for the romance of the open range. But never mind, it still makes great pizza, and you can always put on a CD of Native American music and look at your favorite Georgia O’Keefe painting while you’re eating it. To make buffalo pizza, spread a crust with pesto, add tomato sauce, then top it liberally with rounds of bufalo mozzarella, sprinkle on minced kalamata olives, and position a fresh basil leaf over each mozzarella round. Grill just long enough to heat through.

8. Summer garden pizza. This sounds weird, but trust me, it tastes good! Spread tomato sauce over a pizza crust and top it with fresh basil leaves or pesto. Cover with mozzarella. Add fresh sweet corn cut from the cob, super-thin slices of yellow crookneck or straightneck summer squash, rings of sweet onion (Vidalia, Walla Walla, or Candy type), sliced button mushrooms, and diced yellow, red, or orange bell pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and oregano before grilling.

9. “Say cheese!” pizza. As faithful readers know, here at Hawk’s Haven, we love cheese, so of course this pizza is a favorite with us. Spread a pizza crust with tomato sauce. Embed fresh salsa (the tomato/onion/green pepper/cilantro mix typically sold in supermarkets in the produce section, or homemade) into the sauce by pressing it in. Splash on a little hot sauce (we like Pickapeppa, or try Tabasco Chipotle or your favorite). Top this with a mix of mozzarella, white sharp Cheddar, feta, and an Italian cheese blend. The fresh salsa adds some much-needed crunch to this cheesy delight. I like to add a liberal amount of dried oregano, basil, and salt to my slices before eating them.

10. Indian pizza. Our friend Ben suspects that this will be the most exotic pizza you’ll ever try. But yow, it is good! So be brave and take the plunge if you like curry. (Otherwise, stick to the first nine.) Saute black mustardseed, whole cumin, whole fenugreek, just a pinch of cinnamon, salt, garam masala, and curry powder in butter. Add diced sweet onion (Vidalia, Walla Walla, or Candy type) and saute until clarified. Add minced button mushrooms and saute. Cook down until the mixture forms a thick filling. Coat a pizza crust with a thin layer of chutney (mango, peach, or your favorite). Top with the sauteed filling. Top this with a very thin layer of mint-coriander sauce, and then cover everything with thin slices of paneer (Indian cheese) or fresh mozzarella (bufalo mozzarella would work well for this).

And the bonus:

11. Extra cheese, onion, and black olive pizza. This is what I inevitably order when eating pizza out, dumping on oregano and salt when it arrives at the table. If you haven’t tried this particular combination, check it out!