Stress-Free Side Dishes for Your Next Pizza Night

(Image credit: Sarah E Crowder)

While in many ways pizza is the perfect social food, I’ve learned that it’s a good idea to have a strong plan in place when making it for a large group — a plan for not only the pizzas themselves (which always seem to take longer than I think!), but also a few appetizers to keep hunger at bay while pizzas cook and a few sides round out the meal.

Here is one of my favorite pizza-night menus. It takes pizzeria classics, like marinated olives and tiramisu, and gives them a bit of an update. There’s plenty to nibble before, during, and after the pizza is served — no one goes hungry on pizza night!

(Image credit: Sarah E Crowder)

My husband’s family has a handful of stories they tell and re-tell at gatherings. You know the kind — the recounted tales that get taller as the bottle of wine gets shorter. One of their anecdotes is about the night my partner and his brothers were in charge of dinner and decided to make pizzas for the whole family — a group of eight or more that particular night.

As dinnertime approached and little in the way of meal prep had been done, a small chorus warned they were running short on time. “It’s just pizza,” they assured everyone. “It takes very little time.” Well, I was there that evening, and swear we didn’t eat until 11 p.m.

And I’ve found that this is far from an isolated phenomenon when it comes to pizza parties. Pizza seem so easy and quick, but time and again I’ve witnessed — and occasionally been hostess to — pizza dinners that run far off the anticipated schedule.

This is my plan for an eight-person (plus kids) dinner, though everything can be scaled up or down depending on how big a party you’re throwing. These recipes can also be made almost entirely ahead, so you’re free to focus on the pizzas themselves at party time. If young children aren’t attending, I leave out the cookies and only make the tiramisu, or just do one or the other.

The Recipes

Your Party Plan

At least three days before your party:

  • Grocery shop.
  • Wash the arugula and parsley for the salad and toss to combine.
  • Chop the onion and bell pepper for the clams.

Two days before:

  • Bake cookies and make frosting.
  • Make the marinated olives.

One day before:

  • Make tiramisu.
  • Boil shrimp and make preserved lemon dressing for the salad.

Day of the party:

  • Prep and top clams and refrigerate on baking sheet until ready to broil.
  • Pull the olives from the fridge and let them warm.

Just before guests arrive:

  • Set the olives out in bowls.
  • Toss the salad and set aside until meal time.
  • Pull the tiramisu from the fridge and let it come to room temperature during the party.
  • Pull the frosting for the fruit pizzas from the fridge and let it come to room temperature during the party.
  • Broil the clams and serve warm as guests arrive.
(Image credit: Sarah E Crowder)

Your Shopping List

Buy at the store:

  • Mixed fruit (like bananas, berries, kiwi fruit, or grapes — enough to make several cups when sliced — for the dessert pizzas)
  • Orange (1 small)
  • Lemon (2 large)
  • Garlic (2 cloves)
  • Red bell pepper (1)
  • Yellow onion (1)
  • Arugula (8 cups packed)
  • Parsley (1/2 cup loosely packed, plus extra for garnishing)
  • Basil (1/2 cup loosely packed)
  • Whole or 2% milk (3 tablespoons)
  • Large eggs (7)
  • Mascarpone (24 ounces)
  • Cream cheese (8 ounces)
  • Butter (12 tablespoons)
  • Bacon (12 ounces)
  • Raw shrimp (2 pounds)
  • Frozen top neck clams (about 3 pounds large clams)
  • Preserved lemon (1 small)
  • Mixed olives (1 heaping cup, or 1/2 pound)
  • Salted roasted peanuts (1 cup)
  • Bread crumbs (1 cup)
  • Ladyfinger cookies (10 1/2 ounces)
  • Vanilla bean (1)
  • Coffee beans to make espresso, or instant coffee
  • Coffee-flavored liqueur (6 tablespoons)

In your pantry (double check that you have enough):

  • Extra-virgin olive oil (1 cup)
  • All-purpose flour (2 cups)
  • Baking powder (1 teaspoon)
  • Salt (1/4 teaspoon, plus more for seasoning)
  • Sugar (1 cup + 5 tablespoons)
  • Powdered sugar (1/2 cup)
  • Honey (1 tablespoon)
  • Vanilla extract (2 teaspoons)