In the Kitchen
The Pizza Chef: Janaury 2017
Jazzing up your vegetable toppings
By Diana Cline
Are your customers tired of the same old vegetable toppings on your menu? Maybe they are asking for something new or a variation of something old? Perhaps they’d like something with a bit more flavour?
Most pizzerias have the standard four vegetable toppings: onions, green peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms. I realize that, technically, tomatoes are a fruit, but I am including them in the vegetable category. Canadians have become more sophisticated with their palates and are ripe for some new offerings on their standard Friday night pizzas. If you want to keep your customers happy, you ought to expand your palate too. After all, just because you’ve never enjoyed artichoke hearts or spinach on a pizza before, that doesn’t mean you can’t start today. And remember, you don’t have to love it to carry it on your menu. If your customers enjoy it, that’s reason enough.
Asparagus and spinach are two of my favourite veggie toppings on pizzas; they pair nicely with pesto chicken or with capicolla ham and cheddar or feta cheeses. To use them on pizzas, try oven roasting the asparagus or simply blanching them. They bake up nicely in a pizza oven. If fresh options aren’t in season or are very costly due to a low harvest, then consider frozen options. When you choose frozen asparagus, spinach or broccoli, you don’t need to blanche them first: the freezing process breaks down just enough of the cellular structure to lend itself well to baking in the high temperature of a pizza oven.
Consider adding corn and black beans to your menu for a couple of months to see if there’s any interest in your market for something out of the ordinary. We featured a Mexican-style pizza with salsa instead of marinara as the sauce. We topped it with black beans, corn, black olives, jalapenos and diced tomatoes mixed with some oregano, basil and olive oil, and used a blend of Monterey Jack, medium cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. Consider bringing unique pizzas back on your menu for a couple of months every year.
Oven-roasted red peppers are one of our bestselling vegetable toppings; they pair up with just about every other topping: meat, vegetable and fruit, including pineapple.
If you don’t want to add to your inventory, you can always jazz up your existing vegetable toppings. Oven-roasted mushrooms are very different on a pizza from standard fresh mushrooms. You don’t need any extra equipment to cook them: just use a deep-dish pizza pan, throw in a portion of mushrooms (if you’re using fresh, as opposed to canned, mushrooms, add a little extra to allow for shrinkage), add a tablespoon of olive oil, some sea salt, minced garlic, dried basil and oregano, and bake them for about five minutes. Then put them on top of a pizza just as you would if they were fresh.
You can make a spicy version using the same process. Just add some of your favourite hot sauce instead of the olive oil and herbs, and voila: spicy, oven-roasted mushrooms combined with pepperoni and tomatoes are fabulous!
Speaking of tomatoes, there are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes you could choose to jazz up an ordinary vegetarian pizza! Roma, plum and cherry tomatoes bake up differently on pizzas than do the standard beefsteak tomatoes. And sundried tomatoes have a very different taste and texture than any of the fresh tomato varieties.
When you consider all the possibilities of vegetable toppings on pizzas and their relatively low cost compared to proteins, there are only advantages to featuring them on your menu.
Diana Cline is a two-time Canadian Pizza Magazine Chef of the Year champion, internationally recognized gourmet pizzaiolo, co-owner of Diana’s Gourmet Pizzeria in Winnipeg, Man., and a director for the CRFA from 2009-2013. In addition to creating award-winning recipes, Diana is also a consultant to other pizzeria owner/operators in menu development, creating systems to run a pizzeria on autopilot, along with marketing and positioning to help operators grow their business effectively and strategically. She is available for consulting on a limited basis. For more information contact her at Diana@dianasgourmetpizzeria.ca.