Pesto Pizza

updated Jun 11, 2024
Pesto Pizza Recipe
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overhead shot of a full pesto pizza, on parchment paper, topped with basil leaves.
Credit: Photo: Vicky Wasik; Food Stylist: Rachel Perlmutter

Basil pesto is one of the first things I started regularly making as a young cook, and it’s still one of my all-time favorites. Pairing it with pasta may be classic, but using it instead of classic pizza sauce is an excellent way to mix things up on pizza night.

The trick to getting the best pesto flavor out of this pizza is to double up on some of the pesto ingredients. Pesto is traditionally a raw sauce, tossed with hot pasta off of the stove top. The heat from pasta “cooks” the garlic and melts the cheese just enough to bring out its flavors without muting them. When you bake pesto pizza, you lose some of that brightness. Adding additional fresh pesto after cooking can make the pizza too oily. Instead, top the baked pizza with a sprinkling of fresh Parmesan, chopped fresh basil, and a little lemon zest to brighten everything. This is especially impactful if you’re using store-bought pesto.

Why You’ll Love It

  • You can keep things simple by using a store-bought pesto. Store-bought pesto can taste more muted than a homemade sauce. Adding fresh ingredients like chopped basil and lemon zest, brightens the sauce without having to start from scratch.
  • It’s extra cheesy. Three different cheeses each bring something different to the pizza party. Parmesan provides a salty bite, fresh mozzarella is stretchy and milky, and ricotta adds a cool creaminess.

Key Ingredients in Pesto Pizza

  • Pizza dough. Homemade pizza dough is easier to make than you might think, but you definitely don’t have to make it from scratch. Feel free to buy a pound of pizza dough from your grocery store or local pizza shop instead.
  • Basil pesto. Homemade pesto is delicious and a snap to put together, but it’s not necessary for this recipe. Any store-bought pesto you enjoy can be used here. 
  • Mozzarella cheese. Fresh mozzarella allows the pesto to shine, while providing milky contrast. If the cheese is packaged in water, be sure to pat it dry with paper towels.
  • Ricotta cheese. Dollops of ricotta provide little bites of creaminess without overwhelming the pizza. Opt for whole milk ricotta here.
  • Parmesan cheese. Parmesan provides a salty bite, both in the pesto and sprinkled on top.
  • Fresh basil. Fresh Italian basil and lemon zest are added after the pizza is baked to add bright, fresh flavor.
  • Pine nuts. Pine nuts both add crunch and amp up the pesto flavor.
Credit: Photo: Vicky Wasik; Food Stylist: Rachel Perlmutter

What to Serve with Pesto Pizza

Pesto Pizza Recipe

Upgrade pizza night with a tasty pesto base.

Prep time 25 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes to 24 minutes

Makes 2 (10-inch) pizzas

Serves 2 to 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 pound

    homemade or store-bought pizza dough, thawed if frozen

  • 8 ounces

    fresh mozzarella cheese

  • 2 teaspoons

    finely grated Parmesan cheese

  • 1

    medium lemon

  • 4

    large basil leaves

  • 1/2 cup

    store-bought or homemade basil pesto, divided

  • 6 tablespoons

    whole-milk ricotta cheese, divided

  • 2 teaspoons

    pine nuts, divided

Instructions

  1. Divide 1 pound pizza dough into two pieces. If the dough is cold, let sit at room temperature at least 2 hours before proceeding. The dough is ready when it does not bounce back when stretched.

  2. About 30 minutes before the dough is ready, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven. Place a baking stone or upside-down baking sheet on the rack. Heat the oven as high as it will go, at least 500°F. Meanwhile, tear 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese into bite-sized pieces. Finely grate until you have 2 teaspoons Parmesan cheese and 2 teaspoons lemon zest; place the cheese and zest a small bowl and stir to combine. Thinly slice 4 large basil leaves.

  3. Stretch and pull 1 piece of dough into a 10-inch round. Transfer to a well-floured pizza peel, upside-down baking sheet, or sheet of parchment paper. Dollop 1/4 cup of the pesto onto the dough and spread into an even layer, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Drop 3 tablespoons of the whole-milk ricotta cheese in quarter-sized dollops all over the pesto. Arrange half of the mozzarella around the ricotta. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the pine nuts.

  4. Slide the pizza onto the baking stone or baking sheet in the oven. Bake for 6 minutes. Rotate the pizza and bake until the cheese and crust are browned, 4 to 6 minutes more. Meanwhile, roll out the second piece of dough and assemble the second pizza.

  5. Transfer the first pizza onto a cutting board. Sprinkle with half of the Parmesan, lemon zest, and basil leaves. Repeat the same baking process with the second pizza.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.