It seems like forever that pizza has been our favorite go-to, last-minute weeknight meal.
At the end of a hectic day, it's so easy to call a favorite pizzeria to order a pie for pick-up or delivery. But while there are a rash of delicious toppings to pick from, there are still many more combinations that are usually unavailable. Goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes? Ratatouille with smoked mozzarella? Yukon gold potato and rosemary? Those you'll have to make yourself.
With the variety of pizza bases available at the grocery store, you can save your creativity and effort for what goes on top. Many stores sell housemade pizza dough in their bakeries. You can also use refrigerated pizza doughs that come in tubes or buy prepared shells such those made by Boboli. Follow the directions on the packaging and then let your imagination run wild with the fixings.
(Note: We like a crispy crust so if you use the bready Boboli, toast it in a 350-degree oven for a few minutes before layering on the toppings and putting it back in.)
Short on ideas beyond pepperoni and black olive (not that there's anything wrong with that)? We've put together 25 ideas sure to turn your kitchen into a gourmet pizzeria. Or at least get dinner on the table fast. Bake the pizzas at the temperature and for the time stipulated on the packaging for the crust you are using.
Janet K. Keeler and Lennie Bennett , Times staff writers
1 Hot Sausage and Cremini Mushroom
Saute cremini mushrooms — baby portobellos — in extra-virgin olive oil until soft, about five minutes. Drain in a colander. In the same pan, brown hot bulk sausage until cooked through. Set aside. Spread pizza sauce on shell, layer on shredded mozzarella, then scatter mushrooms and sausage. Bake until cheese melts and crust is done. Sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves.
2 Caesar Salad
Brush the shell with extra-virgin olive oil and then layer with a mixture of shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. Bake until shell is crisp and cheese is melted. While baking, make a Caesar salad, without the croutons. Remove pizza from oven, cut in serving pieces and top each with a mound of the salad. A knife-and-fork pizza.
Spread shell with thin layers of ricotta and prepared pesto. Top with sliced tomatoes and a small sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. Bake.
Make ratatouille by heating ¼ cup of olive oil in a large skillet, then sauteing 1 diced eggplant for about 5 minutes. Add 2 sliced zucchini, 1 large diced onion and 1 large diced green pepper and saute for another 5 minutes. Add 1 cup of whole, drained tomatoes, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 bay leaf and 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves. Season with salt and pepper and simmer, uncovered, for 35 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Spread ratatouille over prepared shell and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese. Add shredded mozzarella for the last 5 minutes of cooking.
5 Goat Cheese and Sun-Dried Tomato
Combine 8 ounces each of goat cheese and shredded mozzarella in a bowl. Add 2 minced garlic cloves and a teaspoon of dried Italian seasoning blend, plus salt and pepper to taste. Spread over prepared pizza shell. Layer on whole, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes. Sprinkle with olive oil before baking.
Dot the pizza shell with feta cheese crumbles. Then layer on whole, drained tomatoes from a 14-ounce can, 1 sliced green pepper, pickled hot pepper rings (or slices), halved kalamata olives, plus a teaspoon on dried oregano. Sprinkle on 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
7 Middle Eastern
Top pie with sauteed ground lamb and onions. While meat mixture is cooking, simmer a 12-ounce can of tomato puree with a tablespoon of tomato paste, 2 tablespoons raisins and a pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg. Spread sauce on crust, top with meat mixture, sprinkle with pine nuts and bake.
Brush shell with olive oil, then top with tomato sauce and sliced smoked mozarella. Bake until crisp, remove from the oven and top with halved cooked meatballs (if using frozen, they should be thawed) and grated Asiago. Return to oven until heated through.
9 Simple Herb
Brush shell with olive oil and season with coarse salt and fresh chopped thyme and oregano. Bake until crisp, then brush with more olive oil.
10 Spicy Shrimp
Mix 1 cup of pizza sauce with 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning and spread over shell. Top with shredded manchego, asiago or Romano cheese. Bake until golden. While baking, saute diced scallions, green bell pepper, celery and small shrimp. For more heat, add red pepper flakes. Sprinkle over cooked pizza and serve.
