I don’t remember my first taste of pesto, but I know my husband is a longtime fan. Maybe it’s the Italian roots on his dad’s side (Valentine was Valentini just a few generations ago), but Danny was likely one of the only kids in his elementary school toting a lunch box filled with pasta coated in homemade pesto. His dad tells me he insisted on this for lunch just about every day. For the record, 9-year-old me was unwrapping a standard turkey sandwich on whole wheat.
The reason my husband is such a fan of this green sauce is because his father, Rich, has been making it for decades. He has packed countless jars with pesto made with basil from his backyard garden. At any time, there are several jars in their freezer at home in Iowa.
“Stuff lasts forever,” he tells me, in response to a photo I texted of my own batch of pesto. “Was used by Roman legions on war campaigns for that reason except you could smell them coming. Really.”
Ha, well, this pesto is super fragrant. And I can’t help eating it by the spoonful.
A classic pesto usually calls for basil, pine nuts, olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, garlic and salt. But you can make pesto with nearly any combination of greens and nuts.
I recently ordered and loved the bianca pizza at Noble Crust in St. Petersburg, which caught my eye because of its use of pistachio pesto. After weeks went by and I still couldn’t get that pizza out of my mind, I set out to make my own version.
To go with the fresh green sauce base, add fresh peas. A smattering of whole pistachios lets people know what they’re eating and adds crunch. The pizza that inspired me features fresh mozzarella and ricotta, which you can use here, but I decided to go for burrata—fresh mozzarella stuffed with cream.
We usually have a jar or two of Rich’s pesto around since my in-laws occasionally bring some when they visit Florida. Now with my own recipe for pesto and a humble basil plant growing in our back yard, my freezer may start to fill up with pesto, too. And on my next trip to the Midwest, I’ll have a couple of jars to give to Rich.
Pea and Prosciutto Pizza with Pistachio Pesto
This pesto pizza was inspired by a pizza I devoured one night at Noble Crust in St. Petersburg. With springtime in mind, I’ve added the classic combination of fresh peas and ham in the form of prosciutto. A little bit of mint in the pesto lightens it up and pairs well with the peas. Skeptical of peas on pizza? They just add great texture and a hint of sweetness. It looks pretty and tastes great, too.
Makes 1 cup pesto and 1 pizza.
For the pesto:
1/2 cup roasted unsalted and shelled pistachios
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (you could also use Parmigiano-Reggiano)
1 garlic clove
2 ounces fresh basil leaves
1 ounce fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
For the pizza:
1-pound ball pizza dough, at room temperature
1/2 cup pistachio pesto
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (you could also use Parmigiano-Reggiano)
1 ball fresh burrata cheese
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon roasted unsalted and shelled pistachios
1/2 cup fresh peas, blanched and drained
4 or 5 slices prosciutto, torn in halves or thirds
Heat oven to 500°F.
To make the pesto, chop garlic in a food processor. Add nuts and cheese and pulse to combine. Add herbs, salt, and lemon zest and pulse to combine. With food processor running, drizzle in olive oil and lemon juice to combine all ingredients. Taste pesto and adjust for seasoning, if necessary, or if it needs a bit more oil. Nobody wants dry pesto. If you want it to taste brighter, add another splash of lemon juice. Alternatively, you can make pesto using a mortar and pestle. This makes 1 cup of pesto, half of which will be used for pizza. Remaining 1/2 cup pesto can be stored in an airtight jar with lid in the fridge for about a week or frozen for a few months.
To make the pizza, lightly grease a large baking sheet with olive oil. Spread dough out to cover most or all of the oiled baking sheet so that it is flat and an even thickness, flipping dough once so both sides get coated with some of the oil. If pizza dough shrinks back, it may still be too cold. Let it sit for a few minutes to warm up and then try to stretch out the dough again.
Spread 1/2 cup pesto evenly over pizza, leaving a 1-inch perimeter around the edge of the dough for the crust. Sprinkle Pecorino evenly over pizza. Break up ball of burrata into bite-size pieces and spread pieces out over pizza. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle pistachios over pizza. Sprinkle peas evenly over pizza.
Place baking sheet with pizza on a center rack in the oven and bake for about 7 minutes, until edges just start to get golden. Remove baking sheet from oven quickly and arrange prosciutto slices over pizza. Cook another 1 to 3 minutes, until prosciutto is crisp and edges of pizza are golden brown. Remove pizza from oven and let cool a few minutes. Cut into eight rectangular slices and serve.