Saturday, August 25

Tomato Pesto Pizza, My Favorite Basil Pesto Recipe, & The Simplest Tomato Salad

Tomatoes & Homemade Pesto Are
A Match Made In Summer Eating Heaven

Homemade basil pesto & tomato pizza (my easy dough recipe is here)

When we're young and naive and clueless in the kitchen, we naturally look to those who are older and more knowledgeable for guidance and advice. And like certain traumatic experiences on the childhood playground or the junior high school dance floor, some of what we're told ends up sticking with us for life.

Garlic salt is a waste of money because half of what you're paying for is plain old salt; buy pure garlic powder instead.

Bad water makes bad coffee.

Overripe bananas will always give you the best tasting banana bread.

And fresh tomatoes should never, ever be put on a pizza because they'll make it soggy.

To this day I wonder why anyone would purchase garlic salt instead of garlic powder or granulated garlic. When it comes to coffee, I'm borderline obsessive regarding every aspect of its preparation, and most people would probably run away screaming if they saw the scary black bananas I often use when baking.

But it took many years of deprivation before I realized that whole thing about not putting fresh tomatoes on pizza was positively flat out wrong.

A freshly picked, vine-ripened tomato from the garden is, for many people, the epitome of summer eating. For me, it's a tie between tomatoes and fresh basil pesto. When combined, these two symbols of summer become much more than the sum of their parts, and never more so than on a homemade pizza.

Like a hunk of old-fashioned devil's food cake, a salad of freshly picked lettuce, or a perfectly grilled steak, a pizza topped with basil pesto and big slices of orange tomatoes is one of the most beautiful things you'll ever see on a plate. And of course leftover pizza of any kind is one of life's truly great inventions.

For the 8-inch pizza pictured above, I spread a thick layer of pesto on the dough, covered it with slices of fresh mozzarella, added slices (not halves) of sweet, fat cherry tomatoes, then sprinkled on some coarsely grated pecorino romano.

For a second pizza, I completely covered the pesto with a layer of chopped Roma tomatoes and then added the cheese. I cooked them both at 500 degrees on a hot baking stone on the lowest rack of the oven until the crust was golden and the cheese was bubbly and starting to brown. You'll find my simple and straightforward pizza dough recipe here.

If your chopped tomatoes are really juicy, you can put them in a colander or strainer and let some of the water drain out before putting them on your pizza. I did this with the Romas as an experiment, but they were so meaty it didn't make much of a difference.

If you don't have the patience to make yourself a mid-summer pizza (or the desire to turn your kitchen into a blazing inferno in the process), the next best thing to do with your pesto and tomatoes is to combine them into a pie. I created this easy and popular Savory Tomato Pesto Pie recipe last summer, and it really is worth turning on the oven for.*

But if neither pizza nor pie are an option, toss a pile of chopped tomatoes with some pesto, stir in a can of garbanzo beans (rinse them first)**, sprinkle on some freshly grated parmesan or pecorino romano, and in less than two minutes you'll not only be digging into a scrumptious and healthy salad, but you'll also have saved yourself from simply gobbling up all of your precious homemade pesto with a spoon.

Basil has proven to be one of the few no-fail crops in my Missouri kitchen garden, and despite making and freezing enough pesto each summer to last me through the rest of the year, I still always end up with more basil than I can use.

This spring, however, I somehow forgot to start any basil seeds. I also forgot to order any. And then I forgot to plant the partial packets of old seeds I found after a frantic, late June search through my highly unorganized seed stash.

I've become so absentminded lately that I'm starting to wonder if my body has been taken over by a pod person who only lets my real mind out maybe once or twice a week.

Thanks to the generosity of a couple of fellow gardeners—including a city friend whose tiny garden I usually supply with seedlings—and an agonizing several minutes during which I eventually talked myself into plunking down four bucks for a potted basil plant at the supermarket, I now have a small but respectable patch of basil flourishing in the garden.

I made my first batch of pesto last week, and there's already enough basil for another one. A dozen kinds of ripe tomatoes cover every flat surface in the kitchen. Things are getting back to normal in my culinary universe.

So what's your favorite way to enjoy pesto and tomatoes? And what's the best—or worst—kitchen or cooking tip you've been given? I need to know if I've been missing out on anything else as good as fresh tomatoes on homemade pizza.

Update: This was the first year I grew purple basil, which makes fantastic, albeit slightly odd looking pesto. For other ideas for using purple basil, along with a super easy white bean pesto spread recipe, check out this post. And Farmgirl Fare readers offer up more wonderful ways to enjoy purple basil here.

At last! Beautiful basil in my kitchen garden.

Farmgirl Susan's Lower Fat, Full Flavor Basil Pesto
Basil pesto recipes abound, but this one is different than most: it calls for almonds and tomatoes, and a relatively small amount of olive oil. I love olive oil as much as the next person, but some pesto recipes call for 2 cups of basil and 1 cup of olive oil. They taste sublime (how could they not?), but personally I'd rather consume all those extra calories in a piece of pie, and my recipe lets you do just that.

