I’m not quite sure why it took me so long to make pesto for the first time. I think I was intimidated. It sounded complicated. And it certainly wasn’t anything we ever ate in my house growing up. My mom cooked for us almost every single night, G-d bless her, and she was a good cook. Dinner was generally a meat and two sides. Pork chops with rice and broccoli. Chicken cutlets with baked potatoes and peas. Oooh- and I loved the nights when we ate kielbasa and caramelized onions with raw apples and cheddar cheese. Straightforward food with hints of the Great American Melting Pot. And though I began expanding my palate when I went to college, and I had tasted and cooked a good many foods over time, pesto was still not on my radar until a few years ago. It seemed SO Italian to me- so authentic, that I had just never tried to make it.
Silly me. Pesto is like the easiest thing in America to make. Basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, seasoning, Parmesan cheese. Swirl it in your food processor. That’s it. And it’s perfectly delicious. These days, I almost always have a batch of pesto in my fridge or freezer. It can be applied in so many different ways: as a sauce for pizza, a starter for a fancy mayo, the mortar in a polenta lasagna, as a dip…I could go on and on.
When planning for this week, my husband and I agreed on Pesto Chicken for Monday night. I was looking forward to a super simple meal, because Mondays are my busiest days in the land of Plan to Plate. People like to start their weeks off feeling organized and prepared, and it’s my job to help them get there- which means my Mondays are long and jam packed.
This Monday, I shopped and prepared foods for my sweetest client couple- made them a roasted pablano vinaigrette to go with their mahi mahi served over a mango, corn, avocado and mixed green salad. Of course I also chopped their vegetables, diced their pancetta, and delivered all the goodies and recipes to their home. At the the end of the day, I knew our Pesto Chicken would take very little work and provide a warm, satisfying dinner.
Sunday night, I trimmed up two boneless breasts of chicken and got them marinating in my homemade pesto. The only other ingredients we needed were a few tomatoes, zucchini, and some fresh basil and cheese to finish the dish.
Literally, we preheated the oven and put the chicken in a glass dish with a few gorgeous tomatoes. This time of year, the tasty ones cost a bit more, but I am saddened by bland, mealy tomatoes, so I think the sweetness is worth another dollar. These are strawberry tomatoes.
After the chicken had cooked for about 20 minutes, we added the zucchini and cheese to the mix. And the pasta was bubbling away in the pot.
A few minutes later, voila! Pesto change-o! We were ready to plate our meal. Rather than placing a huge breast of chicken on my pasta, I like to cut it into chunks. It makes eating less labor intensive, and that way, I don’t have to butcher my pasta while I cut my chicken.
Speaking of pasta, I am a huge fan of the whole grain pastas available in grocery stores now. The food nerd in me was chomping at the bit to try them immediately. I started buying them to be more health conscious, and to reap the benefits of higher fiber and more nutrients. I became a believer right away. It honestly was a natural transition, since I prefer whole grain breads to white breads anyway. What I do find surprising is the amount of flavor the new fangled pastas boast. They just seem to have more girth, more oomph, more robust flavor than the bland tasting, run of the mill, white pastas. Now, I am not talking about homemade pastas, here. That is a whole different ball game that I don’t get to play very often. Yet.
I do feel good buying the whole grain pastas for my heart-healthy clients, and those who are trying to lose weight or just eat healthfully. Eaten in moderation and fashioned as a vehicle for all kinds of vegetables, these pastas are good for you!
Our Pesto Chicken was tender and tasty, comforting and fulfilling. So, remember to push your boundaries. Go beyond your comfort zone a little at a time. The results are bound to be rewarding and delicious.