Pesto Pizza with Fresh Arugula and Parmesan

arugula pesto lemon whole wheat pizza

This weekend was an odd one, a study in contrasts between calm and chaos. A tornado came too close for comfort on Friday. My mom called to warn me that it was nearing and my friend Matt showed up as the sirens started going off a few minutes later. I barely had enough time to grab my dog, computer, an old family album and a bottle of bourbon before we raced down to the basement.

I kid around about throwing basement parties during inclement weather, but that tornado took off some rooftops and uprooted an enormous tree less than a mile from my place while we listened to the radio and nervously sipped on our drinks downstairs. By the time we got out, the only evidence in my immediate vicinity was a few extra twigs and little tree limbs scattered around.

mark bittman's whole wheat pizza dough

This pizza would have been fine basement fare, but we didn’t make it until the next day while we were waiting for another storm that never came. Regardless, I’m so glad Niki chose pizza for The Food Matters Project this week. For those of you who are new around here, The Food Matters Project consists of a group of food bloggers who are cooking through Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook together. It’s the brainchild of Sarah and cofounded by yours truly, and our goal is to inspire healthy cooking. So far my favorite FMP recipes have been the most versatile ones because I enjoy seeing everyone’s unique interpretations of the same recipe.

mark bittman's whole wheat pizza dough recipe

This winter, I went to Crested Butte with my friends Matt and Mark, during which time we became utterly obsessed with an arugula-topped pizza at The Secret Stash. That pizza was the table-hushing, expletive-inducing kind of delicious that one never forgets. It had a bubbly, chewy, sourdough crust that was intensely and inexplicably lemony around the edges.

At our request, they topped it with a perfect, simple red sauce, and prosciutto (hey, I was on vacation). All of that was covered up with a healthy dose of fresh baby arugula, lots of parmesan shavings, and served with half a lemon to drizzle on top. This photo doesn’t do it justice. We ate at Secret Stash three times during our five-day stay and bemoaned the increasing distance between us and that pizza all the way home.

pizza baked in a cast iron skillet

It recently dawned on me that I have never explained my determination to use 100% whole grain flours on this blog. Not a single recipe on here calls for all-purpose flour, and this is for good reason because I am slightly hypoglycemic. My blog sugar levels are extra sensitive to simple carbs. When I was young, I learned the hard way that eating only white pancakes for breakfast would inevitably result in me feeling miserable later on in the day—shaky, sweaty, can’t-think-straight-with-a-terrible-stomach-ache miserable.

It’s hardly a problem these days because I eat well-balanced meals and I eat often. When I eat out, I try to avoid meals that are too carb-heavy or full of sugar, and at home, I make everything with whole grains because I’ve found that I don’t crash after eating complex carbs. Naturally, recipes here are a reflection of what I eat at home. I feel good about sharing whole grain recipes because I believe that simple carbs effect everyone’s bodies in the same way, though perhaps to a lesser extent than mine. After this explanation, if you’re wondering why I didn’t think to grab food on the way to the basement… that would be a good question.

easy whole wheat pizza crust recipe

I don’t have a pizza stone, so Matt and I decided to bake the pizza in my 12-inch cast iron pan instead. It’s a great baking surface with even heat distribution and it produces a crisp crust. We stayed true to Secret Stash’s formula and used my leftover basil pesto instead of red sauce. I can’t decide which I prefer.

Our batch of dough conveniently made just enough for two pizzas. By round two, we had learned to spread the dough as thin as possible, which meant that it went up the sides of the pan a bit. We added a little less pesto and a little more mozzarella cheese. Since the Secret Stash pizza had been so deliciously lemony around the edges, I thought they might have used chopped preserved lemons, but after trying it that way, I think it may have been lemon salt instead. If you’re curious about these things, here are recipes for preserved lemons and citrus salt.

basil pesto and arugula pizza

Even though this pizza isn’t exactly the same as that crazy amazing pizza in Colorado, we made it our own and I loved it. If you haven’t tried arugula on pizza before, you are missing out! Here’s our recipe below and some notes on how it could be modified.

