Questions for cooks: Vegetables on pizza

Reader Serendipity submitted the following to Questions for cooks:

I love making homemade pizza, partly because it’s really yummy and partly because I can make it without tomato sauce, which I don’t much like. My favorite pizza toppings are mushrooms and bell peppers, but it seems like the water content of the vegetables makes the whole pizza a little soggy. I’ve tried putting the vegetables under the cheese, on top of the cheese, drying them off really well after washing them, and none of these things have really worked. Is there something else I should be doing to prevent the sogginess? Should they be cooked or something first? I’ve been putting them on raw.

I lightly cook almost all my non-cheese toppings before adding them to a pizza. The exception to this rule is olives, which don’t retain much water as a result of the salt curing process.

I even fry pepperoni before putting it on a pizza to expel a good portion of the grease that has no business swimming around on the top of my pie. I learned this pepperoni degreasing tip from the great Peter Reinhardt in his pizza cookbook American Pie. This simple tip transformed the pepperoni pizza experience for me since I had always found pepperoni pizza too greasy to enjoy.

Vegetables like mushrooms, peppers, and onions don’t have to be fried for very long, just long enough to get some of their water to evaporate. If you get all of the water out they can turn rubbery in the hot pizza oven, and no one enjoys rubbery vegetables on a pizza. To remove a little water, I put a frying pan on a burner and heat it to medium-high. Then, I toss my chopped and diced veggies into the pan. I’ll push them around, flip them over a few times, and cook them just a smidgen (less than a minute in a hot pan). After removing them from the heat, I pour them out onto a cooling rack until I’m ready to use them on the pizza. I prefer a cooling rack to a paper towel because the veggies can get soggy on a paper towel, defeating the whole purpose of cooking them beforehand.

When you bake your pizza, be sure to have a very hot oven (530ºF or greater) and use your convection fan if you have one. The air movement and the extremely high heat will help evaporate a little more water out of the vegetables and create a perfect crust.

Thank you, Serendipity, for submitting your question for our Questions for cooks column.

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