11 Barbecued Chicken
Top a large, rectangle-shaped pizza with cooked shredded chicken that's been mixed with barbecue sauce. Layer on shredded cheddar cheese plus sliced scallions and pickled jalapeno slices. Bake until golden.
12 Brie, Ham and Figs
Bake the pizza shell. While still hot, spread generously with Brie, top with slivers of smoked ham and thinly sliced dried figs. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
13 Apple Cheddar
Brush shell with olive oil and season with coarse salt. Layer on a sliced apple — we like Red Delicious — and sprinkle on dried thyme leaves. Scatter 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese. Bake until golden, then brush with maple syrup. Optional but delicious, scatter with crumbled bacon.
Spread tomato sauce on shell then layer shredded mozzarella and diced pineapple, sliced ham, and red pepper flakes.
Bake the crust and while still hot, spread with softened cream cheese and sprinkle with drained and chopped marinated artichoke hearts and drained, diced roasted red pepper. Return to the oven to heat through.
16 Spinach Ricotta
Mix a small tub of ricotta cheese with grated Parmesan, salt and 2 minced garlic cloves. Spread over shell and dot with mounds of thawed, drained chopped spinach. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes.
Spread 1 cup Swiss cheese onto unbaked shell and bake halfway through if using raw dough. Remove from oven and add a cup each of sauerkraut and corned beef or pastrami. Continue baking, remove from oven and drizzle with Thousand Island dressing.
18 French Onion Soup
Thinly slice 2 large onions. Saute them in a skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat until lightly caramelized, about 15 minutes. Spread onto pizza crust, sprinkle with a teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme and top with 1 cup of Swiss or Gruyere cheese. Bake.
19 Pear, Prosciutto and Blue Cheese
Brush crust with olive oil and add a layer of thinly sliced pears (skin on). Bake and when almost done, sprinkle with crumbled blue cheese and chopped prosciutto.
Cover shell with thin layer of whole-milk ricotta and a light sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese. Add a thin layer of fresh baby spinach, making 4 wells (for large crust). Crack an egg into each well and add salt and pepper. Bake until egg is partly set but yolk is still soft to runny.
21 Butternut Squash
Ideally, you already have leftover butternut squash. If not, peel and cut a small one into 1-inch chunks, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in a 400 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Slice about ½ pound smoked mozzarella and arrange on shell. Add squash and fresh chopped kale (fibrous veins omitted). Bake until cheese is melted and kale is crispy.
22 Potato and Rosemary
Brush the shell with olive oil and then layer with thinly sliced Yukon gold potatoes. Season with coarse salt and scatter with finely chopped fresh rosemary. About a tablespoon should do it. Sprinkle with grated Romano cheese and bake. (This will need to bake at least 15 minutes to ensure that the potatoes are done. You can microwave whole potatoes for a few minutes on high to partially cook them.)
Spread jarred peanut sauce on shell. Cover with cooked, chopped chicken and sliced red and green peppers. Bake and sprinkle with thinly sliced scallions and chopped peanuts.
Top a 9-inch round pie with ½ cup crushed Italian plum tomatoes, dried oregano, salt, pepper and olive oil; bake until golden. Layer with ½ pound diced mozzarella. Bake until the cheese melts, then drizzle with olive oil. Scatter fresh basil leaves on top.
In 2 teaspoons vegetable oil, saute 2 sliced chicken breasts, ¼ cup chopped onions, 2 teaspoons curry powder (or to taste), salt and pepper until chicken is cooked through. If using raw dough, bake shell half-way, remove from oven, arrange chicken mixture and top with thin slices of fresh mozzarella. Continue baking until crust is done and cheese melted. Serve with bowls of toppings such as mango chutney, toasted unsweetened coconut, sliced almonds and chopped fresh cilantro.
Sources: Lennie Bennett, Janet K. Keeler, Food Network magazine, "The Pizza Book" by Evelyne Slomon (Times Books, 1984)