Cheesy Pesto Rolls

A week ago my sister and I were on the Oregon Coast in Manzanita for a few days and spent most of our time eating out at the same place, Bread and Ocean. If you’re not familiar with the area and you’re wondering why we ate there so often it’s because Manzanita is rather tiny and there aren’t a ton of reasonably priced options for food.

At Bread and Ocean, we tried cakes, we tried breakfast sandwiches, we tried macaroons, we tried bundt cakes, we tried lunch sandwiches, we tried coffee, we tried lattes. For our last meal on the coast we tried what we had been eyeing for days–the pesto roll. How amazing does pizza dough slathered in pesto and cheese, rolled up like a cinnamon roll and baked until fluffy and golden sound? We were so excited.

Bread and Ocean’s breakfast and lunch food menu is displayed on a chalkboard that hangs above the pastry cases. This menu includes detailed descriptions of each item’s ingredients. Interestingly enough, there was no description of the pesto roll of which I was aware, just a hand written cardboard sign that said ‘pesto roll’ at the front of the rolls in one of the display cases. I didn’t scrutinize the rolls at close proximity. I assumed the pesto roll would be made of about three ingredients: bread or pizza dough, pesto, cheese. It was. But it also had minced black olives, chopped red pepper and artichoke pieces his inside.  Minced black olives, chopped red pepper and artichoke pieces. Incidentally, red pepper was a staple in many of the lunch items as advertised on their menu board. While I like red pepper, I like it in limited circumstances. It has a strong flavor and, IMO, does not pair well with other stronger flavors. Like pesto. And black olives. I actually hate black olives and am only a fan of artichoke in limited circumstances, so I was disappointed to see all of these unexpected vegetables tucked into the roll. Had I known about the mixed veggie surprise inside the roll, I would not have ordered this food item. I ended up pulling the roll apart and with the precision of a highly skilled surgeon extracted all the offending vegetables.

I so wanted to love the pesto rolls sold at Bread and Ocean but just didn’t. Sis was disappointed as well. Have you ever ordered something with a flavor profile in mind based on prior experience and/or sight but ended up disappointed when the dish tasted nothing like you imagined? That happened to me the first and only time I went to Pinkberry not knowing I wasn’t getting sugary frozen yogurt but was instead getting sour/”tart” frozen yogurt look-alike substance.

That is what happened for our final meal in Manzanita when we bit into the pesto rolls. The disappoint followed us as we trooped back to my sisters’ car and it settled around us like a dark raincloud as we continued talking about how bad the rolls were. (The next day I described the ingredients to my Portland foodie friend, Jen, who immediately exclaimed without me adding my opinion that the flavors in the pesto roll I described were too strong to play together nicely in pizza dough.) The good news is that our anger cloud dispersed somewhere on the drive home from the coast when Sis tossed out this wonderful suggestion of recreating delicious pesto rolls made of dough, pesto and cheese. And thus an idea was born. I couldn’t wait to try to improve upon Bread and Ocean’s recipe.

For my first attempt I went the lazy route and used Trader Joe’s pizza dough. The rolls were OK. But they didn’t have enough cheese and weren’t as fluffy and bread-like as they should be. I also overcooked the rolls and then brushed them with garlic butter which made them a bit too salty for me and anyone who knows me slightly well knows I love salt. While these were better than Bread and Ocean’s, I was still disappointed. But I knew immediately the changes that were necessary. First and foremost, I needed a homemade pizza or even bread dough. One that would puff up in the oven during baking. I also planned on adding more cheese because IMO cheese should literally be oozing out of these rolls. I intended to brush the rolls with garlic butter, hoping to cut down on the saltiness in the butter.

For the second attempt, I hit it out of the ballpark by using homemade pizza dough and adding extra cheese. I forgot to brush with garlic butter but I don’t think these rolls even needed it. They were perfectly cheesy and perfectly soft and doughy. You will notice in my recipe that I do not give specific amounts of pesto or cheese. You should use the amounts you prefer. I prefer a substantial layer of pesto and tons of cheese. If you prefer less gooey, melty cheese and less yummy pesto (but why would you?!), do a light layer of both.

The pesto roll recipe concept I used for my recipe below hails from Budget Bytes.

pizza dough ingredients.

  • 1 ½ c. lukewarm water
  • 3 to 4 c. all-purpose flour (more if necessary)
  • ½ T. salt
  • ¾ T. instant yeast
  • ¼ c. fresh chopped parsley (or 2 T. dried parsley)
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme

filling ingredients.

  • Pesto (enough to cover the entire amount of dough when rolled out)
  • Shredded Italian cheeses like mozzarella, provolone, fontina, parmesan, etc. or even some provel or jack cheese

topping ingredients.

  • ½ c. melted butter + 2 tsp. minced garlic (for brushing, optional)
  • pizza sauce (for dipping, optional)
  • ranch dressing (for dipping, optional)


  1. Combine the water, yeast, and sugar, and stir until the yeast is completely covered by the water. Let the mixture sit for about five to 10 minutes or until the yeast has started to rise up and form what looks like beer foam on top.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together 1 cup of the flour and salt.
  3. Pour the yeast mixture into the bowl with the flour and salt. Add more flour, a little at a time, stirring on low until a ball of dough forms. Knead on medium speed for about 5 minutes.
  4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then a clean dish towel if you like and let it rise until double in volume. This could take an hour or two.
  5. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface or marble pastry board covered lightly in flour. Stretch the dough out into roughly shaped rectangle or use a rolling pin to shape into a rectangle.
  6. Once shaped, spread the pesto over the surface of the dough nearly edge to edge.  If you spread all the way to the edge, some pesto may spill out when rolling.
  7. Sprinkle the cheeses on top.
  8. Carefully roll the dough up into a log rolling the log as tightly as possible. (You can see in the pics I used slices of provolone cheese. I would not recommend using sliced cheese unless it’s very pliable. My provolone was too structured and the dough did not want to conform to the slices. Toward the end the slices started to slide out.)
  9. Use a very shape knife to slice it into 8 or 12 equal-sized slices (I got 10). Place the sliced rolls in a greased casserole dish (I would use butter or crisco). Make sure to use a dish large enough to allow the rolls room to expand as they bake. I had to use two 8×8 glass dishes for baking–that was my only option.
  10. Cover and allow to rest for 30 minutes allowing your oven to preheat to 400ºF.
  11. Bake the rolls for about 30 minutes, or until they are puffed up, golden brown on top, and the pesto and cheese are bubbling around the edges. If you’re having trouble “browning” your rolls, flip on the broiler setting for about a minute or two–watch carefully so the rolls don’t burn on top. Let cool for about 5 to 10 minutes before eating.

Recipe rating: 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s