Pizza Lab #9: Three-Cheese Pesto Grilled Pizza
Pizza Lab is a fun theoretical column in which Meg A. and Erik S. explore their innermost passion for baking and eating pizzas. It exists purely for the sake of experimenting in the kitchen. It may not necessarily be cost-effective everytime, so don’t try this at home kids.
I’m a big fan of Autumn, most of my friends know this. I recently went on about this in my pumpkin spice article. Despite this, September always was a bittersweet month, since Summer is still my favorite time of year no matter what. Halloween and pumpkins are nice, but IMO it’s not quite worth the loss of wearing nothing but t-shirts and driving with the windows down. So before the end of Summer, Meg and I wanted to do one last grilled pizza before temperatures dropped back into the 50s and 60s, making grilling your foods inappropriate and silly (unless of course you live in the south where it’s probably state-law to never go more than a month without igniting your barbecue). We grow lots of basil every summer, and thus make a lot of pesto each year. This combined with the fact that our last grilled pizza almost resembled a panino sandwich in texture made us realize we absolutely needed to make some sort of Tuscan pesto chicken panini inspired pizza. And while this was one of the more tame ideas for a Pizza Lab, it ended up being delicious to the point of borderline sexy.
Three-Cheese Pesto Grilled Pizza
Erik S. So this pizza was pretty okay I guess.
Meg A. Just okay?
Erik S. Sorry, that was a typo… So this pizza was OH MY GOD IT WAS SO OH MY GOD.
Meg A. Haha, that’s better. This pizza was indeed pretty magical. But we knew it was gonna be awesome from the beginning.
Erik S. Magical is a good way to describe it. Only pure magic could have produced such euphoria.
Meg A. Yeah, in our heads (and our noses) we had a pretty good inkling it was gonna be a sheer delight. It’s also probably the most decadent pizza we’ve made yet
Erik S. It’s interesting too considering it’s one of the least outlandish ones we’ve made too.
Meg A. True. It’s the most traditional-ish.
Erik S. Hm. Looking back at the photos is taking me back. Oh man… We need to relive that pizza some day. I’m feeling feelings.
Meg A. Do you need a minute? Don’t forget to lock your door…
While many of Pizza Lab’s experiments tend to be somewhat out there, considering we’ve made pizzas out of strawberry shortcake and gyros, this time around we were leaning more towards normalcy. The original idea came from the central theme of pesto. For anyone not familiar with pesto, and thus whom should never show their face in public again, it’s basically a slimy green sauce made from grinding up some of the most pungent-smelling foods on the planet. Also it’s freaking delicious, contrary to what that sentence lets on. To be more detailed, pesto is made of pureed basil leaves, garlic, aged cheese, and pine nuts. It has a unique, intense flavor that makes everything taste good, be it pasta or meats. And yes, it’s kind of smelly too, based on its constituent ingredients, but oh-so delicious. Naturally, Meg and I both decided if we were going to make a pesto-based pizza, it was going to need to be drowning in pesto.
With a ridiculous base of pesto, we moved onto the next step of toppings. It was agreed upon from the start that since this pizza wouldn’t be explicitly weird at first glance, it would instead be a bit crazier due to really taking things to extremes, in terms of decadence and toppings. We wanted fresh everything, used in excess, to promote extravagance. The toppings weren’t going to be particularly strange, but the proportions would be.
As mentioned, the pizza took inspiration from panino sandwiches, due to our last grilled pizza’s crust resembling them. High heat has a tendency to sort of caramelize/crystallize the starchy dough into a fairly hard surface, which would explain how grilled pizzas turn out like this in the first place. As such the obligatory chicken would be required, plus tomatoes obviously. Cheese and garlic would enter the equation themselves too, but that’s for later.
Erik S. I think because the pizza was less weird in concept than other Pizza Labs, that was sorta the theme we had going on this time. Not necessarily “out there” because of its nature, but moreso because of the hedonistic nature of the ingredient amounts.
Meg A. True. It wasn’t so much, “what weird stuff can we put on this pizza” but “how much delicious stuff can we cram into this pizza.” Another note was that every ingredient was fresh. We picked up fresh cheese from the deli, bought fresh garlic, grilled fresh chicken, and sliced fresh tomatoes from our garden, and the pesto was made with fresh basil from the garden as well.
Erik S. Also I think the Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire might’ve been playing.
Meg A. It’s a good thing we grilled this pizza, because the weight of all the ingredients we added really needed a nice sturdy base. If we’d cooked it regularly I think it would have ended up in disaster.
Erik S. Right. We originally decided to grill it out of inspiration from our last grilled pizza. The crisp, toasted bottom resembled a panino, so we wanted to do something similar in style to take advantage of it.
Meg A. Unfortunately we ran into the same problem as with the last grilled pizza, in that we started it too late and needed a flashlight to cook it on the grill.
Erik S. Yeahhh, though that wasn’t the pizza’s fault. We wasted a lot of time eating the garlic and cheese on their own, and generally fantasizing the whole time.
Despite everything about this pizza being over the top, the chicken was actually pretty simplistic. Considering it was getting buried in delicious toppings, there wasn’t much urgency to create something special. Instead it was grilled with simple Tuscan seasoning, to give it a little flavor without being too involved. Tuscan spice isn’t anything specific, so much as it’s a compilation seasoning made up of basil, oregano, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, fennel, and salt/pepper. It’s easy enough to find in stores, or make your own, and useful for situations like this. Either way, as stated the chicken was, for once, taking a back seat to everything else and so there’s not much else to say about it.
