In this recipe, I’ve jazzed up classic Italian sausage pizza with alternating swirls of pesto and red sauce, two different cheeses, and a chiffonade of either basil or baby spinach leaves. Feel free to use store-bought sauces to make it even easier!

Sausage has always been one of my favorite pizza toppings, and when I say sausage, I mean small meatball-size hunks of the Italian kind, not the pre-cooked slices (though those can be tasty, too). There’s just something about the texture and flavor balance—springy, meaty morsels, anise and dried herb seasonings, creamy cheese, tangy tomato sauce, crunchy-chewy crust, and yes, those pools of grease that form on top during baking.

In my version of the classic pizzeria pie, I emphasize the herbaceous undertones in Italian sausage with a base layer of both pesto and red sauce. (The swirl, pictured above, ensures that both sauces end up on every slice.) Then, I keep things simple: nothing but bite-size pieces of cooked sausage, diced fresh mozzarella, a sprinkle of finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a finishing garnish of baby spinach (or basil).

before bakingafter baking

You’ll get the tastiest results from freshly made cooked-down pizza sauce and bright-green pesto straight from the food processor. That being said, since you only need ⅓ cup of pesto and ½ cup of red sauce, this might be the time to reach for the jarred/canned stuff instead. I promise I’ll never judge!

Italian sausage pizza with pesto and marinara sauce

Italian Sausage Pizza FAQs

Can I use low-moisture mozzarella instead of fresh?

Sure! I like the fresh mozzarella because it’s less salty and not as greasy when baked. However, shredded low-moisture mozzarella would give you more of a classic pizzeria taste.

Do you recommend hot or mild Italian sausage for this recipe?

I like mild, but hot would be delicious, too. For reference, ½ pound of sausage is 2 to 3 links.

Is it important to make my own pesto and pizza sauce?

Nope. If you want to make your own, follow the links below in the recipe card. If you don’t want to make your own, choose the highest-quality options, though, since the flavors really shine on this pizza.

Do I really have to cook the sausage before putting it on the pizza?

Yes, you really do. Since your pizza will only bake for 10 minutes or less, it’s important to precook the raw meat to prevent undercooking and the risk of food-borne illness.

Italian sausage pizza with pesto and marinara sauce

Italian Sausage Pizza with Red Sauce and Pesto

This has everything you want in a classic Italian sausage pizza: swirls of red sauce and herbaceous pesto, creamy mozzarella cheese, a sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a garnish of fresh basil or spinach.

Prep Time15 minutes

Cook Time10 minutes

Total Time25 minutes

Course: Main Course

Cuisine: American, Italian, Mediterranean

Keyword: meat pizza, pesto, red sauce, sausage

Makes: 1 (12- to 14-inch) pizza

Cost: $10

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ pound Italian sausage (mild or hot), casings removed
  • 1 (14- to 16-ounce) ball pizza dough
  • ½ cup red pizza sauce, homemade or store-bought
  • cup green pesto sauce, homemade or store-bought
  • 4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, diced
  • ¼ cup finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 to 5 large basil or medium baby spinach leaves

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 500°F (if using a baking sheet) or as high as it will go (if using a baking stone/steel; place the stone in the top third or place the steel in the bottom third of the oven before you start preheating). Let the oven preheat for at least 30 minutes. Then, if you’re using a baking stone or steel, switch the oven to Broil on high.

  • Pinch the sausage into small pieces and put it on a plate near the stove. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot (it will slosh around the skillet when you lift the handle), add the sausage and cook, stirring frequently, just until all the pieces are no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Take the skillet off the heat and transfer the sausage to a paper towel–lined plate. Blot the top of the sausage with a few clean paper towels.

  • Stretch or roll out your dough to a 12- to 14-inch circle, then transfer it to a baking sheet / pizza pan or a lightly floured pizza peel (if using a baking stone/steel).

  • Prick the dough all over with a fork. Use a spoon to dollop and spread the red pizza sauce into a spiral shape (see photo above). Then, use another spoon to fill in the rest of the naked dough with pesto sauce, getting it all the way to the edges. Scatter the sausage evenly over top, followed by the diced mozzarella and shredded Parmigiano. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and few grinds of black pepper.

  • Transfer the pizza to the oven and bake until the crust is evenly browned on the bottom and the cheese has browned in spots—8 to 10 minutes on the baking sheet, 5 to 8 minutes on the baking stone/steel.

  • While the pizza bakes, stack the basil or baby spinach leaves, roll them lengthwise into a long, thin cigar shape, and slice them thinly to make little ribbons (chiffonade).

  • Take the pizza out of the oven and let it sit for a minute or two, then top with the basil or baby spinach ribbons; slice and serve.

Looking for more sausage pizzas? Try these next:





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