roasted chicken panini with pistachio pesto and mozzarella

I’m back, I’m back, I’m back! I’m back in Columbia after the most had-to-be-pretend, enchanting, bring me to my knees and force me to be a five-year-old trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Somehow, despite them plopping me down in 30,000 of the most magical acres on the planet, they expected me to learn about food blogging and concentrate on presentations given by the most knowledgeable and successful experts in the field. I’m totally kidding. Not about the experts part. They really were experts. No, I had so much fun listening and taking notes and soaking up information from these greats. I kept saying to myself while listening, “I’m totally dreaming, right? My dog is gonna wake me up barking to go outside in about five seconds, right?” How thankful am I that these wonderful professionals wanted to spare these elevating morsels? I can’t give enough standing ovations to the sponsors (KitchenAid, Whole Foods Market, Land O Lakes, OXO, and more), the host (Walt Disney World Resort), the coordinators (Julie Deily of the little kitchen and Jaden and Scott Hair of Steamy Kitchen), and the speakers (Diane Cu and Todd Porter of White on Rice Couple, Rachel Barbarotta of The Fabulous Foodie, Arianna Bastianini from OXO, Tom Smith from WDWR, David Leite of Leite’s Culinaria, and Dawn Viola, research chef and food writer).

One of the things I learned from Diane and Todd was to share my story. The food I make is the result of my personal journey. Yeah, yeah, going food sappy on y’all, but it’s true. I make recipes that mean something to me, that pluck a heart string, that make a memory resonate, that mirror my current feelings or environment. Can I share something with you? Right now my mind is wrestling with my finger to hit the delete key and shouting, “Abort! Abort!”, but I think some readers will say, “Yes. I’m not alone.” I struggle pretty often with anxiety and depression, no beating around the bush. I can’t say exactly what triggers it, only because I’m honestly unsure, but it seems to hover around changes in my life. Don’t get me wrong. If someone said, “You and your husband have to travel 364 out of 365 days in the year.”, I’d do it in a heartbeat. It’s not that I don’t like changes, but my body knows it’s stressed long before I actually realize it. And when it does trigger, well, it’s basically and frankly…not fun. My mind tells me it’ll never end and I feel like I’m trapped in a cage and every way I turn looks the same and it seems there’s no escape.

Whoa, Nellie, a little bit of a downer, hey? I’m done with the dark statements. But when this does happen (like it did right after we left Orlando, you caught me, we actually returned last week), my passions and cares usually go out the window for a while. Forget running, forget cooking, and writing? Yeah. Right. And I’m not telling you this for a bunch of hoobaloo or fluff or because I’m randomly throwing part of my story out into the world wide web. I think it’s relevant to my food life and I think some of you guys can relate.

So, now I’m feeling back to normal and started having a longing to cook a couple of days ago. With a tired brain and body, I wanted something simple, yet comforting. Something with gooey cheese. I remembered! My brand new, beautiful blue panini press from Le Creuset! I bought four new Le Creuset pieces with my Stonyfield/Organic Valley/Wholesome Wave prize money and have been waiting for the right moment to initiate them into my kitchen. A grilled panini sounded ideal. Y’all. I have so much to be thankful for. Thank you, Jesus, for opportunities and resources.

roasted chicken panini with pistachio pesto and mozzarella
yield: 4 paninis prep time: 10 minutes cook time: 45 minutes
2 chicken breasts, bone in and skin on
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 cups fresh basil
1/2 cup roasted pistachios, shelled
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
pinch of salt
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
8 slices whole wheat bread
8 oz fresh mozzarella

Preheat oven to 350º. Place the chicken, breast side up, on a baking sheet. Coat evenly with the olive oil and sprinkle generously with the salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 40 minutes or until it reaches an internal temperature of 165º. After the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and tear the meat from the bones. Slice the meat with a knife and set aside.
To make the pesto, use a sharp knife to finely chop the basil, pistachios, and garlic. Place in a bowl and add the Parmesan and salt. Stir. Gradually add the olive oil, mixing vigorously, until it reaches your desired consistency.
Heat the grill pan and panini press (I used a cast iron pan with two separate pieces. You can actually heat the oil-free press directly on your stove’s eye) over medium heat. While those are preheating, assemble the sandwich. Using two slices of bread, spread 2 tablespoons of pesto and slice about an ounce of mozzarella for each slice of bread. Top one slice with the prepared roasted chicken. Close the sandwich and brush each side with olive oil to prevent sticking. Place the sandwich in the heated pan and press down with the heated press. Release the pressure and, keeping the press on, cook for about 3 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and mozzarella is melted.

I wish I could dedicate a whole post with only the words thank and you to the people of Food Blog Forum. I sincerely thank you for taking me up and letting me learn and for putting me in great hands. I met really neat people (Kim with The Suburban Cook, Sam with Sweet Remedy, Jacqueline with Beyond Infinity, and Erica with Erica’s Sweet Tooth, just to name a small few) with incredible talents and I feel like I have some great tools to keep moving forward. And I know my husband, twin sister, and her husband are so grateful as well. We felt so on top of the world and created some of our best memories yet (for some pictures of the conference as well as fun times in the parks, check out my Facebook page! It was the best and I don’t see how you guys are gonna top it! Oh! And guess what?! I met Mickey!


rocco’s pesto genovese

The first time I remember having pesto was at this fabulous place in Little Italy in NYC. I don’t think I knew what I was ordering, but basil and pine nuts didn’t sound repulsing, so I trusted the menu (c’mon. I was 19 and just realizing that I enjoyed food and didn’t have to simply ingest it). When the penne arrived lightly tossed in, not really a sauce, but more of a crushed combination of simple ingredients, I remember being hit with the smell of fresh basil and garlic. It was so delicate, yet so chock-full of flavor at the same time. Rather than being mushed together to paste-like consistency, it was prepared in a way where you could almost taste each ingredient separately. There’s the parmesan. There’s the olive oil. There’s the garlic. It was addicting.

The husband and I were watching the Cooking Channel several weeks ago when David Rocco’s Dolce Vita was on. First of all, can I just say how I love that he walks around outside and makes things on random benches and tree stumps? A little unrealistic for me right now, but it’s still beautiful. Also a little unrealistic for me right now: that I can pronounce Genovese. Big whoop. I pretend I’m saying it right by giving it a little Italian accent. But that doesn’t matter. The word Genovese comes from a city in Italy called Genoa, which is where pesto originated. And David Rocco creates this pesto with its tradition in mind. I will never use a food processor to make pesto again. He hand chops each ingredient, leaving a rustic, chunky, flavorful accompaniment to pasta, etc. This pesto reminds me of my NYC pasta (and, oh my, how that’s a good thing).

rocco’s pesto genovese
bunch fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup pine nuts, crushed
1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
generous pinch of salt
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Using a sharp knife, finely chop basil, garlic, and nuts (pine nuts are traditional, but you really can use any type of nut and make a great pesto) on a cutting board. Put chopped ingredients in a jar. Add the parmigiano cheese, salt, and 1/2 cup olive oil and mix well. Top it off with the remaining extra-virgin olive oil. Taste and adjust it to your liking.
Pesto is traditionally served with pasta, bruschetta, or fish.

So, people, put down the food processors and get to choppin’. It really is easier (the husband will have less dishes to wash, heh…) and makes for a much simpler, more traditional Italian pesto. Thank you, Little Italy chef in NYC, thank you, David Rocco, and thank you, Italians for sticking to what you know and doing it beautifully and timelessly.