Margherita Pizza with Fresh Basil Pesto

When girls get together for a 'girls night in,' there had better be plenty of good food and wine.  Since my baby sister, Kayla (as in Kayla Shoemake who is now a REALTOR with us at Norton) has two babies herself, we don't often get to have girl nights, in or out.  Her long-time friend, Kellie, joined us and photographed as I made my version of the margherita pizza one night last week.   The tomatoes and basil came straight from my back yard garden.  This pizza is living proof of the old adage that less is more.

First I made a basil pesto for the base of the pizza.  I pulled off about three cups of basil leaves (both sweet basil and cinnamon basil).  Speaking of which, cinnamon basil is a treat that your garden should not be without.  Its pungent, spicy flavor is perfect paired with tomatoes.   It's the perfect time in North Georgia to pull off all your basil leaves and make pesto!

I wish you could smell this....I pull off all the leaves form the stems.

I add the basil to the food processor bowl, salt, pepper to taste, about 4-5 whole garlic cloves, a handful of walnuts (you could also use pine nuts or whatever nuts you have), about 1/3 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese and then pulse, pulse, pulse.  About five times.  Then add a steady stream of good extra virgin olive oil, holding down the mix button as you pour.  

When it reaches a consistency about like this, taste it to see it's right.  Add some freshly squeezed lemon juice if you like.  About a tablespoon will do.  Just a side note, this delicious pesto served on fresh mozzarella slices makes a beautiful and tasty low-carb appetizer.

I buy the pre-made pizza dough at Kroger.  It's in the cooler near the deli area.  Bring it to room temperature, if possible.  Sprinkle the dough with a little flour to make it easier to work with, using your hands to roll it out or use a rolling pin.  Sprinkle your peel with corn meal to make it slide off well onto the pizza stone that's preheating in the oven.  Spoon the pesto onto your crust, and add some marinara if you'd like.  I like Dave's Gourmet Sauce; so I added a layer of that on top of the pesto.

Then add thin slices of fresh mozerrella and thinly sliced tomatoes.  I like using a combination of red and yellows.

I love freshly grated romano cheese.  Parmesan works too.  

The pizza should slide right off the peel onto your hot stone in the 500 degree oven.

After about 10 minutes, delicious perfection!!  Add a few basil leaves to garnish.

 RECIPE for Basil Pesto



Fresh basil leaves, about 3 cups 
Garlic cloves, whole, 4 or 5
Walnut pieces, 1/3 cup (or pine nuts)
Grated Romano cheese, 1/3 cup (or parmesan)
Sea salt, 1/4 teaspoon and pepper, to taste
Extra virgin olive oil, 1/3 cup, approximately
Juice of lemon, 1 tablespoon

Pulse all ingredients together (except olive oil and lemon juice) in food processor bowl, about 4-5 pulses until course blended.  Then pour steady stream of olive oil into the food processor bowl as it is blending until consistency reaches that of thick paste.  Add lemon juice and more salt if needed.  This will keep in the refrigerator for later use on appetizers such as fresh mozzarella.  I use it as the base for my margherita pizza.

 RECIPE for Margherita Pizza

Basil pesto (recipe above)
Pre-made pizza dough ball
Flour, about 2-3 tablespoons (for dusting over pizza)
Cornmeal, about 2-3 tablespoons (for dusting pizza peel)
Olive oil, 1 tablespoon 
Basil leaves (for garnish)
2 small tomatoes, sliced thin
Fresh mozzarella ball (8 oz)
Romano cheese, (or Parmesan) freshly grated, 1/3 cup plus 2-3 tablespoons for garnish
Marinara sauce (Dave's Gourmet or Rao's), 1/2 cup (optional)

Preheat oven and pizza stone to 500°.  Bring the pizza dough to room temperature, if possible.  Adding a little flour will make it easier to work with in flattening it out to your desired shape (either round or rustic) on the counter.   A rolling pin may help or you can pull it with your hands.  Add some corn meal to pizza peel so that it will slide right off into the oven and then transfer the pizza dough to the peel.  Add a layer of pesto, then marinara if desired.  Next add thinly sliced mozzarella slices and tomato slices. Top with freshly grated romano cheese.  Transfer from peel to hot stone in the oven.  Bake for approximately 10-12 minutes, or until center is melted and bubbling.  Serves 4-6.

Appetizer idea:  Brush the leftover mozzarella slices with pesto for a delicious appetizer.

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