When the Trader Joe’s R&D wonks get bored with putting pumpkin in things, they must just start drawing ingredients out of a hat and dare each other to make food out of them. How else can you explain Trader Joe’s Organic Pesto Pizza with Tomatoes and Broccoli, the most unusal use of pesto since their Quinoa Pesto.
Trader Joe’s pesto pizza looks like any of their other frozen pizza offerings on the surface, but quickly breaks the mold. In place of a tomato base, it instead uses a rich and savory basil pesto. On to this they layer mozzarella cheese, tomato slices and, strangely, little broccoli florets. Not content to stop there, they replace the standard wheat crust with a crisp, sourdough crust.
The result is a rich-tasting, slightly sour, slightly acidic pizza with plenty of crunch – and surprisingly that works. Each bite is bright and fresh, with a little bit of “zazz” not normally found in the gooey, salty pizza world. Why they added the broccoli I can’t say (this element could have easily been substituted out for a more traditional veggie in my opinion – mushrooms for example) but the pesto base is brilliant, and what ultimately brings the pizza together.
I’ve never had a pesto based pizza before, but it fills each bite with that savory, oily, flavorful taste that really works well with the thin, crispy crust and milder toppings. Although billed as a pizza, this just as easily could be viewed as a pesto-topped flatbread with veggie toppings. The pesto is really the star of the show here, making each bite a savory delight and justifying its otherwise bizarre existence.
The rest of the ingredients are fine – the mozzerlla is sufficient, the tomatoes are a welcome little change to the texture and mellow out the flavor, and the broccoli is forgettable. As a carnivore, I would have preferred some meat on this. Even despite the all veggie topping selection it still misses out on the “Vegetarian” tag for some reason. That said, it still manages to fit in 11 grams of protein per two slice serving, so that’s not bad.
As made clear in the product name, everything in the pizza is laudably organic – from the wheat flour to the olive oil. This is an improvement over the previous incarnation of this pizza, Trader Joe’s Pesto Pizza, which had all the same toppings and was something like 90% organic already. Not an earth-shattering change, but nice. Organic designation aside, the only real reason to pick this up is for the novelty of the pesto. It’s an intriguing take on pizza, and it’d be interesting to see Trader Joe’s introduce some more varieties down the line.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, the pesto is good and the broccoli isn’t as scary as you might think.
Would I Buy It Again: Sure, though I might get some prosciutto to throw on top too.
Final Synopsis: A straight forward pesto flatbread with plenty of zip.
Look, I know quinoa is enjoying something of a heyday, the likes of which has been unprecedented since the ancient grain was originally introduced as a staple of the human diet in 5,000 BC, but there are certain applications of it which are bound to make even the hippest vegetarian blink. I’ve calmly accepted quinoa in my salads, my “chicken”, and even in my sushi. But quinoa in my pesto? That’s a development that begs further inquiry.
Quinoa was originally cultivated in the Andes region of South America since the rise of civilization there. However, since it’s uptake by the incessant marketing machine in the mid 2000’s, quinoa has been trumpeted as a superfood for it’s many healthsome properties – some certified, some merely alleged – and introduced into practically any food product in need of a sales boost.
What is absolutely true is that quinoa is a gluten-free grain, and is relatively protein rich. Given that both these qualities dovetail nicely into the culinary trends of the day, its recent, widespread popularity should probably not be a surprise. It is notable however. Since 2006, the price of quinoa has tripled on the market even as crop production has nearly doubled world wide – and in 2013 no lesser body than the United Nations itself declared it the “International Year of Quinoa”. They had a logo and everything.
While the sudden rise of quinoa from obscurity to mainstay may sound unusual, it’s not alone. In fact pesto – yes the very pesto in this quinoa and pesto sauce – shares a very similar original story. Pesto may not have a pedigree that stretches back thousands of years, like quinoa, but it’s a lot older than you might think. The first bowl of pesto was found on the table of the ancient Romans who ate a paste of crushed herbs, garlic and cheese. As they conquested into northern Italy/southern France, the basil that grew there was introduced into the dish – resulting in the pesto we know and love today. And then nothing happened for two thousand years. Despite the fact that pesto took it’s fully mature form sometime before the birth of Christ, it was largely unknown out of the rustic Mediterranean regions where it sprang into existence.
Not until 1863 is the first recipe for pesto recorded, and it is not until nearly a hundred years after that, in 1946, that the first pesto recipe shows up in America. Even then, pesto continued to languish in relative obscurity until the 1980’s, when it started to be adopted into Italian cuisine on a wide scale.
So why combine these two long overlooked food items into one condiment? Why did Trader Joe’s bother to make Pesto and Quinoa?
When you try it, the first thing you’ll notice is that they might as well have called it pesto with quinoa, instead of pesto and quinoa. The point being that this is a pesto sauce, first and foremost, with the quinoa making a very meager impact on the overall dish.
Apart from the quinoa, this is a standad pesto recipe – filled with plenty of basil, oil and grated cheese. What it doesn’t have, however, is any pine nuts. In place of that crunchy nuttiness you get the squishy nuttiness of lots and lots of quinoa. This makes the pesto taste more or less like any other pesto you’ve had from a grocery store, even if it looks very very different. There’s so much quinoa in this pesto that it’s far and away the first ingredient. When you unscrew the lid you’ll see a load of quinoa, sprouts and all, staring back at you. If you can get over the somewhat unsettlingly different appreance, you’ll find that this pesto works just like the regular stuff – you can add it easily to pasta, chicken, fish or salads for that big sloppy kiss of savory basil. Just don’t expect it to spread quite like regular pesto. The quinoa makes it much lumpier than a normal pesto, and requires a little extra finesse on the part of the eater.
While that’s all well and good, it does make you wonder why Trader Joe’s bothered to make this stuff at all. There isn’t any real difference in the calorie or fat content between this and ordinary pesto. While I enjoyed it on a variety of meals, I didn’t enjoy it any more than I would have any other pesto. And with the slightly unappealing look and unweildly nature of the quinoa, there really isn’t any need to get it again. I’m glad TJ’s discovered a tasty Peruvian pesto, I’m just not so sure why they wanted to pas it along to all of us.
Would I Recommend It: No, I don’t think so.
Would I Buy It Again: Nope, no need.
Final Synopsis: Pesto with a bunch of quinoa in it tastes just like pesto without quinoa in it. So why bother?