Chapter 11: Pesto Perfect
Basil is my favorite herb on the planet. It’s sweet, easy to grow at home and can enhance just about any recipe.
I’ve been making this pizza for well over 10 years now—the tang of the pesto works beautifully with your pizza crust, or on a salad, scrambled in eggs, etc. When you buy the book, you’ll get a simple, embedded-video primer on how to chop basil:
As you’ll learn when you read the “Pesto Perfect” chapter, the key part of my approach to pesto-making is citrus pulp. Scraping those little bits of goodness in your mixture will give the pesto a memorable zing for a kick-ass pizza.
Here’s the recipe:
2 large bunches sweet basil
1 lb. package of boneless chicken breasts (optional)
3 cloves garlic, minced, divided
Juice and pulp of 2 lemons
1 cup roasted, salted pine nuts
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil plus more, to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1. Wash and dry the basil. Discard or compost the stems and place the leaves in the bowl of a food processor.
2. Add part of the extra virgin olive oil and pulse the leaves, about five to 10 times, down to a coarse consistency.
3. Heat the remaining oil in your favorite pan and slowly roast 2 cloves of the garlic, until it is light brown, about five minutes. Add the garlic and the cooking oil into the processor and mix. Time for this will vary, but plan on about three to five minutes; bring it to your preferred consistency. Shorter times mean coarser pesto, while longer mixing will produce a smoother finish.
4. Add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor and blend well. You might add in additional extra virgin olive oil or lemon if the balance in taste or consistency is off. Make sure to taste along the way and adjust the seasoning as needed. As with arugula pesto, this dish is great with an extra helping of lemon to give it that awesome citrus blast.
5. Spread pesto on dough to the edges. Add prepared, cooked chicken (optional) and top with mozzarella. Bake until bubbly.
Cooks’ Notes: You can add chicken to this recipe. Roast, grill or otherwise cook it with some extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Dice and top the dough with it, along with your cheese of choice (I use mozzarella for this one). Top with some extra roasted pine nuts, too, for that added nuttiness.
Visit your local farmers’ market or, better still, grow your own basil in your backyard. Omit the chicken for the perfect vegetarian dish.