Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner; Styling: Linda Hirst

Fill your pie with unbeatable flavor by cooking these 10 pizza toppings in advance.

Elizabeth Laseter
October 24, 2017

What's the secret to the perfect homemade pizza? Whether you swear by a pizza stone, cast iron skillet, or grill, everyone seems to have their own tried-and-true way of making this much-loved food. While we often debate the best way to cook our pizza dough, what about the individual toppings? If you add uncooked spinach and raw onions to your pizza before it hits the oven, chances are these ingredients won't cook properly. And since most of us don’t own a blazing hot wood-fired pizza oven, how can we ensure perfectly-cooked pizza toppings? 

The best way to avoid a pizza pitfall is pre-cooking your toppings. Here's how we look at it—treat each topping as a separate entity, making sure it’s cooked and seasoned properly before adding it to your pizza. Consider how each topping can enhance your pie, whether it’s adding texture, flavor, or even a pop of color. Keep in mind that raw chicken, ground meat, sausage, fish, shellfish, and pork should always be cooked ahead of time to prevent foodborne illness. On the other hand, some ingredients such as delicate, peppery arugula taste better when raw. To help you build the perfect pie, we’ve rounded up 10 of the best pizza toppings that you should always cook ahead of time, plus delicious recipes so you can show off your newly learned chops. 

Related: This Dressing Literally Makes Everything Taste Like Pizza

Onions

Photo: Jennifer Davick; Styling: Linda Hirst

Scatter thinly sliced raw onions over your pie and they’ll probably cook through, but you’ll be missing the chance for an easy pizza enhancer. Mellow the sharp, pungent bite of yellow onions by caramelizing, or slowly cooking them until softened and fragrant over low heat. Their deep brown color and intoxicating sweetness make a perfect match for nearly any other topping. For a smoky-sweet flavor, try charring your onions on the grill.

Get the Recipe: Caramelized Onion, Prosciutto, and Arugula Pizza

Bacon

Photo: Becky Luigart-Stayner; Styling: Linda Hirst

The key to perfectly crisp, crave worthy bacon is fully rendering its fat during cooking. While you can achieve this effect by sautéing it slowly over low heat, we recommend cooking bacon in the oven on wire racks over sheet trays. Once your bacon is mouthwatering and crispy, drain the grease on paper towels and let cool. Crumble the pieces over your uncooked pizza dough and proceed accordingly.

Get the Recipe: Grilled White Pizza with Bacon and Clams

Broccoli

Photo: Jennifer Davick; Styling: Linda Hirst

While raw broccoli florets will cook relatively quickly on pizza in a hot oven, some may be offput by their strong aroma. You can mellow broccoli’s natural bitterness by roasting the florets until crispy and tender. Toss with a simple combination of olive oil, salt, and pepper, or jazz it up with aromatics such as fresh garlic or lemon zest, then roast away.

Get the Recipe: Broccoli-Bacon Skillet Pizza

Spinach

Photo: Jennifer Davick; Styling: Linda Hirst

This leafy green is more delicate than it appears—topping your pizza with raw leaves before it hits the oven can lead to scorched, bitter leaves. Blanching or sautéing spinach helps it retain moisture when inside the oven. Cooked spinach can be soggy, so make sure to drain excess liquid with paper towels before piling it over your pizza.

Get the Recipe: Three Cheese-and-Spinach Pizza

Mushrooms

Photo: Kiyoshi Togashi; Styling: Sarah Smart

While raw mushrooms work well in salads, they’re less successful as a pizza topping. Whether you sauté, grill, or roast them, mushrooms lend rich flavor to just about any savory dish. To pack the most umami into your pie, cook a mix of mushrooms from hearty Portobellos and shiitakes to mild creminis. Thick sliced mushrooms are meaty and juicy, while finely diced mushrooms can be sautéed with shallots, thyme, and butter into a delicious spread called duxelles.

Get the Recipe: Cracker-Crust Mushroom Pizza

Bell Peppers

Whether green, yellow, or red, raw bell peppers can be quite polarizing—most either love them or can’t stand them one bit. Whether on pizza, salads, or sandwiches, raw bell peppers can overpower other ingredients. You can either roast whole peppers until soft, charred, and sweet, or pan sauté thin slices. On pizza, bell peppers can balance richer toppings such as crumbled sausage, caramelized onions, and roasted garlic. 

Cauliflower

Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas

Cauliflower shines brightest when it’s cooked to crispy, golden brown perfection in the oven or sauté pan. If roasting, start with a base of olive oil, salt, and pepper, add any additional flavorings, and let the oven work its magic. We recommend slicing a whole head of cauliflower into small florets to speed up the crisping process. On pizza, it helps balance more pungent toppings such as olives, capers, and anchovies.

Get the Recipe: Roasted Cauliflower with Anchovy Sauce

Butternut Squash

Photo: Randy Mayor; Styling: Lindsey Lower

Tap into this winter squash’s mildly sweet and nutty flavor by slicing it into small cubes and roasting until crisp-tender. You can also braise butternut squash in liquid such as chicken or vegetable stock until soft and fragrant. Cooking this squash from raw on pizza is generally a poor idea due to its hard inner flesh. For a twist, try topping your pizza with other winter squash varieties such as acorn squash and kabocha squash.

Get the Recipe: Butternut Squash Pizza with White Sauce, Spinach, and Goat Cheese

Eggplant

Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Claire Spollen

Undercooked eggplant is rubbery, bitter, and generally inedible, but cooking it just enough yields a creamy consistency and rich, meaty flavor. Because eggplant takes time to tenderize, it’s best to cook it fully before adding it to your pizza. Some recipes may call for broiling or grilling the slices while others call for sautéing diced eggplant.

Get the Recipe: Ratatouille Pizza

Brussels Sprouts

Photo: Jennifer Causey

While raw Brussels sprouts can be tough on tummies and veer on bitter, cooking them softens the hearty leaves and makes them easier to digest. Whether you’re using frozen or fresh, sautéed or roasted Brussels sprouts work wonders on pizza. You can also sauté the leaves and add to your pie as a crispy garnish.

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