Sweet and savory pairings tempt customers and balance your menu
When I was a kid, my pizza palate was rather unrefined. In fact, pepperoni was really the only topping I liked. I can still remember the first time I saw someone order a pizza with ham and pineapple on it. I was completely grossed out. Pineapple? Seriously?! How could that possibly be any good?
Then, after much coercion (strong word, really…it was more like gentle pleading), I finally mustered up the gumption to take a bite. Much to my suprise, I liked it. Really liked it. Though I was too young to understand the way the saltiness of the ham and the sweetness of the pineapple played off of one another in a way that provided depth and complexity, I sure knew I somehow, unbelievably, liked this unorthodox (to a kid) combination.
That experience somehow must have shaped my personal culinary pedigree. Because to this day when I cook I like to find a balance between savory and sweet. And I seek it out on restaurant menus. I can remember having wings once that were coated in a spicy raspberry-based sauce. Loved it. The restaurant owner told me he would soon be pulling the sauce because it didn’t sell. But I sure dug it.
When the correct or perfectly balanced amount of salty/spicy/savory and sweet come together on a pizza, I get excited. It’s not always easy to pull off. Not everyone has an understanding of ingredient combinations and which flavors may or may not work well together. And the wrong sauce can ruin it all. To be sure, if you don’t experiment you could wind up with a complete disaster. So let’s make this one very important point stick: experimentation is key. Document everything. Don’t just throw some ingredients together for a tasting. Write down exactly what you use and in what specific amounts. Tailor and refine until you love it. Then have your staff, family or friends try it out as well before putting it on your menu.
A couple of years ago I fell in love with figs. They are quite healthy and super delicious. I love them in a salad with walnuts and spinach or on a pizza with speck or soppressata along with ricotta, herbs and honey. For the photo you see above, our managing editor and foodstylist, Mandy Detwiler, simply brushed a pizza crust with olive oil and garlic and then topped it with prosciutto, basil and goat cheese. A sprinkling of crushed red pepper and a small drizzle of honey would finish this pizza off quite nicely.
Speaking of honey, the golden goodness is one of my go-to pizza finishes. In fact, one of my favorite pizzas features a red sauce with pepperoni or soppressata along with bacon, jalapeño, fresh mozzarella and a hearty drizzle of honey. You get it all: heat, salt, sweetness.
When you think of adding a sweet touch to your pizza, look beyond pineapple and get creative. Pears, peaches, mandarin oranges and apricot perserves, for example, can all be used on pizza to great effect. But since I’m such a fan of fig, I’m going to highlight a recipe here that was developed by my friend (and Pizza Today frequent contributor) John Gutekanst of Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio.
Remember, often times a little bit of sweetness goes a long way with many customers. You don’t want to overpower them with too much of a good thing. Experiment until you achieve the delicate balance your customers are looking for. Don’t forget to check the recipe section of PizzaToday.com. There you’ll find hundreds of recipes from appetizers to desserts and everything in between.
Jeremy White is editor-in-chief of Pizza Today.