It’s undeniable that pizza on its own is enough of an event. It’s the perfect meal — just ask anybody what their favorite food is and chances are, they’ll say it’s pizza. Stretchy cheese, plus all your favorite toppings and plenty of bread — nothing beats settling in with your favorite people and a fresh six-pack of beer and just taking down a whole pie.
But things get a little more complicated when dessert enters the fold. How do you know what dessert pairs with pizza? Something fruity? Something cheesy or chocolatey?
Yes, some people eat cheese for dessert or are satisfied with a glass of wine to wind down the night. Others say the only foods that go with pizza are wings or breadsticks, or, even better, more pizza. But if you’re already indulging in deep dish heaven or thin crust paradise, why not lean into deliciousness and finish off the meal with a bang?
Next time you’re on hosting duty for pizza night, impress your guests with a dessert spread that hits all the sweet spots. Here are some of our favorite pizza and dessert pairings.
Choosing the Right Dessert to Pair With Your Pizza
When it comes to desserts, your choice generally comes down to cravings, not so much what you’re missing from a nutritional point of view. Here’s a little more about the why — yes, there’s a why that extends beyond taste — of dessert and what to look for if you’re looking out for your friends’ digestive tracts — you know like any good friend.
Everyone has a different idea of what the best desserts are, as well as whether or not to eat them after indulging in pizza. The idea of “dessert” is actually to help you digest a meal, especially if you’ve ingested something heavy — think multi-course meals or a big helping of pasta.
Seasonality might also come into play. In the summer, people are more attracted to fruit flavors and lighter offerings like gelato, sorbet or frozen yogurt. On the flip side, fall and winter months bring in the desire to go a little more decadent as well as indulge in comforting flavors like pumpkin, apple, chocolate and cinnamon. Things that are more fatty or rich work better in colder months, too, though there are always some exceptions to the rule.
And, it all depends on what kind of toppings you’ve decided to adorn your pizzas with. Fresher ingredients like seasonal veggies work best with lighter fare — fruit tarts, sorbet or a bowl of balsamic-glazed berries. Meaty pies will better complement desserts like cannoli, chocolate or cheesecake — all of which have a heavier quality to them.
Don’t feel like you have to keep things in the firmly in the Italian sphere if you’re serving pizza. Pizzerias these days are serving up all kinds of “less authentic” offerings like barbecue chicken pizza or fusion pizzas. Desserts should enjoy that same flexibility and creative spirit, too.
Desserts made primarily from fruit come with high levels of digestive enzymes, which are proteins made up of strings of amino acids. Enzymes prompt a chemical reaction inside the body that speeds up the digestion process. So, if you’re overly stuffed after a meal, a fruity dessert might be the perfect way to stimulate digestion.
Here’s a breakdown of what you’ll get in a few different fruits, ones that can inform what dessert to serve with pizza:
- Pineapple: Pineapples feature an enzyme known as bromelain that is very similar to the acids found in your stomach. In addition to being a solid way to curb any cravings for the sweet stuff, pineapple is a really effective tool in speeding up the digestive process — you know, helping you make room for dessert.
- Kiwi: Kiwis are another great place to get digestive enzymes. One known as actinidin is especially beneficial. It helps digest proteins and fats — such as those you might find in pizza and its assortment of meaty toppings.
- Papaya: Another awesome resource for aiding in digestion are papayas. They work to soothe any internal inflammation, as well as relieve gas. The skin of a mature, green papaya contains an enzyme called papain, which is sometimes used to tenderize certain cuts of meat. It works to break down various meats, fats and fiber and takes some of the pressure off of the pancreas. So, if you can find papaya, it may be well worth adding to the dessert menu.
- Mango: Mangoes counteract acidity in the digestive system and alleviate discomfort. Mango sorbet or sliced mango after a meal will help cut through some of the fat and protein you’ve just eaten and help you avoid uncomfortable digestion.
- Banana: In desserts, bananas have a strong presence, yet a certain lightness that allows them to work alongside things like rum or chocolate as well as a mélange of tropical flavors. Additionally, bananas can help keep things moving after a big meal with their mild laxative effects and ability to neutralize the acids in the stomach.
As least some of your fellow diners likely want something small that will help them digest the food they’ve just eaten. While we like to think there’s always room for dessert, something with those enzymes mentioned above is going to be your best bet. Plus, flavors like lemon, pineapple or berry pair nicely with cheese. The enzymes cut through the higher fat content present in the cheese and provide that savory/sweet combo your taste buds can’t get enough of.
Here are some of our other favorite fruity options:
One of the best desserts for pizza, sorbet is both a refreshing dessert and a killer palate cleanser. After a hefty helping of pepperoni and all that extra cheese, nothing beats sorbet as the ultimate clean slate. Lemon boosts salivation and clears out the taste buds. If lemon isn’t your preferred flavor choice, try raspberry, blackberry or strawberry — whatever hits the spot.
Just Plain Fruit
Unpopular opinion? Maybe. But sometimes, all you need for dessert is the exact opposite of what you ate for dinner. A little cheesed out? Hit the fruit bowl. Too much meat? Get some berries on the case.
You could also dress up a scoop of vanilla ice cream with some berries and a hint of herbs or cut some watermelon and strawberries and enjoy with a warm cup of tea. While some people may scoff at the idea of eating fruit for dessert, plenty of people will appreciate the boost of freshness — along with an extra dose of antioxidants and vitamin C.
