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Chicken Pesto Pizza with Pine Nuts, Feta, and Spinach

I grew up in a small town in Louisiana, and while we didn’t ride gators to school, there are several rumors about the South that are generally true. The people are warm and hospitable, and bless your heart if you are frightened by physical contact, because the hugs are bountiful. You haven’t known humidity until you’ve spent a July in Baton Rouge, when you virtually swim through the air – or when you actually swim through the air, if a Category 5 packs the right-hand-punch. Above all, the rumors spread far and wide about southern food are as true as a heavy heart in the confessional. Nothing compares.

There weren’t many restaurants in my small town, but the ones that did exist made up for this deficiency – quality reigned over quantity. My favorite place was a restaurant built in an old gas station in St. Francisville: The Magnolia Cafe. I begged my dad every weekend to take me there so I could devour one dish in particular: a pizza, made with pesto, feta, pine nuts, spinach, and chicken. One of the saddest days of my life was when The Magnolia Cafe burned down, and you can bet one of the happiest was when it was rebuilt right next door. I have created a recipe that mimics it as best as I know how, and the results are quite similar to the real thing. Try a slice of this pie and imagine that you’re sitting at The Magnolia Cafe, listening to a blues band and slapping the blood-sucking mosquitoes from your shins.

Ingredients:

  • 2 packets active dry yeast
  • 4-6 cups flour
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup of pine nuts, plus 2 Tbs.
  • 3.5 oz crumbled feta
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 12-16 oz mozzerella cheese
  • 6 oz parmesan
  • 1-2 chicken breasts
  • 1 cups basil
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1/2 of olive oil, plus 2 Tbs.
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

The dough is very simple. It makes about 6 personal size pizzas, or 3 pizzas to share. Stir two packets of yeast with 2 cups of warm water in the bowl of a standing mixer with a dough hook attached. Let sit for about 5 minutes until slightly frothy. Add 1 tsp. salt.

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Slowly begin stirring the dough on low speed, and add 1 cup of flour at a time until dough forms a ball and isn’t too sticky. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes, until elastic. Form into a ball and place in a well oiled boil.

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Cover and let sit in a warm place, free from drafts. Let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. While the dough rises, prepare the rest of the ingredients.

To make the pesto, put basil, 2 Tbs. pine nuts, garlic, 2 oz parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste in a blender. Pulse and drizzle in 1/2 cup olive oil, more as needed, until smooth.

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Cut chicken into bite size pieces. Heat 1 Tbs. olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Saute chicken. Season with salt, pepper, and oregano. Remove from heat.

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By now, your dough may be doubled in size. Punch it down so it deflates. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

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Drizzle enough olive oil to lightly cover the bottom of a pan. I use both a cast iron skillet and a 9 inch round pan.┬áTake a handful of dough and stretch it in your hands. ┬áPut it in the pan and continue stretching until it reaches the edges. This will require some time, and don’t worry if there are some holes in the process – you can fill them in at the end. This will make a very thin, crispy crust.

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The first layer of the pizza consists of pesto, topped with pine nuts and feta. Evenly distribute the toppings, leaving a 1-inch crust on the outside.

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Top with spinach leaves. I used regular spinach, but you can also use baby spinach. It will become nice and wilted in the oven.

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Top this with mozzarella, chicken, parmesan, salt, and pepper.

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Place on the top rack of your oven for 15 minutes. Then move it to the bottom rack for 7-10 minutes. This will help the bottom crisp up.

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Mmmm mmmm good! Whoever said Louisiana folk can only cook Creole was a damn fool!