Fig and Arugula Pesto Pizza

What’s the strangest thing you have eaten while training or racing? I remember one year, when I had a couple of 70.3s scheduled, I decided that my sole source of race nutrition would consist of Pop Tarts.

I believe that inspiration for this amazingly awesome plan came from a friend who had blogged about her use of Strawberry Milkshake flavored Pop Tarts to power her through Ironman. Strawberry Milkshake flavor? Really? That just sounds so artificial-fake-food gross. I, on the other hand, went the healthier route and chose the whole-grain brown sugar flavor. That somewhow seemed far more nutritious.

I remember telling my coach of my idea. I think her exact words were, “Really? Well, it’s not the most unconventional plan I’ve ever heard of. I have one girl who is fueling entirely from dates injected with coconut water.” Now that’s just crazy talk.

The fuel plan worked. I got through the bike and the run without bonking, though the following year Coach strongly suggested I find a new fuel source.

Much like my fuel plan, this pizza is somewhat unconventional with the addition of figs. While I consider myself a foodie and gourmand, this summer was the first time I have actually eaten a raw fig. Not counting Fig Newton cookies (which were in the running for a short while, to be part of the next 70.3 fuel plan). It’s not because I have been too timid to try them, I just never had the urge.

There aren’t a lot of recipes that include figs. And I’ve found, that while delicious on their own, they need some sort of accompaniment to bring them to their full potential. Like yogurt and honey. Or, in this case, gorgonzola, pancetta, and a deliciously bitter arugula pesto, finished with a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar.

I came across some brown figs at Trader Joes a couple weeks ago and, after watching an episode of Iron Chef (in which the secret ingredient was not figs, as you might have guessed, but pancetta) I became inspired to make this pizza.

Then a week later a friend told me that the local grocery chain had green figs on sale for $8.99 a case and asked if I would I like to split the contents with him. It was fig fate.

I first tried this pizza with a regular whole wheat crust, but the delicate toppings weren’t a good match for the chewy, yeasty base. I suggest going with a thin and crispy canvas–like whole wheat pita bread, shown here.

Fig and Arugula Pesto Pizza

Pesto adapted From the Kitchen, Rocket and Walnut Pesto

Serves one (athletes will find this to be more of a snack than an entree)

1 large whole wheat pita
2-3 ripe figs (green, brown or black), sliced thin
2-3 oz gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
4 oz. pancetta, cubed or diced
arugula leaves
aged balsamic vinegar
For the pesto:
1/2 cup lightly toasted walnuts
1/4 cup shredded parmesan
2 cloves garlic (small, or 1 large) crushed
2 cups arugula
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
pinch of salt and
fresh ground black pepper



Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Make the pesto: Toss all ingredients, walnuts through pepper, in a food processor. Pulse on high until the pesto comes together and the olive oil is incorporated. (Tip: Save remaining pesto in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.)

Make the pizza: Cook the pancetta in a small pan until crispy. Set on paper towels to drain excess oil. Spread a couple of tablespoons of pesto over the pita bread. Sprinkle a few arugula leaves, half of the figs slices, half the pancetta, and a few gorgonzola crumbles, over the pesto. Place in the oven for 2-3 minutes, until the cheese is just melted and the arugula leaves are slightly wilted. Remove the pizza from the oven and add the rest of the figs, pancetta, a few more arugula leaves and place back in the oven for 2-3 minutes. Remove pizza from oven add a few more gorgonzola crumbles and drizzle with aged balsamic vinegar. Cut into pieces and serve.

Tip: Layering the ingredients and cooking them at high heat for short periods of time gives the pizza more texture and depth.