Classic Italian Desserts — A Winning Pizza Pairing Every Time
Honestly, when guests think of pizza, they’re probably thinking Italian — which, really, is never a mistake. If you’re serving pizza, a good place to start thinking about dessert is the Italian bakery. Classic Italian desserts include cannoli, tiramisu and gelato — perennial choices that provide the perfect ending to a perfect meal.
Without further ado, here are some of our favorite options when it comes to Italian desserts. We may be a little biased, as some of these picks are proudly featured on Giordano’s dessert menu — but it’s safe to say, there’s a good reason why:
Tiramisu is a creamy dessert, made from ladyfingers soaked in espresso topped with whipped cream and mascarpone cheese. This dreamy dish isn’t for those on the light and lean plan, but we think it makes the perfect way to wrap up a pizza dinner. You can serve it with a glass of dessert wine or a shot of espresso, too.
Sometimes, similarities attract. Why not finish off the evening with a nod toward pizza? Cannoli is a simple-seeming dessert with a tube-shaped construction of fried dough filled with ricotta cheese, plus chocolate and nuts. It’s kind of a dessert take on pizza — and of course, since this dessert is made with cheese, it’s a safe bet that it makes an excellent pizza pairing.
If you want a pizza pairing that always hits the mark, gelato is a pie’s best friend. The humble gelato shop has risen in profile over the past several years, and we’re not mad about it. Between the hundreds and hundreds of flavors and the decadent density of the dessert, there’s no better palate cleanser than gelato after you’ve scarfed down a meat-lover’s slice — or three.
Rather than serve up plain old ice cream, go all in on the Italian cuisine and serve the good stuff. Gelato is thicker and denser than regular ice cream due to the higher milk content and the lower proportion of fatty eggs and cream. This way more of the flavor — whether it’s espresso, raspberry or mint chocolate chip — shines through.
And hey, nothing beats a little stroll down to the gelato shop after a night of delicious, but heavy meal of pizza.
Piece of Cake — or Pie
After a cheese-laden serving of pizza, it’s time for something different. Having your cake and eating it too after a round of cheesy, meaty, veggie goodness can’t be wrong.
While chocolate may feel a little rich after such a big meal, we say go for it.
We’ve seen many a trendy dessert grace the dinner table and our social media feeds alike. But one thing that never goes out of fashion is the classic chocolate cake. Ours is served up with hot fudge and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, just as nature intended.
Things like a flourless chocolate cake drizzled with fudge or topped with berries is always a good choice. An option like this provides some contrast with just about any pizza, and the richness of the chocolate means a mini slice will take care of those chocolate cravings.
Cheesecake is another great option for those times you want that unique cheese meets sweet combination. It’s super decadent, but this dessert can really stand out in a sea of strong flavors from beers and buffalo wings to the main event.
If you’ve got pals over for Friday night pizza, whipping out a cheesecake is sure to delight the masses. Top it with strawberries or raspberries to freshen things up or add a drizzle of fudge for something more even more delightful.
Pizza pie and dessert pie sometimes just make sense. Be it fruit or cream, mousse or tart, keep the tasty crust and toppings — we mean fillings! — coming for dessert.
Pizza and Dessert Pairings — Drinks Edition
Many of the desserts we mentioned aren’t exactly the stuff that digestifs are made of. Topping cheese and bread off with more cheese and bread, plus a little sugar and chocolate, sounds kind of nuts.
But, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the more decadent dessert options even if you have had a generous portion of pizza. Our recommendation? Order up a bunch of desserts to share with the group — cannoli, brownies, cookies or even a few pieces of cake. You might also serve delicious drinks that’ll help all those big eaters make room for more.
Drinks — alcoholic and non — make a great addition to your line-up, especially as you enter the dessert part of the evening. Here are some drink options that’ll help you find the extra space in your stomach to enjoy the sweeter things in life:
There’s something to the Italian tradition of drinking coffee after a big meal. Coffee is known to boost your metabolism and keep the system flowing, so to speak. Additionally, coffee has the benefit of tasting amazing with, well, just about anything.
If coffee isn’t your thing, green or black tea can have a similar effect. The caffeine works to stimulate your metabolism, but tea is slightly less potent than its bean-based counterpart. Additionally, drinking herbal teas like ginger, mint or chamomile can help calm the digestive tract — no caffeine required.
Digestifs span a wide range of alcohols served after a meal to aid digestion. This includes beverages like fortified wines, such as port or sherry, as well as things like brandy, Kahlua, Jägermeister and a whole lot more. Digestifs tend to incorporate things like herbs and spices, a dose of sweetness or a hint of something bitter.
The key to picking the right digestifs lies in the flavor combinations of your desserts. If you’re serving cheesy desserts like cannoli or tiramisu, go for contrast with citrusy limoncello. You might also try complementing the nut and caramel flavors with a tawny port.
More Than Just Pizza — Order up Your Favorite Pie and a Little Something for Later
Did you know you can order pizza and desserts at the same time? Check out our menu and choose from a selection of Giordano’s Italian faves, arriving fresh alongside your favorite pie. And while we know you’ll be pretty darn stuffed after wolfing down a few pieces of Chicago deep dish, we also know there’s always room for dessert!