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Crusted Baked Chicken with Mozzarella and Pesto

Recently I found an interesting re-do on Chicken Parmigiana in a magazine. The recipe came from  Kitchen Remix, by Clarkson Potter. I’m surprised that somehow I never had the wildly popular Chicken Parmigiana, or maybe I saw it on a menu but chose not to order it. Who knows? What caught my eye about this recipe is that this summer my teen grandsons are putting their stay-at-home time to good use by learning to cook. This delicious recipe sounded like the ideal easy chicken dish to teach them, from the crushed potato chip crust to the creamy mozzarella topping that could then be popped into warm buns with more melted cheese, and eaten as a sandwich.

While the three of us cooked together, their parents relaxed in the living room, reading and visiting. The recipe is a winner as it’s easy to make, bakes in 18-20 minutes and then is lightly broiled. As it requires the oven, you’ll likely not want to make this when it’s a dreadfully hot summer day. instead, make it in the evening for a Mediterranean meal served with salad and wine at 9:00 pm. And, by the way, don’t get rid of any potato chip pieces that don’t stick to the chicken; they’re really crispy and delicious, by the time they’ve baked and broiled and come to the table!

I made an almost traditional pesto but substituted pistachios for pine nuts. Use whatever lightly toasted nuts you’d like. Or, make life easy on yourself and buy pre-made pesto.

One last detail: I wasn’t specific when I wrote on my shopping list that I wanted a big ball of fresh Mozzarella. As a result, my friend who shopped for me, brought little balls of fresh Mozzarella, so I cut them in half and we placed them on the chicken. I also don’t dare turn on the broiler in my little home, as they are so sensitive, that even with my oven at 400 degrees, I need to open my front and back doors, the kitchen window and the vent fan. So, envision Mozzarella dripping off the chicken breasts — or, do as I did and keep it simple.

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Crusted Baked Chicken with Mozzarella and Pesto

  • Author: Patricia Rain
Scale

Ingredients

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper (approx 1/4 teaspoon of each)
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
11/2 cups crushed potato chips (I used olive oil chips; use whatever you prefer)
8 slices fresh Mozzarella

Pesto
1 cup basil leaves
1/2 cup cut flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons lightly toasted pistachios, pine nuts or walnut pieces
Sea salt to taste
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (or a little more depending on how loose you like pesto sauce)
1/4 cup Parmesan — shreds or coarsely grated

Instructions

Pesto
In a food processor, pulse together basil, parsley, garlic, nuts, Parmesan, and salt until it forms a paste, wiping down the sides of the bowl a couple of times. Slowly pour in the olive oil as you continue to pulse to create a smooth sauce. Pour into a small bowl and add a film of olive oil over the top of the pesto to help keep it vibrantly green. You can make this in advance and refrigerate it. Bring it to room temperature before using.

 

Chicken
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place a baking rack on a half-sheet baking pan lined with parchment. Oil the baking rack lightly. Place baking sheet so that chicken will be a few inches from broiler.

Place flour on a large plate and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Add milk and vanilla to a medium bowl. Fill a separate medium bowl with potato-chip crumbs and the remaining 1 tablespoon flour. Stir to combine.

Dip chicken breasts into flour to coat, shaking off excess, then dunk into the milk, letting any excel run off, then roll through potato chip mixture, and press chips onto chicken breasts. Place breasts on the prepared baking rack. Pat any remaining potato chip coating onto the top sides of breasts.

Bake breasts until crust is golden and breasts are just cooked through, approximately 18 – 20 minutes. Check at 18 minutes with a meat thermometer. When it reaches 160 degrees in thickest part of the breast, it is ready.

Remove chicken from oven and turn on broiler. Place 2 pieces of mozzarella on each breast. Return to oven and broil just until cheese is bubbling, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a platter and let rest five minutes. Smear a spoonful of pesto over each breast, or serve it at the table so diners can add it to taste.

Serves 4

 

Patricia Rain
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Patricia Rain

is an author, educator, culinary historian, and owner of The Vanilla Company (www.vanillaqueen.com), a socially conscious, product-driven information and education site dedicated to the promotion of pure, natural vanilla, and the support of vanilla farmers worldwide. She also does culinary presentations for food professionals, cooking schools, trade shows, food fairs, and private groups, and is a regular radio and TV guest.

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