Whole Wheat Pesto Pizza with Fresh Arugula and Parmesan
5.0 from 2 reviews
  • One batch of easy whole wheat pizza dough
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ⅔ cup sauce (try homemade basil pesto or arugula pesto, store bought pesto or red sauce would also work)
  • Optional: Finely chopped preserved lemon or a sprinkling of lemon salt
  • ½ pound low-moisture mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 5 ounces baby arugula (several cups' worth, or one whole clamshell container of it)
  • Parmesan, a block of it for shaving (you won't use much)
  • 1 lemon, sliced in half
  • Red pepper flakes and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Prepare the pizza dough 6 to 18 hours in advance and let it rest. Feel free to substitute white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour for the whole wheat flour and/or whole wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose flour.
  2. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Grease a 12-inch cast iron skillet with olive oil. Lightly dust your hands with flour and fold the dough over a few times, then divide the dough in half. Place one half of the dough in the skillet and gently spread it out over the surface of the pan and up the sides. Try not to break the dough, but spread it out as evenly and thinly as possible. Brush on some olive oil.
  3. Top the dough with half of your sauce, spread evenly. Sprinkle chopped preserved lemon or lemon salt around the edges, if using. Top with half of your grated mozzarella. Bake for 10 minutes or so, until the cheese is bubbling on top.
  4. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cutting board using a big spatula. Give it a few minutes to rest, then top with arugula, fresh parmesan shavings, and big sprinkle of lemon juice. Slice and serve with red pepper flakes and black pepper on the side.
  • Yields two 12-inch pizzas.
  • If you sense that you will have leftovers, leave off the arugula until you're ready to eat the leftover slices. Lemon juice eventually wilts the arugula, and you don't want to reheat the pizza with delicate greens on top.


  1. says

    I have a similar hypoglycemia issue, leading me to steer clear of the simple carbs as well. Arugula and parm is one of my favorite combinations, especially on pizza. Love that you used a skillet, I need to try that sometime.

    • says

      It’s nice to hear from someone who understands! I really feel like complex carbs make all the difference. Do try the skillet, it works great!

  2. says

    Pretty much all of my recipes only use whole grains as well. I know that it’s a turn off to some, who are used to using all-purpose, but I think my belly thanks me every time : ) And I love arugula on pizza, lovely post!

  3. says

    I love the Secret Stash and I think this pizza looks every bit as good- I’ve always had a crush on Crested Butte! I’ve also moved away from using all purpose and have found that when I grind my own wheat berries, I don’t miss it!

  4. says

    I felt my chest tighten with anxiety for you as you said “I barely had enough time to….” and then when I read “bottle of bourbon” among the list, I actually laughed out loud. I know Tornadoes are scary, and serious (I’ve done the basement drill many-a-time with cousins in Ohio), but honestly that was the most adorable passage ever. Cast iron pan for pizza? That’s brilliant.

  5. says

    Now you have me dreaming about adding a little lemon zest to my crust. And a white pizza, with pesto. Yum! Also, I thought you should know that while I was in Denver, I ordered a blackberry-sage-bourbon cocktail and thought of you … because I am pretty sure that’s only the second time I’ve had bourbon (after mint juleps for our annual derby party) and I’m kind of digging it.

    • says

      What?! That was only the second time? I don’t get it. Blackberry, sage and bourbon sound incredible. I was actually more of a Canadian whiskey girl until lately, it’s so much smoother than bourbon.

  6. says

    That tornado sounds scary and I’m glad you are fine and had time to grab the Bourbon. ;) This springy pizza looks so fresh! Someday, I need to buy me a cast iron pan… they can be used for anything!

  7. Jessica says

    Oooh, The Secret Stash is AMAZING, isn’t it? I’m a vegetarian but my husband ordered the Big Mac inspired pizza last time we were there and convinced me to try it – I’m still dreaming about it. Can’t wait to try this pizza!

    • says

      Yes! I love that you appreciate The Secret Stash pizza like I do! I didn’t try the Big Mac. We got so obsessed with this pizza that we had it twice, and on the last day we just ordered cheese pizza by the slice. Best pizza ever.

  8. says

    What a great idea of using the cast iron pan- we have yet to try that out. I’ll have to happen soon! I’m glad to hear that you’re doing ok after the tornadoes. I lived in Iowa for undergrad, and a tornado went through out town senior year. I was lucky enough that I drove to class that day (lazy!), but if I had left it in my regular spot, there would have been a large tree on top of it! Craziness!