The idea of using almonds came from a pesto recipe I found in The Sonoma Diet, a delicious cookbook for anyone who loves good food, even if you aren't trying to lose weight. I don't care for pine nuts, but I'd never thought to use almonds in pesto, and I was thrilled with the results. I like using roasted and salted almonds.

The tomatoes are my own addition. They give the pesto a subtle new flavor while thinning it out. I love the strong, salty taste (and lower price) of pecorino romano and always keep some around, but real parmigiano reggiano can of course be substituted.

Makes about 1½ cups

1/2 cup (about 2½ ounces) raw or roasted and salted whole almonds
4 ounces fresh basil leaves (about 4 cups packed, but it's best if you weigh it; I love my Oxo 11-pound digital scale)
3 to 6 large cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino romano cheese (or parmesan)
10 ounces fresh tomatoes (about 3 smallish) any kind, quartered
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more if desired

If using raw almonds, spread them on a baking sheet or piece of aluminum foil and place in a 350 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes; a toaster oven works great for this, especially in summer (I adore my Oster Toaster Convection Oven and use it daily all year round).

Process the almonds and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the basil, pecorino romano, tomatoes, and salt and process until thoroughly combined and the consistency you like. Alternatively, you can use a gigantic mortar and pestle if you're trying to build up your arm muscles.

With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil through the chute. Add more salt to taste if necessary and more olive oil if desired.
This pesto will keep several days in the fridge, or you can freeze it. Cover the top with a thin layer of olive oil to keep it from discoloring if that sort of thing bothers you.

*Last week I was surprised to discover that my Savory Tomato Pesto Pie post, which I had completely forgotten I'd begun by saying "Sometimes it's good to be alone in the kitchen," was published almost one year to the day before my recent review of Alone In The Kitchen With An Eggplant. By the way, have you divulged what you eat when you find yourself alone in the kitchen yet? The ever growing list we're compiling is truly fascinating. So do tell!

©, the pesto slathered foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares recipes, stories, and photos from her crazy country life on 240 remote Missouri acres.


  1. Oh my, the pizza looks just fantastic.

  2. Pesto is such a versatile sauce! Very useful and tasty. Your pizza looks wonderful!

  3. I like taking the same ingredients and making panini with them -- fresh tomatoes, oozing cheese, bright pesto. Yum!

  4. i can't wait to try the pesto with almonds......its a new one to me but you haven't steered me wrong yet! *grins*

  5. Pesto...I have long enjoyed your pesto pie recipe. And this summer, as opposed to last, we had a bumper crop of black tomatoes and little green striped ones. Mmm. My favorite is sublime--fresh basil leaves, small ones that haven't turned to anise-flavored; chopped tomatoes; fresh mozarella (the white soft stuff that comes in little balls). Toss. Serve with vinegar/oil.

    With pesto proper: take the same ingredients above, substituting pesto for fresh basil. Heat in a skillet with 1/2&1/2 for a make-do pesto cream sauce. Toast some pine nuts, toss it all together wtih spiral or other small shape pasta.

  6. i just love focaccia with plenty of pesto and dried tomatoes on top, nothing better! i could live on just that forever.

  7. Very nice! The pesto is a great ingredient. Prove it with a sun dry tomato under oil and chili pepper and an italian parmigiano reggiano flake on piece of bruschetta. Very good! Bye

  8. and she whispers: I've never made my own pesto. Yet. Must try. Soon.

  9. Ah, pesto - gotta have pasta with my pesto. Rotini with pesto, fresh peas, toasted pine nuts and sprinkled with feta cheese. Sooo satisfying! And EASY!

  10. We make pizza in the summer all the time - on the grill. I put roma tomatoes (seeded) through a food mill, let them drain, spread them on a partially baked pizza crust (bake lightly oiled pizza crust on grill for 5 minutes then oil top and flip) then top with grated mozzarella (we thought the fresh mozzarella gave off too much whey and made the pizza soggy) and proscuitto. Grill for an additional 7-8 minutes. MMMMMM.

  11. Your photo of fresh tomato and pesto pizza is fabulous. There really is nothing like fresh pesto...

  12. I have fresh basil growing, but not enough for your pesto recipe. It looks wonderful, though. (Mom, stop drooling on the keyboard!)

  13. Ohhhh, FG...this is SO scrumptious! Maybe I *can* bake bread after all if I start out with biscuits and pizza dough...hmmm...

    Love that pesto recipe, and I'm going to try it. I'll splurge on the pine nuts, as I like their flavor too much. Bravo for another fine post!

  14. ok - you asked for tomato recipes, and I keep getting rave reviews over this, even though it is unbelievably simple. 1 part vinegar, 3 parts oil, 2 T sugar, salt, pepper, fresh parsley, finely slivered red onion and tomato wedges. Let it sit for a while and make sure the sugar dissolves. Enjoy!

  15. Just wanted to add: hubby made your pizza tonight for dinner with homemade pesto & tomatoes from the garden. This is why August is allowed to exist, in my book.

