Basil is one of the quintessential pizza ingredients and it can look and taste absolutely amazing, but it doesn’t cook in the same way that other toppings do. You might be wondering, do you put basil on pizza before cooking or after?
If you want fresh basil leaves to remain bright green and vibrant, then you should put them onto your pizza after it has finished cooking. You can add fresh basil beforehand if you are cooking at very high heat, when it won’t have time to dry out. Dried basil, however, can be put on your pizza before baking without any issues.
Read ahead in this article to find out everything you need to know when it comes to putting basil on your pizza, so that you can be sure you’re getting the right taste, texture, and look every time.
What Happens When You Put Basil on Pizza Before Cooking?
Adding the toppings to your pizza is usually one of the easiest and most enjoyable parts of the whole process. Most of the time, you simply place all of your ingredients straight onto the dough at once, then put it all in the oven and wait for it to turn into the perfect meal.
When it comes to herbs, though, things are a little different.
Fresh leaves, like basil, will dry out and become brittle if they are baked for too long. This can actually intensify the basil flavor, overpowering all of your other ingredients. It also really changes the look of your final pizza. Dried basil is a dark, muddy brown color, and very wrinkled – losing that bright green freshness that it’s known for.
What’s the Difference Between Fresh Basil and Dried Basil?
Now, it is important to note that the type of basil you are cooking does change things quite a bit. Dried basil leaves (or any other dried herbs for that matter) have already been dehydrated, so they won’t lose their structure if they are left in the oven for a long time.
In fact, dried basil is more likely to gain a bit more moisture while it’s cooking rather than dry out further, if it’s sprinkled over a sauce before you start baking.
These two versions of the herb are not interchangeable, though. There are significant differences between dried and fresh basil, so make sure you know what you’re trying to accomplish before you choose one or the other! Let’s take a look at how these two versions of the same herb actually differ.
- Fresh, mellow flavor with hints of anise
- More aroma and oils
- Soft texture
- Bright, vivid green color
- Large, whole leaves
- Intense flavor, more similar to mint
- Less aromatic
- Brittle, crisp texture
- Dull, brownish color
- Small, crumbly flakes
Although they are both essentially the same ingredient, dried and fresh basil are surprisingly different in a lot of ways!
When Should You Use Fresh Basil vs Dried Basil?
Whether you’re using it as a topping for your pizza, or in another recipe entirely, basil is a delicious and versatile ingredient. With that being said, the two ways that you can buy this herb – dried and fresh – are best suited to different types of cooking.
If you’re going to be cooking over a longer period of time, then dried basil is the way to go. It is the best way to add flavor to sauces, for example, which is why it’s a nice addition to the tomato sauce on your pizza, if it’s going to be in the oven for a while.
If you’re looking for that raw basil flavor and bright green aesthetic, then fresh basil is the best choice. If you want to use fresh leaves, though, then you need to make sure they aren’t spending much time in the oven. Fresh basil works really well in salads or uncooked sauces, like pesto, and it is ideal for dropping onto your pizza when it’s already been baked.
Is It Traditional to Put Basil on Pizza?
Besides tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, there are few ingredients more famous as a pizza topping than basil leaves, but where did this idea come from? Is basil a traditional pizza ingredient?
Basil is one of the most traditional pizza toppings, and it is used all over Italy. In fact, it is one of the essential ingredients for perhaps the most traditional pizza of them all – Pizza Margherita. This green herb has been a staple of Italian pizza-making for over 250 years.
Pizza, as we know it today, was born in Naples in the late 18th century. Originally a cheap adaptation to traditional flatbreads, with little flavor on top besides garlic and salt, it was the introduction of tomatoes from the Americas, combined with cheese, that turned this dish into a delicacy.
Basil was the herb of choice, and one of the very few ingredients that were first used in creating pizza. Now, there are an almost infinite number of toppings that flavor our pizzas all over the world, but basil is one of the fundamentals that has lasted through the years.
What Kind of Pizza Can You Make With Basil?
If you’re looking to make a pizza with basil, then there are many different types that you could go for. From the more traditional Italian recipes to modern American classics, basil is a great choice for a huge variety of pizzas.
If you’re ever lucky enough to visit the birthplace of pizza in Naples, Italy, you will see Pizza Margherita on almost every menu. Neopolitan-style pizzas are an art form as much as a recipe. They are beautiful in their simplicity, and most pizzerias will only have a few variations on the menu.
Pizza Margherita is the most classic pizza of them all, topped with tomato, fresh sliced mozzarella, fresh basil, and extra-virgin olive oil. It is believed that the ingredients of the Pizza Margherita were in part chosen to represent the colors of the Italian flag – it doesn’t get more Italian than that!
A popular twist on the Margherita is the Pizza Caprese. It’s styled after the classic Caprese Salad, and it is only slightly different from a classic Margherita. To turn your pizza into a Caprese, you simply add a drizzle of balsamic reduction to finish it off.
This delicious pizza is based on the southern Italian specialty dish known as “parmigiana di melanzane”, which translates to “eggplant parmesan” in English. Pizza Parmigiana is topped with slices of fried eggplant and grated Grana Padano cheese, as well as tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil, and olive oil.
Translated into English, the classic Pizza Ortolana would be called the “greengrocer’s pizza”. The recipe includes zucchini and eggplant alongside tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil, and olive oil.
Despite its Italian roots, pizza is now also known as an American delicacy, and there are many different kinds of pizza that you will find across the US. One key difference, when it comes to basil, is that American-style pizzas often add dried herbs, like basil, to the tomato sauce before cooking.
Recap: Do You Put Basil on Pizza Before Cooking?
So, if you want to get the perfect look, flavor, and texture, do you put basil on pizza before cooking or after your pizza is done? Well, it depends on what kind of basil you are cooking with, and how you are cooking it, but it should usually be added afterward.
Fresh basil should almost always be placed onto your pizza once it has finished cooking, unless you are using a very hot wood-fired oven. If your pizza will be in the oven for any longer than two minutes, fresh basil will disintegrate and add an overly intense flavor to the rest of the ingredients.
On the other hand, if you want to add dried basil as a topping (or as part of your tomato sauce) then it is perfectly fine to put it onto the pizza before it goes in the oven.
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