    • says

      Glad you and your car were ok! That reminds me of when I drove my mom’s car to Chicago. We parallel parked the car on the street outside my friend’s place, and there was a huge storm while we were inside. We walked out to the car to find that both the car in front and the car behind had been damaged (one was smashed by a limb), but my mom’s car was totally fine! We were lucky.

  9. says

    YUM! I’ve also been frothing over the cover of Bon Apetit with Lahey’s pizza. Totally digging the arugula on pizza too. Love that peppery fresh kick!

  10. says

    I’m glad that you survived the storm. I’ve never experienced a tornado, but I’d imagine it’s really scary! I loooove arugula on pizza. My husband and I share an arugula and prosciutto pizza at one of our favorite pizza places this weekend….yum!!

  11. says

    This looks really good. I’ve never tried arugula on my pizza, but I’ve heaped spinach on before. I’ve been trying to use more whole grains in my cooking and baking, and I appreciate your recipes!

  12. says

    That Jim Lahey pizza dough is golden. I let mine sit for 24 hours and I’ve never had a pizza dough with so much flavor. And it was so easy to work with too! I have to try arugula on a pizza. That leafy green is my new obsession.

  13. says

    1. Congratulations on the Nomination!
    2. I have to try this in a skillet… that looks so amazing.
    3. Love that you grabbed the bourbon… when in doubt, drink.
    4. I wish I had bought arugula for mine, I’m not sure why I didn’t think of that!
    5. So glad you are safe and sound :)

    • says

      Thank you, Niki! Seriously, try the skillet trick. It bakes so easily and you can lift the pizza right out of the skillet with a spatula.

  14. says

    Homemade pizza is one of my favourite things in the world. I often use wholemeal flour because it gives the crust a lovely bite and can imagine this version is really lovely.

  15. says

    I love fresh arugula on pizza! I had it for the first time at a pizza joint in London and have been addicted ever since! I love the idea of doing the pizza in a skillet. My pizza stone just cracked in half after many years of use, and this could be a great substitute until I trek out and find another one (I should put that on my to-do list for this weekend – along with making this pizza!)

  16. says

    “the table-hushing, expletive-inducing kind of delicious ..”.. oh i’m so hungry.. dinner is still an hour away.. and thank god for blogs like yours that use whole wheat flour.. becuase they are a lot of us looking for these healthy recipes.. but dont know where to go..

  17. Stephanie says

    Josh and I ate at the secret stash several times when we were in Crested Butte last month, too! SO good! Also, I would love to get in on some of these pizza (or other food) and drink making adventures with you and Matt (or whoever else happens to be there)! How about a mystery ingredient party?

  18. says

    I’m so glad to hear that you guys were OK with the weather, that is so scary! I have been wanting to try arugula on pizza for a long time – this recipe looks so tasty!

  19. says

    How amazing and fresh does this look! What a great idea to use the skillet. I think it is due to our ancient oven, but my pizzas actually turn out crispy when I bake them on the lower rack. However, it also burns my cookies so I’m sure it’s an uneven heat thing… not a universal thing. I can’t wait to try this summery pizza.

  20. says

    I can’t imagine living anywhere where tornadoes are a threat…I think I’d live in constant fear. I’d definitely keep a jar of peanut butter in the basement at all times. So glad you’re okay!

    This pizza definitely sounds worth recreating. I’m a sucker for anything topped with pesto and add arugula…I’m basically in love.

  21. From Cupcakes, With says

    oh dear…my jaw dropped when i saw this recipe. i am definitely going to try this out!! it looks incredible.

  22. says

    cast iron was definitely the way to go with this recipe! the edges got so nice & crisp that way.

    your pizza looks fabulous & i am intrigued with the idea of lemon salt…sounds so good!

    huge congrats on your saveur nomination!

  23. says

    I always use whole wheat flour, too! I also considered using whole wheat pastry as a sub for the white, but went with white whole wheat instead as it is also a lighter, less grainy, flour. You also might find that the extra rising time makes a difference, as one of the things my husband loved about the crust is that it tasted light and airy and not like whole wheat at all!

  24. says

    I am sitting at work right now, feeling kind of dizzy. I think I really need to start eating whole grains only. Your post might just be what I needed, thank you!

    • says

      Whole grains make such an enormous difference in my energy level, Lena. I would definitely suggest switching over to see if it makes a big difference for you, too! Dizzy is such a bad feeling. :(

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