Chicken Pesto Pasta
Hi internet. I had a pretty rough week...I got COVID again, and my sense of taste is temporarily dulled :(
In this post I want to cover chicken pesto pasta, which hijacked my brain for a couple weeks. My appetite has been really high lately, making me even more food-driven than I ever thought possible, and this pasta is the perfect thing for a teenage boy appetite. I never knew that making homemade pesto would be life-changing but here we are!
This recipe is adapted from The Almond Eater blog.
-12 oz pasta (I prefer something that holds onto sauce well, like fusilli, rutini, or any pasta that has many sauce-grabbing surfaces)
-1/4 cup salted pasta water, reserved
-1 lb chicken breast, diced into ~1 cm cubes
-1 tbsp olive oil
-12 oz grape tomatoes
-2 garlic cloves, minced
-1/3 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
For the pesto:
-1/3 cup pine nuts
-2 small-to-medium garlic cloves
-1 cup spinach
-2 cups basil
-1 tsp lemon juice
-1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
-1/4 tsp kosher salt
-1/4 cup olive oil
I like to prepare the pesto before cooking, so things are less hectic later. Combine the pine nuts, garlic cloves, spinach, basil, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until combined.
Then, while the motor is still running, pour in the olive oil. The pesto should become emulsified this way. And now your pesto is done! 😍
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. The amount of salt in the water is up to you. I don't personally like my pasta water as salty as the sea. I put in 3 tbsp of kosher salt for my 4.5 quarts of water.
When the water is boiling, add in your pasta. Let it cook until al dente. Then turn off the heat and reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water, for later. Strain your pasta.
While the pasta is cooking, pat your chicken breast dry and dice it. I like to make my pieces about 1 cm thick and wide.
Then, heat a large oven-safe pan over medium-high heat and add in 1 tbsp olive oil. When the oil is heated enough, add in your chicken and let cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The original recipe says to cook for around 5 minutes until your chicken is golden brown. This makes no sense to me, because if I put the heat on high enough (or cook long enough) for a golden brown color, the chicken is dry. So do whatever you want with the chicken. It does not need to be fully cooked after 5 minutes, just mostly cooked.
While the chicken is cooking, measure out and wash your grape tomatoes and mince 2 cloves of garlic. Once the 5 minutes is up, add in the tomatoes and garlic and let cook for another 2 minutes, stirring here and there. While you're waiting, you can shred 1/3 cup mozzarella cheese (I used a grater for this). At this point, your chicken should look done.
Add in your strained pasta to the pan, and your pesto. Pour the 1/4 pasta water onto the pesto to thin it. Then add in half of your mozzarella. Mix everything together until the pasta looks evenly coated with pesto. Then top everything with the rest of your mozzarella cheese, cover the pan with an oven-safe lid, and pop it in the oven for 10 minutes. This is to get that mozzarella nice and melted. Here is my pasta before its ovening.
Take your pan out of the oven and now you have SO MUCH DELICIOUS PASTA. Add salt and black pepper to taste, along with red pepper flakes if that's your thing.
The pasta and chicken are evenly coated with pesto. There is a little bit of mozzarella throughout. The tomatoes add a pop of flavor/tartness. This is the ultimate comfort meal. A large bowl of this has all the protein you'd need today. It is so filling. The pesto is creamy and garlicky and herby, and it just tickles my brain. If you are vegetarian, you could definitely make this without chicken, and it would still be awesome. I also think this would taste great with salmon.
I think this is a good option for meal prepping. It's filling and satisfying, and the measurements in this recipe should feed a average-sized human for ~three meals. I usually eat all of this in 2 meals 😅
Homemade pesto is a joy and tastes so good, and I'm grateful to try my hand at it. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this post.