  16. And I've never made my own because my husband doesn't like "that nasty green stuff" (?!) But he IS going on a business trip this week---mmmmmm......

  17. Tip for preserving homemade pesto - get a couple of ice cubes trays. Fill the cubes with pesto and freeze. Now when you need just a little pesto (like for making a pesto and cream pasta sauce), you just have to grab 1 or 2 cubes. I use a recipe that calls for chicken or veggie broth to cut down on the oil, but I think I'll try yours next. I have 1 cinnamon basil and 1 lemon basil this year.

  18. On my blog on June 9 I made pesto how we usually make it (very simple) and on July 11 I made a delicious sandwich using my pesto and your white bread recipe!

  19. Basil and tomatoes are the epitome of summer for me....

    Last year I made pesto to freeze, so we could enjoy it throughout the winter. I'm stocked up (I won't tell you how many lbs I put up), which is a good thing considering my source for fresh basil is gone, and I wasn't able to plant any of my own this year.

    We love to make homemade pizzas, and during the summer we often grill outside on the gas grill with a pizza stone. Wonderful!

    I guess I'm going to have to make a pizza this week!

  20. My favorite summer salad involves tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion:

    1 cucumber (partially peeled and cut in half, then sliced)
    1 cup of cherry tomatoes or a couple of plum or other tomatoes
    1/2 red onion cur into small cubes
    Feta cheese (optional)
    1 tablespoon of olive oil
    1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar (or you can use juice from ½ lime instead)
    Fresh parsley and/or basil
    Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

    Takes ten minutes to make and is delicious.

  21. I think it's time I tried your pizza dough recipe since Bubba keeps rearranging my cookbooks to put the pizza one in front. He's always up to something bizarre.

    Anyway, I thought I'd let you know that I finally added some meat to that Tomato Pesto Pie that I love long time and, not surprisingly I suppose, it came out AWESOME.

    Yes, chalk one up for Bubba, sometimes meat is the answer. Although, I reserve the right to like the regular meatfree version just as much. So there.

  22. I can't eat wheat (which makes your site almost a form of torture), but I made the pesto and fresh tomato pizza on the brown rice crust they sell at Whole Foods and WOW! Thatza Pizza Pie!

  23. Sigh, basil, tomatoes,summer, you captured it perfectly. I love your blog. I think I will have to come back often.

  24. I loved thi spost, that pesto sounds sooo yummy, and thanks for mythbusting the ripe tomatoes on pizza myth!

  25. Love pesto but have always made mine with pecans. Tried walnuts once but they become a bit bitter in the pesto.

  26. A while back at our local (and fabulous) Fayetteville (AR) Farmers Market a well-known chef in our area gave a great tip on taking care of the extra liquid in tomatoes:

    Slice the whole tomato once horizontally across the middle. If the tomato were a globe, you'd cut through the equator... Take each tomato half, hold over a bowl and SQUEEZE fairly hard. Presto! Seeds and liquid pops out, but tomato stays firm.

    This is great for those recipies when the tomato juice (or seeds) is not an asset. What a trick!

    I've found it incredibly helpful to get the SEEDS out of the heirloom tomatoes I'm collecting for next year.

    LOVE your blog.

    Leigh from
    A Larrapin Garden
    Arkansas Ozarks

  27. Great Blog! I have a feeling I'll be back often now that I've discovered it. PS I am from Missouri too :)

  28. The pizza looks wonderful...I need to try it before we are out of fresh tomatoes!

  29. Ahhhhh the infamous pesto!!!! Susan, this is unbelievably brilliant. Pine nuts are such a commitment to rich flavor, and the idea of almonds in pesto is a revelation! Why oh why didn't I ever think of that? I have some fresh basil paste I'm going to turn into your pesto now. Leftover pizza is the original pervert food - especially pizza as gorgeous as yours - and all I need is some potato chips and a few more pervert accoutrements to have a serious feast! I just linked to this recipe in my pizza post - so any readers who haven't seen it yet can have a chance read all about it.
    Hope you saw my response to your coca queries the other day? Let me know if I can help at all!

  30. I make pizza all summer long outside on the grill. Several years ago I got a pizza pan especially for the grill from King Arthur Flour (catalog) and have used it steadily ever since. Keeps the house from getting so hot, and in the summer you have all the fresh garden produce. My husband especially likes fresh banana peppers on his pizza. Your tomato/pesto creation is beautiful!!

  31. I made your pesto pizza last night and it tasted heavenly! Thanks for the recipe!

  32. So glad to have discovered your blog. I also posted about your pesto recipe (and another pesto-related recipe misadventure) at:
    Because pesto-themed posts are the new Bieber.


December 2015 update: Hi! For some reason I can't figure out, Blogger hasn't been letting me leave comments on my own blog (!) for the last several months, so I've been unable to respond to your comments and questions. My apologies for any inconvenience! You're always welcome to email me: farmgirlfare AT gmail DOT com.

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