As summer’s very first little juicy tomatoes and bright green leaves of basil burst onto the scene, chefs’ thoughts turn to fresh seasonal pizzas that make full use of all the garden has to offer. The best answer to “What goes on a summer pizza?” could pretty much be wandering out to the garden and asking: “Whaddaya got?
Take it from the top(pings)
At Texas Christian University (TCU), the Farmers Market Pizza changes daily, just as fast as summer produce comes in. “With the freshest seasonal ingredients from our local suppliers and freshly made dough, this colorful pizza has a burst of flavors in each bite,” says Sodexo Chef Michael Smith, culinary director at TCU. That bite includes roasted tomato sauce and mozzarella, and from there can feature spinach, broccolini, red onion, bell pepper, olives and more. “Right before serving, the crust is glazed with garlic butter.” Sounds garden-party perfect to us.
Growing your own vegetables—easier in summer for most regions—can also mean easing some of your supply-chain headaches. That’s been the case for Eileen Goos, Cura’s director of dining services for Presbyterian Communities of South Carolina at The Village at Summerville.
Goos works with the community’s director of life enrichment on a garden club project for residents. From the garden, the culinary team gets to top their pizzas with tomatoes, pesto and fresh herbs, including oregano, thyme and rosemary (all great on pizza). “We lost a little momentum during Covid, but things are now getting back on track with residents and they’re looking forward to the growing season,” Goos says, adding that a composting project for the garden club could be in the works. “And growing our own is beneficial now as we still have supply chain issues.”
At another Cura-run operation, The Lutheran Community at Telford, Pa., a brick pizza oven is the centerpiece of Founder’s Fare restaurant. Executive Chef Christopher Goggins got started celebrating the season in early spring with a margherita-goat cheese-asparagus pizza. The garden boxes the community receives from a local farmer a half mile away make summer pizzas really sing, Goggins says. “The fresh local ingredients, balance and combination of flavors make our margherita pizza a winner.” He also includes fun facts for the residents, such as “Why is it called margherita pizza?” (It was made to honor an Italian queen with the colors of the Italian flag: Red tomatoes, white mozzarella and green basil). The more you know!
And when using garden veggies as part of the ‘za, be sure to highlight that in marketing and/or the pizza’s name, as in the Veggie Harvest pizza at Zaza Stonefire Pizza, a restaurant in a local mall that’s run by Liberty University Dining by Sodexo. The harvest pizza is loaded up with roasted bell peppers, broccoli and mushrooms, seasoned with a signature herb blend.
Dunphy tops this cheesy, garlicky base with artichoke hearts, earthy shiitakes and salty prosciutto and pecorino-reggiano. The crowning touch is baby arugula that’s been tossed in truffle oil. A little goes a long way, but what a luxurious way to go!
And don’t forget summer’s stone fruits as a topping. At Chapman University, Sodexo Chef Bryan Liem tops scratch-made dough with garlic-chili oil, mozzarella, prosciutto and local nectarines. Out of the wood-fire oven, the summery pie is topped with local arugula, mint, burrata and a balsamic reduction.
Secret summer sauces
Sodexo Chef Tyra Campbell of Howard Community College has created a jerk chicken pizza she promises will “spice up and brighten up your summer.” Count us in! Her pie is topped with jerk-seasoned roasted chicken, pineapple (oh yes it belongs on pizza!), red onion and mozzarella.
But it’s the sauce that’s really got our attention: Easy to make, but totally unique, it’s made with three parts marinara, one part barbecue sauce plus cumin and paprika. Smoky, and perfect for setting off the tropical toppings.
Another cool sauce we came across is hyper local to one very specific parish in Louisiana. Sodexo Executive Chef Drue Vitter at Xavier University of Louisiana makes a few summer pizzas, including one topped with melty brie and grilled summer squash, red onions and oregano. His caprese pizza has an essential ingredient: St. Bernard Parish Creole tomatoes.
Traditionally, farmers in Louisiana’s St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes marketed their tomatoes as ‘Creole.’ According to these producers, the vine-ripening process along with rich alluvial soil (fine, fertile and formed near riverbeds) creates a flavor found nowhere else, not even other parts of the state.
And we simply cannot forget pesto as a sauce when it comes to summer pizzas. When chefs are faced with huge, overwhelming bunches of basil, it’s pesto to the rescue. The Morrison Health team at Charlotte’s Novant Health swaps out marinara for pesto with the pesto-sausage-mushroom pizza, a summer favorite.
And Chartwells K12 Chef Steven Dafronseca and his team at Barrington High School in Rhode Island use pesto as the sauce for student-favorite chicken-pesto flatbread, found at the Made to Melt station.
Photo: Chef Randall Holloman, Executive Chef at Trevecca Nazarene University, created Summer in Greece, featuring grilled eggplant, fire-roasted peppers, kalamata olives, sundried tomato, feta and pesto cream sauce.
At Duke University, world-class pizza maker Kyle Rosch has been making amazing pizzas at the Il Forno concept for a few years now , at Duke Dining’s crown jewel food hall, the Brodhead Center. His wood-fired pizzas are always in season, but his summery balsamic caprese pizza is one of his faves. With an herby extra virgin olive oil base, fresh mozzarella, balsamic-marinated chicken, bruschetta-style tomatoes, shaved parmesan and a tangle of fresh arugula tossed in lemon, “this is the perfect summertime treat,” Rosch says. “We combine a variety of flavors here that are familiar and join them together on a beautiful wood-fired pizza. This recipe pulls inspiration from appetizers like bruschetta crostini and caprese skewers. The fresh veggies are a must to bring out the most in this beautiful, delicious pizza.”
The dough for this an all the other pizzas at Il Forno, is made in house with a recipe kept under wraps. What we can tell you is that the dough is made with a cold fermentation method that Rosch says leads to a more flavorful crust “that our customers rave about.” He suggests changing up the caprese pizza by removing the chicken and adding zucchini or summer squash for a vegetarian version.
The Towson University Summer Pie with heirloom cherry tomatoes, charred zucchini, red onion, whipped basil ricotta, fresh mozzarella and a balsamic reduction is made extra-special by the dough. Chartwells Higher Ed Chef Muhammad Hussaini learned the art of bread baking in his home country of Afghanistan and brought that knowledge with him when he moved here almost 20 years ago. His baked goods are the stuff of legend at Towson, and he’s always tinkering with his pizza dough recipe. His tip if you’re in a hurry? Use more yeast and hotter water to speed up the rising process.