Homemade chicken pesto pizza topped with fresh Italian ingredients. Shredded chicken breast, ripe tomatoes, basil pesto, and melty mozzarella baked on a crispy crust.
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Try something new on your next family pizza night. Instead of a meat lover’s pizza with traditional tomato sauce, add a fresh basil pesto to season the crust. The aromatic herbs, garlic, cheese, and nuts add a gourmet flavor. Super sweet and juicy tomatoes add that missing tomato sauce element and complement the garden-inspired ingredients.
If you have leftover roasted chicken, this is a great way to use it on a new meal. Just shred the meat up. Freshly grated mozzarella cheese locks all the ingredients together when melted. I sprinkle a little parmesan right before serving to add a pleasant saltiness.
Pizza dough options
I enjoy making homemade pizza dough because it’s easy and only has 5-ingredients. If you have bread flour, instant yeast, olive oil, salt, and water, you can turn them into a stretchy pizza crust in just a few hours. Even better, make it the day before to grab and use the next day. My recipe even makes two doughs if you need to feed a large group.
For convenience, you can pick up 1-pound raw pizza dough from the refrigerated section at most grocery stores. Pre-baked crusts are another quick alternative. Just make sure to follow the package directions for bake temperature and time.
I use my homemade pesto sauce to flavor the pizza dough for this recipe. Fresh basil leaves are the base of the sauce, giving a slightly peppery, anise, and mint flavor. Parsley, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, and pecorino romano add a rich, spicy taste to the herb sauce. The recipe makes a ½ cup, just what you need for the pizza.
You can also purchase store-bought products. I prefer the refrigerated options for the brightest flavor. The cooked jarred products have a muddled, dull taste that’s not as vibrant. If you have time, make it from scratch, and you’ll taste the difference.
Add two types of cheeses
A grate-able cheese, like mozzarella, has enough moisture to make it melt and liquefy together at around 130ºF (54ºC). It’s soft and flowable due to the high levels of water locked in between the casein protein network. I like its mild flavor to let the pesto sauce shine through.
Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top right before serving to add a sharper, nutty taste. It is a hard, dry cheese and doesn’t melt well. It’s best to add it later.
Any leftover chicken breast or thigh works to add to the pizza. I often roast a whole chicken or make a batch of grilled chicken breast during the week. If you need to cook it from scratch, no problem! Try my stovetop method or bake it to make a big batch. Shred the poultry into bite-size pieces. You’ll need one cup.
Add fresh tomatoes
Even though we don’t have a traditional red sauce, I still use fresh tomatoes as a topping. Use small, ripe cherry tomatoes. The sweet and natural savory glutamate flavor compounds concentrate for a robust taste as they cook down. If desired, you can use other types of tomatoes like Cocktail or Roma.
Slice big pieces thin and into smaller wedges. They contain a lot of water, so you don’t want the top of the pizza to get too wet. Alternatively, pieces of sun-dried tomatoes also make a delicious option. Before baking, I sprinkle on salt and pepper to season the fruit and help bring the juices to the surface for quick evaporation.
Prepare the crust
Make sure to let any chilled pizza dough sit out at room temperature for 30 minutes. This duration makes the dough easier to work with as it will stretch more freely. When ready, place it on an oiled baking sheet with cornmeal for extra crunch as it gives a nice texture contrast on the bottom.
Form it into a 12-inch circle or desired shape. I like to brush the edges with olive oil, so it bakes up golden brown and crispy.
Layer the toppings and bake
Spread the pesto sauce evenly on the dough first. Layer the mozzarella cheese on top, followed by the chicken and tomatoes to help bind the ingredients when the cheese melts—season with salt and pepper to enhance the taste of the fruit and poultry.
Bake at a high 500ºF (260ºC) on the lowest rack in the oven. The crust should be golden brown on the bottom and edges, and the cheese bubbling. Before serving, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, toasted pine nuts, and fresh basil. Slice it up and take a bite.
Serve this with
- Caesar Salad
- Marinara Sauce for Dipping
- Prosciutto and Melon
- Caprese Salad
- Salad with Homemade Vinaigrette
Pesto sauce is made with fresh herbs and quality extra-virgin olive oil. There are many health benefits from monounsaturated fatty acids in the oil and antioxidants. Compared to tomato sauce, there is more fat and sodium due to the addition of the oil and cheese. However, some tomato sauces contain added sugars. Make sure to read product labels if not making from scratch.
Pesto is a thick paste to toss with pasta or spread on bread like focaccia or pizza dough. It can be used as a pasta sauce but needs to be mixed well. Other pasta sauces can be cream-based like alfredo or tomato-based like marinara. They are much more pourable.
Yes, par-baked or frozen crusts can be used. Make sure to follow the package directions. Frozen crusts may need to be defrosted first.
How to prevent the pesto sauce from turning brown
When making fresh pesto, note that the bright green leaves turn brown once cut due to an enzyme released, making the sliced or bruised area dark in hue. To prevent this from happening as quickly, blanch and shock the basil for 20 seconds before making the sauce. If used right away, you can skip the blanching, as it will be covered in cheese. However, if you plan to store the pesto for serval days, don’t skip the cooking step.
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Chicken Pesto Pizza
- 1 pound pizza dough
- olive oil, for brushing
- 2 teaspoons cornmeal, optional
- ½ cup pesto sauce
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup cooked shredded chicken
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
- 1 tablespoon sliced basil
- Preheat the Oven – Set the oven rack to the lowest position and set the temperature to 500ºF (260ºC).
- Prepare the Dough – Allow the prepared pizza dough to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Prepare the Pan – Lightly brush a large baking sheet with olive oil. Evenly sprinkle cornmeal on the pan, if desired.
- Shape the Dough – On a lightly floured surface, stretch and shape the dough into a 10-inch circle—transfer to the baking sheet. Use fingers to press into a 12-inch circle. Leave the edges slightly thicker, about ½-inch tall and wide. Brush olive oil on the edges to make the crust crispier when baked.
- Add the Toppings – Spread on the pesto first, followed by mozzarella cheese, chicken, and tomatoes. Evenly sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Bake – Cook until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 10 to 12 minutes.
- Serve – Garnish with parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and basil. Slice and serve immediately while still hot.
- Baking Sheet
- Using my Pizza Dough Recipe: It makes enough for two pizzas. Double the topping ingredients, or use 1 crust and save the other for later.
- Storing: Cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
- Reheating: Place on a sheet pan and broil on the lowest rack until cheese is hot and bubbling, about 5 minutes. Alternatively, microwave in 30-second intervals until the cheese melts.
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