Post-bake herbs and greens give pizza wow factor, flavor
Basil, with its sweet, aromatic flavor, reigns supreme as the top fresh finishing ingredient. Baby basil is the go-to ingredient for Chris Decker at Metro Pizza in Las Vegas. But it’s not the only topping to take its dominate place post bake for the pizza champion. Don’t overlook other greens and herbs that may be exactly what a pizza needs.
Here are some categories and ingredients to finish your specialty pizzas:
- Lettuces. Arugula, Romaine, endive, radicchio, escarole, cress and cabbage are a few greens to experiment with in your kitchen. You can use a blend of salad greens on a white pie. Greens can even be tossed with lemon juice, balsamic or chili oil for an extra punch. Arugula is a post-bake favorite for many pizza makers with its crisp, lightly spicy, peppery flavor. It’s often paired with a salty pork pizza or a fresh vegetarian white pizza. “Arugula, I really like with soppressata or a nice runny egg,” Decker says.
- Herbs. Basil, cilantro, sage, fennel, oregano, thyme, rosemary, parsley, chives, dill and leeks can hit the senses when sprinkled atop a pizza before serving. A little goes a long way when using herbs. Remove leaves from stems. Use smaller leaves whole, like dill and fennel fronds. With larger leaves, try tearing, fine chop or chiffonade. Cilantro pairs perfectly with a Mexican, southwestern or barbecue pizza. Rosemary, chives or dill enhance a potato pizza. “Fennel fronds go great with this roasted cauliflower, fennel & pancetta pizza I do,” Decker says.
- Blossoms. Cucumber, zucchini, squash blossoms and even edible flowers add vibrant colors you typically don’t see featured on a pizza. A local eco farm near Las Vegas turned Decker on to cucumber blossoms. “They’re great and super fresh tasting,” Decker says, “bright, beautiful yellow bell shaped blossom that’s just packed with flavor. I love the pop of color it gives to a white base pizza. I slow simmer zucchini in heavy cream and use it as a base for my blossom pizza.” Blossoms can be grilled or roasted. They tend to be delicate, so take extra care when handling and storing.
Honey, I Shrunk the Greens
Micro greens are a trend that is catching on fast. Customers love them for their zip of flavor and nutritional value. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has studied the tiny powerhouses and found that the 25 varieties tested had vitamin levels up to five time greater, on average, than their mature counterpart.
“I have switched all my herbs to micro,” says Alexandra Hoffman, who is in process of moving Maxx Pizza Co. in Murrieta, California. “It adds color to the pizza, and the aroma that comes from them when topped on a hot pizza is great.
“The storage for micro greens are super easy,” Hoffman says. “They come all clean and packaged in a plastic container. Depending on the style of greens the sizes will vary. They need to stay cold so they don’t wilt. Depending on how fast you use them they can typically last up to two weeks.”
Decker also has featured micro greens like micro arugula and pea shoots. “Micro arugula is probably my favorite over the baby leaves or the wild,” Chris Decker says.
Remember: finish greens and herbs will be the first thing customers see on a pizza. “First and foremost, freshness is key,” Decker says. “No one wants to see wilted or dried out greens. Storage can be tricky, especially in the middle of the desert with no humidity and all this heat.”
There are a few other pro tips on using finishing greens and herbs. Be sure the greens are completely dry. There’s nothing worse than soggy greens on a pizza. Cut the pizza before you apply the greens to avoid half of them ending up on the cutter. Drizzle any finishing sauces over greens. Some operators even send the greens in a bag for delivery and to-go orders for customers to add when serving to ensure freshness.
To bring out the flavor of the herbs, you may want to use mild cheeses like mozzarella, provolone or Gruyere. You could even add fresh mozzarella or burrata to finish with your selected greens. Or, add bold contrasts like bleu cheese, Asiago or goat cheese.
Here are two recipes that feature finishing micro greens and herbs to get you started.
Get the Sausage and Herb Pizza Recipe:
Get the Micro Arugula and Portobello Pizza Recipe:
DENISE GREER is executive editor at Pizza Today.