Cheese meanwhile was serious frigging business. As you may have guessed based on the title “Three Cheese Pesto Pizza”, it contains, well three cheeses. And these weren’t bullshit throwaway cheeses either, like when you order something with “blended cheese” and find out it’s just mild cheddar, sharp cheddar, and cheddar-jack. No, we had a 30 minute+ long discussion about which cheese we wanted to christen this bad boy with. Mozzarella was a shoe-in since virtually every pizza/panino on the planet calls for it in some form. But because of this, we wanted fresh mozzarella, to distinguish it as such. Fresh mozzarella is a little pricier, but you can find it at most grocery stores or delis, and unlike its preserved, shredded counterparts, it actually has a mild bit of flavor to it. Next up, my own personal favorite, pecorino romano. Similar to parmigiano reggiano (parmesan cheese for the laity) in that it’s well-aged, dry and hard, pecorino romano is made with sheep’s milk and thus has a even more bite to it than parmigiano. It’s very salty as far as cheeses go, too, annnd tastes and smells an awful lot like feet (which all of us cheese enthusiasts know is a wonderful thing). We selected it since due to its flavor, it can almost supplement or even replace the need for table salt on various foods. Last but not least was fontina. Fontina is a little closer to mozzarella since it’s soft and more mild, but unlike shredded mozzarella, it has a nice tang to it. We wanted a sweeter cheese for the base of the pizza, and fontina filled this in nicely since it does have a sweet, earthy flavor to it. Of all the planning involved in this pizza, this decision was the hardest. Like I said, the cheese selection process was serious business. Meg and I take cheese seriously.
Erik S. Our cheese selection was serious business.
Meg A. It was. We wanted to do some experimenting with the cheese on this one.
Erik S. Oh experiment we did.
Meg A. We wanted to make sure the cheese was a big part of it!
Erik S. Exactly. We tossed around a good number of them until finally settling on three.
Meg A. Mozzarella, fontina, and romano, right? Plus, each cheese got it’s own layer.
Erik S. Yep!
Meg A. I should have remembered, I was in charge of prepping all the cheeses.
Erik S. You are the MC, the Master of Cheese, afterall!
Meg A. Well… I don’t know if I’d call myself a master… I am certainly a cheese enthusiast though.
Erik S. Okay, you’re just a Cheesy Chick then.
Meg A. Yes!
The last part of this pizza we wanted to experiment with was the garlic. Like all good folks with Italian heritage, Meg and I have a love affair with garlic. Maybe moreso than normal people, but whatever. We’re no strangers to stink, having just finished specially ordering limburger cheese in the mail just for the sheer hell of it. As such, we’d always wanted to try using roast garlic in our cooking but never had an excuse. Considering this pizza was already at least one third pesto, and decadent beyond the wildest fantasies of Robert DeNiro, Giada DeLaurentiis, and Super Mario combined, we figured this was a prime opportunity to involve the pungent plant. Roasting garlic is fairly simple, so we prepared it in only slightly in advance. While it’s usually cut up or mashed into a paste, we wanted to take the hardcore path and just throw them on in whole cloves, ensuring no one would want to be near us for the next 24 hours, so long as we’re were conscious and breathing.
The cheese were laid accordingly, with a base layer of the sweeter fontina, then the pecorino romano being laid on top of the chicken to add some saltiness to it. This is where the garlic was placed, followed by fresh tomatoes from my own garden, and lastly the mozzarella. Like the previous grilled pizza, we parcooked the pizza in the oven for a few minutes just to prevent it from flopping around too much. Once the crust baked a tiny bit, it was then transferred to the grill, where it was finished up. Again, over grill fire, the crust comes nice and crisp on the outside, which was much-needed due to the immense weight of all the physical embodiment of deliciousness on top of it. The result was nothing short of a masterpiece.
Oh what the hell, it was nothing short of a masterpiezza.
Erik S. On that same topic, we threw entire whole cloves of garlic on top too, because, why the hell not.
Meg A. We roasted the garlic first… smelling that in and of itself was an amazing experience.
Erik S. Yeah, though I imagine smelling us afterwards was not an amazing experience, haha.
Meg A. Probably not. But oh well. Totally worth it.
Erik S. I think it goes without saying, we already made it clear this pizza was amazing.
Meg A. Also it was surprisingly neat! I believe you pointed out before the weight of all the ingredients were helping to hold them in place.
Erik S. And visually it was quite lovely.
Meg A. Just look at those photos!
Erik S. It was definitely our most aesthetically pleasing pizza yet.
Taste-wise, I think it’s already been made clear that it tasted amazing. Think of that awesome blending of flavors you get when you bite into a panino/grilled sandwich, but multiplied tenfold, and also in the form of a handy-ass pizza slice. That was this pizza. It was a hedonistically delicious mountain of the best tasty foods combined into one libido-altering physical manifestation. Have I used enough hyperbole yet? No? This pizza was so good I want to cry thinking about it. We will never have children because none could ever hope to match this pizza in terms of quality. There’s Before Christ, Anno Domini, and then This Pizza. God eats this pizza everynight. Chuck Norris jokes with this pizza in place of Chuck Norris. Etc… You get the idea? It was good.
Meg A. It looked delicious, smelled delicious, and tasted delicious
Erik S. I don’t throw the term “perfection” around much, but this pizza was pretty close to perfect.
Meg A. It was. I think if it hadn’t gotten sliiiightly burnt on the bottom in a few places it would have been literally perfect.
Erik S. There’s not much in this world that can bring the two of us closer together, but this pizza somehow did.
Meg A. I’m not surprised in the slightest that a pizza could.
Erik S. It’s gonna be hard to top, but we’ll find a way. Or alternately we’ll just make this pizza again and be intimate with it.
Meg A. Midnight Snack/Pizza Lab crossover?
Erik S. Knowing us, that’s almost destined to happen.