Illustration: Emi Tolibas

One of the best things about pizza is how easy it is to throw together if you’ve got the basics in your pantry. Don’t get me wrong—I love frozen pizza (shoutout to Home Run Inn!), but making fresh pizza with ingredients you already have in your cupboard tastes a lot better. Plus, it takes about the same amount of time, if not less, than a frozen pie.


Crust

As much as most of us obsess and argue about pizza toppings, the most important part of any pizza is its crust. We’ll aim for starches you might already have. Sure, you can get shelf-stable premade pizza crust (or the refrigerated stuff), but let’s be real—is that something most people just have laying around?


English Muffins

Photo: Dennis Lee

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Yes, the old standby. English muffins freeze well, and the added tang of sourdough makes for a good bite. Personally, I don’t like soggy English muffin pizza, so I toast the muffins slightly before I put sauce on them. Bagels work just fine too, though I’m not as much of a fan of the denseness.


Naan

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Naan is easily my favorite option. It’s yeasted, bready, and flat, ready to be topped for pizza. Since it’s thick and sturdy, you can be pretty generous with the sauce and cheese. I use frozen naan since it’ll store for a long time, but you can often get it at supermarkets near the bread section.


Pita

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Pita bread is a no-brainer. I like keeping pita bread on hand for sandwiches, or I’ll pan fry in olive oil and dip them into hummus (or anything really) for a snack. I made pita pizzas in college in my toaster oven and I thought I was Jacques Freakin’ Pepin. (I was disappointed when I found out that I am not, in fact, Jacques Freakin’ Pepin.) In this case, you’ll want the flat pocketless version—it’ll usually say on the bag. Like naan, it’s yeasted and leavened.


Matzo

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Matzo pizza is more of a snack than a meal, but if you like cracker-crust thin pizzas, give this a whirl. Keep in mind that the matzo will easily get soggy, so if you’re going to use sauce, employ as little as possible. One of my favorite things about this variation is that you can top it from edge to edge as long as you bake it on a cookie sheet.


Flour Tortilla

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I learned about the flour tortilla option from my pal Kenji over at Serious Eats, and if you’re craving a cracker-crust pizza, this is a fun way to go. Plus, if you’re feeling sassy, you can make a pizzadilla, which is some next-level shit.


Jimmy John’s (or French Bread)

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I wish I’d thought of this one, but day-old Jimmy John’s sandwich bread makes a killer French bread pizza. I got this recommendation from my friend Tabitha, who said, “We wanted pizza but were hella broke and found out Jimmy John’s sells their day-old bread for cheap. So we grabbed a couple loaves, pizza sauce, pepperoni, and a chunk of cheese to grate (you get way more cheese that way). We were instantly transported to our childhood school lunch room, only with more despair since our eyes were open to the horrors of adulthood and it was a necessity more than a treat.”


Sauce

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Jarred marinara is my favorite quick option, and it’s something you’d likely have at home for an easy pasta dinner. If you’ve got a can of plain crushed tomatoes, that’ll work great too. Doctor up the sauce with a pinch of dried oregano.

For those of you who prefer thicker, pastier sauce, you can simmer jarred sauce with a few tablespoons of tomato paste along with a sprinkling of extra sugar until it’s reduced.

That being said, sauce also isn’t necessary. Garlic, mozzarella, basil, and olive oil is just as delicious. Be free. The choice is yours.

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Cheese

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Pre-shredded mozzarella lasts forever, is versatile, and is something you can keep on hand for a long time. It’s certainly not as good as freshly shredded cheese, but let’s celebrate laziness. No, it doesn’t melt as well as the freshly shredded stuff off the block (there’s cellulose added to bagged cheese so the shreds don’t stick together), but we’re not really expecting restaurant-quality here.

That being said—you want to know a secret? String cheese makes an excellent cheese for pizza in a pinch. It’s about the right quantity for a single serving of small pizza. It’s nice and salty, it melts consistently, and it browns evenly in the oven. I don’t usually have string cheese around, but it’s a great (if not better) option. An added benefit is that it lasts a long time in the fridge.

If you’ve got a dry-aged cheese sitting around for some reason, like parmesan, romano, asiago, a sprinkle of that never hurts.

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Toppings

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I can’t stress this enough: Don’t overtop your pizza.

Let me type these words again, this time in bold and italics for double emphasis: Don’t overtop your pizza.

I get it, sometimes you crave a lot of toppings on your pizza, but if you’ve got anywhere near too much, your pizza is going to be a soggy mess. I stick to two toppings, max (though garlic doesn’t count). I always top my pizza with just enough to keep me coming back for more bites. And that way, your cheese caramelizes too.

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Baking

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The broiler is your friend—either in the toaster oven or the conventional one. Bake your pizzas in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit or until the cheese is melted and bubbling, then put the broiler on high and cook till the cheese caramelizes. This might take a little babysitting, but the broiling process will take you under 60 seconds, and it’s well worth the effort.