Over the years I have been making pizza at home, I have learned some things that now seem like common sense, but have taken me a while to realise.
Have your ingredients at room temperature. I start preparing my pizza toppings after I have prepared my dough and am waiting for it to rise. Some of my more faint hearted friends are appalled that I leave my ingredients out of refrigeration for as long as I do, but I have never had any harm come from it. I am sensible about it, and never leave food that should be refrigerated out for more than 2 hours.
I want everything to be at room temperature so that I can get it all heated up as quickly as possible once it has gone into the oven. I think that if I have gone to so much trouble to ensure that my dough and tray are heated prior to cooking that I don't want to lose that precious heat (and slow down the cooking process) by using cold ingredients.
Use more ingredients around the outer edge.
Pizzas with toppings spread around the edge look good. And this display has a purpose as well. The outer edge of your circle of dough will cook faster than the inner centre. The rise of the dough will appear to push your topping towards the centre anyway. And that leaves the centre of your dough to be cooked as quickly as the rest. No more soggy centres that let the topping drop off on the way to your plate.
Less is more.
How do you decide how much topping to put on your pizza? This is both a question of quantity of ingredients and number of ingredients.
I tend to restrict my number to four. But that varies with what base sauce I am using and what cheese I have chosen.
I have learned over the years that a pizza does not have to be dripping with topping to taste good. I would prefer that all the topping is cooked evenly and that the base has had a chance to cook through as well.
I tend to think that pizza is peasant food. A food type that developed using whatever was available to provide a healthy meal when there was little else around. Pizza makes use of produce that is abundant and preservable. I cant imagine an Italian Nonna using up all of her pantry supplies for pizza in February when she knows that she cannot restock until after Spring. The later in winter, the less the toppings would have been. I think the Nonna would have been happy to have more dough (bread like) to fill the empty bellies and use the toppings to take the blandness off the taste.
We don't have to be as austere as that, but I think we can learn lessons from that approach to make our home made pizzas the best available.
Cheese is not cheese
I can be a bit blinded by what I want to see sometimes when I am in the supermarket. I finally noticed, the other day, that next to the grated cheddar cheese that I (nearly) always use for my pizzas that they have a product called Pizza Cheese.
I have always shied away from Mozzarella, the usually recommended cheese for pizza because I find it a bit bland. I don't really like the stringy-ness of it when it is cooked. It was fun for a while, but I'm over that. I prefer the taste of cheddar and that is what I have always used.
This Pizza Cheese is awful. Now you will have to take that with the knowledge that I prefer Cheddar and so you can also assume that I like stronger tasting cheeses. I found that the cheese was bland. It melted and became stringy, but that was about the best that I could say about it.
I don't like waste, and while I know that my chooks would love it and turn it into eggs for me, I wasn't willing to give up straight away.
The next pizza saw the cheese mixed with Parmesan to give it some flavour. That worked. I also had some Ricotta left over from something and was looking for a way to extend the flavour of it as well. So the third pizza had a mixture of the three. There's enough for one more. I think I'll just mix it with my Cheddar and be done with it.
I sometimes use Feta and have, on occasions, used Goat's Cheese on my homemade pizzas. The thing that I find is that the cheese needs to have a 'serviceable' fat ontent for it to work on a home made pizza. I want the cheese to melt and run. It tastes good too. But there is another reason for it. Melted cheese holds the other toppings in place making the whole thing easier to handle in the long run.
Sauce is not sauce.
Most pizzas have a tomato based sauce on the crust. I have, variously, used tomato paste, pureed tomato, diced tomato and any of these in combination with herbs, garlic or chilli. It all depends on what is in season and what I have in my pantry.
I have also had some good successes with other sauces. Supermarkets are filled with sauces and spreads of summer Mediterranean vegetables and these can make excellent substitutes. Try Pesto or eggplant, or mushroom spread. You need to be aware of the fat content of the sauce and make adjustments to the quantity accordingly. You may need to change the toppings as well to accommodate the moisture content of the sauce. There is nothing worse than a pizza with a puddle of oil in the middle of it.
I have also made pizza without a sauce at all. My potato pizza is well known amongst my friends and has no underlying sauce. The overlapping potato slices and the cheese are what keeps the topping together and the secret ingredients under that layer provide the flavour.