Ain’t life grand when you have the luxury of throwing a pizza in the oven on a Friday night? And isn’t it even better when that pizza is homemade? We definitely hold by that line in our house.
I’ve always eschewed the line “Even when it’s bad, it’s still pizza” (quit rolling your eyes, I know that comes as no surprise whatsoever if you’ve even spent two minutes reading this blog) and I take great joy in making every component for my pizza that I can. Really, it’s the only way you know you’re going to get a good one.
I love to use pesto as a base for pizza, especially in the summer. Few things give me more pleasure than shearing my basil plants (Fred has recovered from his confined-to-a-pot days and is loving all the room he has to stretch his roots, for those of you who had met him when he wasn’t looking so hot), bringing the green stuff inside, and pulling the leaves off the stems. It fills the kitchen with a wonderful aroma!
The only problem with fresh pesto is that it’s really easy to overdo it on the garlic, especially if you’re like me and habitually triple – at a minimum – the amount of the tasty stuff called for in a recipe. Luckily, I ran across a technique with which you toast the unpeeled garlic cloves on the stove to mellow out that bite it’s known for. It works like a charm and I no longer have to work about whether or not I’m going to OD on garlic. You just have to make sure to toast up enough so that you have extra to put on top of the pizza!
The only thing left to do is to load it up with other high-quality ingredients. Once you’ve done all of this, you’ll have created a pizza night to remember!
Chicken pesto pizza
Pesto recipe modified from July 1996 Cook’s Illustrated. Pizza concept is a Jitterbean Original.
1/4 cup plus two tablespoons pine nuts
7 medium garlic cloves, shed of excess papery skin but not completely peeled
2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
8oz fresh high-quality mozzarella cheese, preferably mozzarella di bufala, pinched off into small chunks
6oz leftover roasted chicken, torn, shredded, or cut into small pieces
1/4 cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes
Half of a 6oz jar of artichoke hearts, rinsed, drained, and chopped
For the pesto:
Toast the nuts in a small, heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes; set aside, separating the 1/4 cup from the 2 tablespoons. Add the garlic to the empty skillet and toast over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally, until fragrant and the color of the cloves deepens slightly, about 7 minutes. Let the garlic cool slightly, then peel, and chop, separating three cloves from the other four.
For the pizza:
Process 1/4 cup of the nuts, 3 cloves of the garlic, basil, and oil, in a food processor until smooth, stopping as necessary to scrape down the sides of the bowl, about 1 minute. Stir in the Parmesan and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Prepare the dough as specified through step four. If the dough will not stretch and stay at your desired diameter and thickness, cover it with a damp kitchen towel and let the dough rest for 20 minutes. Once the dough is ready, sprinkle cornmeal or semolina flour on a pizza peel and put the dough on it.
Fold over the edges of the dough to form the end of the crust. Spread the pesto in an even layer over the dough and top with the mozzarella. Follow with the chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, 2 tablespoons of pine nuts, and four chopped garlic cloves.
Using a rapid jerking motion, transfer the pizza from the peel to the baking stone and bake for 10 minutes, or until the crust and cheese are browned. Remove from the oven, cool slightly, and serve.