Sunday, February 02, 2014

Of Pesto and Chicken

Pesto is one of my favorite flavors. There is something wonderful about the combination of basil, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmesan cheese. It can liven up rice, pasta, a baked potato and all manner of entrees. And that basil smells fantastic, too.

It was cold and rainy today, so I stayed inside most of the day. I am so thankful that it rained...we have been having a terrible drought this winter and usually winter is when we get most of the water for the year. It also made it nice to fool around in the kitchen trying out a new recipe, with the rain pattering against the kitchen windows.

This recipe started off life as a sweet crostata with fresh grapes and golden raisins and a nut crust. The rustic look which is achieved by folding the outer couple of inches the crust over the filling is a favorite of mine, but I'd never tried it with a nut crust before. The filling is interesting, too, because it is based on whipped egg whites.

I decided that I wanted to change the recipe around to a savory crostata, filled with a pesto infused whipped egg white filling and then covered with sauteed onions, golden raisins and Parmesan coated chicken pieces. Since I was going with sunny flavors of the Med, I changed the dough to use pine nuts instead of walnuts or pecans of almonds.

The crust didn't turn out quite like I had tended to fall apart while I was working on it...but it tasted wonderful once baked and the filling was excellent. We had a slice for dinner with some steamed mixed vegetables and Sweetie was very happy, especially since he was able to watch the Super Bowl while I played in the kitchen. We did take a nice walk with Pi during half time when there was a break in the rain, so it was a pretty nice day all around. Guess I pretty easy to please.

Nut Pastry Dough
1/3 cup walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pine nuts or pecans
1 1/2  cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2  teaspoons granulated sugar
3/4  teaspoon salt
1 1/2  tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
2 1/2  tablespoons walnut oil
5-6  tablespoons cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Spread nuts in a pie pan and bake for 5 - 7 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool

In a food processor, combine nuts, flour, sugar, and salt; process until nuts are finely chopped. Add butter and process until incorporated. Transfer to a large bowl.

Drizzle oil over flour mixture. Use your fingertips to rub oil into the mixture. On tablespoon at a time, add water and mix with a fork until dough is crumbly and holds together when pressed.

If making a single crust, gently form dough into a flattened disk. If making a double crust, divide dough into two pieces, 1 slightly larger than the other, and form each into a disk. (The dough will keep, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days or in the freezer for up to 6 months. Return dough to room temperature before rolling.)

Chicken Pesto Crostata
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 recipe  pine nut Pastry Dough (see above)
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/3 cup prepared pesto
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 1/2 cups cooked chicken, cut into small bite sized pieces
pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon milk
Grated Parmesan cheese for dusting crust

Spread pine nuts in a oiled pan and bake in preheated 350 degree F. oven for about 5 minutes or until fragrant (can do this at same time nuts are being baked for pie dough if making same day). Alternatively, pine nuts can be toasted in a large cast iron skilled, shaking pan often. Let cool. Finely chop and set aside.

Raise oven temperature to 400 degrees F.

Place two overlapping sheets of plastic wrap or a wide sheet of parchment paper on a work surface. Set dough in center and cover with two more overlapping sheets of plastic wrap or another wide sheet of parchment paper. Roll dough into a 12-inch circle. Remove top sheets of plastic (or top parchment) and invert dough on to a large baking sheet with sides that has been lightly oiled or coated with nonstick spray. (I put mine on a large piece of parchment paper.) Pull off rest of plastic or the other sheet parchment. Sprinkle semolina (or cornmeal) over the crust, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border. Set aside.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, sauté the onion in the olive oil, stirring frequently, until onion is light golden brown, about 7 - 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a small bowl, beat egg whites and salt with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/3 cup grated Parmesan and beat until shiny. With a rubber spatula, fold pine nut mixture and pesto into meringue until thoroughly combined.

Drop spoonfuls of meringue onto crust and gently spread over semolina. Sprinkle raisins over meringue.
Distribute caramelized onions evenly over meringue.

In a bowl, toss the chicken pieces with the remaining 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese and pepper, to taste. Arrange chicken over raisins, onions and meringue, distributing evenly. Fold border of crust over filling.

Brush crust with 1 tablespoon milk and dust with some grated Parmesan.

Bake for 25 - 30 minutes, or until crust is golden and grapes are puffed. With 2 large spatulas, transfer crostata to a large platter. Let cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Makes 8 servings.

1 comment :

  1. I really like your "history of how this comes together. I just somehow know I would love it.
    Once we drove into Oregon it started raining. The sound was glorious !