Innovating your pizza toppings

Key points

  • The expectation of today’s diners is for a well-constructed, flavoursome pizza that presents as well as it tastes
  • When layering your pizza topping, choose ingredients which complement each other not only in flavour but in appearance
  • Not everything needs to go on the pizza prior to cooking — post-oven garnishings can often add greater flavour depth
  • Establishing good relationships with local suppliers can help ensure ongoing consistency of your ingredients

AS WITH all cuisine styles, pizzamaking has evolved over the years and the popular pizzas of today are quite a contrast to those of the not so distant past.

Back in the days when Aussie diners primarily looked upon pizza as a late-night takeaway item or a value-for-money family meal, the focus was all about size — giving your customers the biggest, heaviest pizza overladen with toppings.

Today the focus for many pizzamakers is quite different. Whether you’re working in a neighborhood pizzeria, local pub or club, or upmarket Italian restaurant, it’s the taste and presentation of the pizzas that will keep your customers coming back. The smart foodservice operators have realised this and are building their pizzas accordingly.

The aim is to create a well-constructed, flavoursome offering that presents as well as it tastes. With this in mind, you need to build your pizza layer by layer, choosing topping ingredients which complement each other not only in taste but in appearance.

“If you look at how pizza is cut up, it’s like a cake — everyone gets a slice,” points out Club Perfect Ambassador and award-winning pizzamaker Theo Kalogeracos of Little Caesar’s Pizzeria in Perth.

“That means each piece needs to be made for that individual bite — each piece needs to look good as well as taste good.”

Choosing quality ingredients and produce can make all the difference. Rather than going down the pre-shredded ham route, foodservice operators wanting to offer their customers an upmarket or even gourmet pizza experience are increasingly choosing ingredients like quality smallgoods such as sopressas and salamis, along with roasted marinated vegetables topped with parmesan — the types of ingredients which have been long commonplace on pizzas in Italy.

You can also experiment with post-cooking garnishings — not every ingredient needs to go on the pizza at the beginning. Instead you can construct a quality base, add toppings, cook and then garnish when the pizza comes out of the oven.

Not only will quality ingredients make a difference — you also need to choose the right type for the application. A beautiful tomato base requires soft plump tomatoes with plenty of juice.

Similarly a quality cheese like Perfect Italiano Mozzarella is a must. Mozzarella is an indispensable ingredient in most pizzas because it performs such an important function — it holds all the toppings together.

“If you use a cheddar rather than a mozzarella, you’ll often see pools of oil on top,” points out Theo Kalogeracos. “What you need is a good mozzarella, which is lower in fat than cheddar, hence less oil. Perfect Italiano is the best on the market so that’s what I use.”

The beauty of mozzarella is the subtlety of its flavour, which ensures the other toppings aren’t overwhelmed and allows their individual flavours to stand out.

In choosing your pizza toppings, it’s great to experiment with new ingredients — but remember that while trends will come and go, the tried and true favourites will remain. Not so long ago figs and blue cheese were trending high on gourmet pizza menus, and before that rocket and other greens such as wild broccolini. But at the end of the day you need to offer the flavours and styles that the public want.

By establishing good relationships with your local suppliers — especially your butcher, grocer and local foodservice distributor — you can maintain your produce quality at a high standard. Sourcing specialty products such as olives, sundried tomatoes or special condiments can also set your pizzas apart from those of the competition.

Chutneys and relishes can also be folded into your pizza sauce to add an extra layer of flavour, or used as a post-cooking garnish just prior to serving. These products, with their multiple ingredients, can often be an easy way to add greater flavour complexity — use them in place of a standard tomato sugo base and you may be surprised at the difference they can make!

Check out these award-winning Aussie gourmet pizza creations:

Here are two pizzas which exemplify the creative use of toppings, layered to deliver complementary flavours and eyecatching presentation as well as terrific taste.

First up is a very rich and spicy Spanish Blood Sausage Pizza, served with pancetta, apple fennel and walnut salad and finished with a caper vinaigrette which is applied as a post-cooking garnish.

And what could be more Aussie than a Moreton Bay Bug Pizza with prawn bisque sauce, brandy, spinach and Perfect Italiano Mozzarella and Parmesan? The bugs themselves are poached in garlic butter and the final product features post-cooking garnish of avocado, parmesan wafers and a fresh drizzle of homemade lemon aioli just prior to serving.