Turn the tables on traditional pizza by serving up healthier homemade pizza combinations seasoned with a delicious array of antioxidant-rich herbs. That’s how the ancient Greeks made their pizza; by topping their flatbreads with olive oil and tasty native herbs and spices.
Pizza took a culinary quantum leap in the late 1800s with the introduction of “pizza margherita,” a creative concoction of tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil. Today’s takeout and store-bought pizzas continue to feature herbs in pizza sauce and as a shaker mix for seasoning pizzas. Throughout the years, the constant for great pizza is timeless herbs.
By using herbs on pizza, you can highlight or complement the flavor of seasonal vegetables and other toppings. Think outside the pizza box—think beyond your basic mozzarella, tomato-based pizza sauce and artery-clogging pepperoni.
Make Fast Pizza Dough
Pizza Topping Combinations
• Broccoli & Summer Squash Pizza
• Pesto Pizza with Tomato & Eggplant
• Vegetarian Greek Pizza
• Asparagus & Crab Pizza with Dill-Chervil Sauce
• Chicken & Spinach Pizza with Fresh Basil & Thyme
• Hawaiian Delight Pizza with Caramelized Onions
• Herb-Crusted Pork & Cabbage Pizza
• Peach Pizza with Blueberry Sauce
How To Make Homemade Pizza Dough
Any pizza worth making begins with a great crust. A prepared crust will do fine in a pinch. But you can easily take pizza to a tasty new level by making your own dough.
Homemade dough gives you the option of making it whole-grain or adding in a few mixed herbs—such as basil, oregano and rosemary—for a tasty alternative.
The thickness of the crust depends on the amount of dough and how much you stretch or roll out the dough. Keep these other tips in mind when making pizza dough:
• Use unbleached flour rather than all-purpose flour. The higher gluten content makes for a crispier, more authentic crust.
• Don’t over-knead the dough. Doing so can overdevelop the gluten and result in a tougher crust.
• Keep dough slightly moist when kneading. Adding too much flour during this process can result in a heavy, chewy crust.
• A good pizza dough should always be smooth and elastic. That said, always roll out dough slightly larger than the pan to allow for the slight shrinkage that will occur before you put your dough in the pan.
• No need to roll out dough when making a deep-dish pizza. Simply brush the pan with olive oil and press your homemade dough into place.
• Prebake a deep-dish pizza crust before adding toppings. Just bake in a 450-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until dough puffs and begins to color, remove, and then add your sauce, cheese, and toppings.
• Forget the cookie sheet and buy a pizza screen or pizza stone instead. Both absorb moisture as the pizza is baking, resulting in a crisper bottom crust.
Experiment with Herbal Pizza Sauces
Sure, a tomato-based sauce always makes for a great-tasting pizza, but why stop there? There are many different types of sauces you can use, such as enchilada or tomatillo sauce, fresh salsa, alfredo sauce infused with tarragon, garlic-rich hummus, curry sauce, chutney, or even pesto sauce made with tomatoes, artichokes, or arugula. Go sauceless instead and create your own seasoned oil by mixing your favorite herb or herb blend with extra virgin olive oil. Add balsamic vinegar to the seasoned oil for even more pizzazz.
As for cheese, mozzarella may be the standard, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try other cheeses or create your own gourmet pizza blend, such as two parts mozzarella, two parts monterey jack and one part provolone. Whether used alone or in tasty combinations, other cheese options to consider include blue cheese, cheddar (white cheddar is a personal favorite), cream cheese, goat, gorgonzola, gruyére, fontina, feta, Parmesan and Swiss. The key is to choose a cheese that complements the topping ingredients.
Pizza Topping Ideas
There’s more to topping off a pizza than pepperoni, olives and peppers. Just about any vegetable, fruit, fresh herb or nut can be used. Whether using fresh herbs or dried, a rule of thumb is that one teaspoon of dried herbs is equal to one tablespoon of fresh herbs.
Roasting your veggies or caramelizing onions and other veggies on the stove before topping off the pizza often lends more flavor. As for moist toppings—such as sautéed spinach, olives, canned artichoke hearts or crushed pineapple—be sure to drain any liquids before putting the topping on the pizza. For a great finish, keep these other tips in mind:
• Always construct your pizza in the following order: crust, sauce, cheese, toppings. Feta and gorgonzola cheese are the exception and should follow the toppings.
• Cooking temperatures and times will vary depending on the pizza dough, toppings and depth of the pizza. A general guideline is 10 to 20 minutes in a 450- or 475-degree oven.
• Cool a hot-from-the-oven pizza on a wire rack for several minutes before cutting with a pizza wheel.
Consider these Food and Herb Combinations
BROCCOLI: basil, dill, lemon verbena, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
CABBAGE: basil, caraway, dill, fennel, marjoram, sage, savory, thyme
CARROTS: basil, chives, dill, marjoram, mint, parsley, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme
CORN: basil, chervil, chives, lemon verbena, parsley, sage, thyme
EGGPLANT: basil, dill, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, savory, thyme
GREEN BEANS: basil, chives, dill, parsley, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme
FRUIT: cinnamon basil, lemon balm, lemon basil, lemon thyme, lemon verbena, mint, rosemary
POTATO: just about any herb
SPINACH: basil, caraway, chives, dill, lemon verbena, rosemary, thyme
SUMMER SQUASH/ZUCCHINI: basil, chives, dill, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory
TOMATOES: just about any herb that comes to mind, but especially basil, chives, dill, oregano, parsley, rosemary, savory, thyme
Try These Pizza Products
Gluten-Free: Gluten-Free Pizza Crust Mix by Bob’s Red Mill, $4.22. www.bobsredmill.com
Herbal: Tomato Basil organic pasta sauce by Organicville, $4.99. www.organicvillefoods.com
Organic: Naturally White Unbleached Flour by Hodgson Mill, $4.57. www.hodgsonmill.com
Whole Wheat: Whole Wheat Flour by King Arthur Flour, $4.99. www.kingarthurflour.com
Pre-Made: Pesto pizza by Amy’s Kitchen, $7.99. www.amyskitchen.com
Kris Wetherbee is a contributing editor who wrangles her herb garden in western Oregon.