A pizza topped with various vegetables can be a dream for those who don’t want to eat meat but can be challenging to make at home. Non-traditional toppings such as cauliflower and asparagus require more preparation than onions or green peppers because of their unique textures. If they aren’t prepared the right way before baking, the finished product will be some charred veggie chunks sitting atop a soggy, mushy mess. Follow these steps for using unconventional vegetables so that the pizza cooks properly and looks great.

1. Remove Excess Moisture First
One problematic feature of vegetables is how much water they contain, which can quickly make a pizza soggy and unappetizing. When the top of a pizza is watery, and the dough in the center is uncooked, it’s usually because the toppings contained too much moisture. The oven heat releases the water, which pools in the center or the pizza, soaks into the dough, and keeps the crust from baking completely.
Soft vegetables like eggplant, artichokes, and mushrooms should be cooked or heated before they are used. Eggplant retains and attracts water like almost no other vegetable. Hence, it needs to be salted and drained before anything can be done with it. Once it’s dry, the best way to make it ready for pizza is to grill it or roast it. This ensures that it is cooked through and the water is drained away. Grilling and roasting also add another layer of flavor to this bland vegetable and stand up to the oven’s heat without soaking the pizza crust or making it too watery. Mushrooms can be microwaved or sautéed for a few minutes for the same effect.

2. Soften the Hard Vegetables
Harder vegetables like cauliflower, asparagus, and broccoli have a lower moisture content. Instead of softening in the oven’s heat, they tend to dry and burn before the crust cooks. Hard vegetables should be cut into small pieces and blanched or steamed lightly to soften them. Drain them well and let them dry before baking them. It’s essential to get them soft enough to bite into easily, but not so soft that they collapse or lose their shape. Otherwise, the pizza will be covered with charred, half-cooked – or overcooked – veggies, and won’t be very attractive.

3. Assemble the Pizza
Cut the vegetable toppings into similarly sized pieces so they will cook evenly. Uneven cooking times can result in a mixture of burnt and undercooked vegetables. Sprinkle cornmeal or semolina on the pan to keep the crust from sticking. Top the crust with sauce, add your cheese of choice, and place your vegetables on the pizza in a single layer. Bake the pizza according to your dough recipe and check it frequently to ensure the vegetables don’t burn.

Using unconventional vegetables can ruin the top of a pizza if they go onto it too wet or too dry. Try these vegetable preparation tips the next time you experiment with different vegetables. It may take a few tries to find the vegetables’ ideal moisture content, but once you do, you can avoid the mess of a soggy center and burnt toppings.