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Herbed Chicken with Pesto Sauce and Pasta

Friday, August 7th, 2015

One herb that grows prolifically in the southern garden is basil. When all other vegetables and herbs are beginning to wane in the hot, summer sun, basil thrives and continues to produce large, fragrant leaves until the cool weather of fall signals the end of its growing season. Uses for fresh basil are many…added to other greens for a garden salad or layered with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella for caprese salad…but one of the most widely known uses for basil is pesto. Converting my “bumper crop” of basil into pesto that can be frozen in “recipe-sized” portions, allows me to enjoy the bounty of my summer garden throughout the year. This recipe uses freshly made pesto to create a creamy sauce to combine with herbed, sautéed chicken and your favorite pasta. The pesto sauce embraces the pasta and lends a fresh flavor which differs from the more acidic finish of tomato-based sauces.  The green tones of the sauce may be a surprise to those at your table, but I predict the taste will win them over.  Try it, and let me know what you think!


Herbed Chicken with Pesto Sauce and Pasta

Ingredients for the Pesto Sauce:
Choose one of the following 3 options:
1) 6 oz. fresh basil leaves (about 3 cups firmly packed leaves), or
2) 3 oz. basil leaves (about 1/1/2 cups) and 3 oz. fresh spinach leaves with stems removed (3 cups firmly packed
spinach), or
3) 4 oz tube of Gourmet Garden Basil Herb Blend (found in specialty packaged produce section of larger
grocery stores) and 3 oz. fresh spinach leaves, with stems removed
(Note: Other leafy greens such as kale or chard can be substituted for all or part of the spinach. The resulting flavor of the pesto will be somewhat less sweet)
Leaves from 6 sprigs of fresh Italian parsley
¼ cup walnuts, coarsely broken into pieces
¼ cup low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
3 -4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese, divided use
Ingredients for the Marinade and Chicken:
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon celery salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon dried marjoram
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
½ teaspoon dried, rubbed sage
1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves, crushed
¼ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced thinly and cut into one-inch pieces

8 ounces fettuccine (gluten-free pasta can also be used)
4 – 5 Tablespoons 2% milk
To make the pesto
Rinse the basil, and/or spinach and parsley in cool water to remove any grit, and then dry thoroughly, pressing the leaves in a towel or using a salad spinner to remove excess liquid.  Place walnuts in food processor and pulse until finely ground.  Add basil and/or spinach and parsley to the ground walnuts and pulse until finely chopped.
walnuts, spinach, parsley and basil, finely chopped

walnuts, spinach, parsley and basil, finely chopped

If using the Gourmet Garden Basil Herb Blend, add to the mixture after chopping the “greens” and the walnuts and then pulse to blend.  Add chicken broth to the mixture in the processor and then, with the food processor running, slowly add the olive oil and pulse briefly in short bursts until the mixture is blended.  Add 3 tablespoons parmesan and pulse to mix.  If the consistency of the pesto seems thin after adding the parmesan, add one more tablespoon of grated parmesan to achieve the consistency of a smooth paste. (Note: if you plan to freeze a portion of the pesto, do not add parmesan cheese as the pesto is being made.  Frozen pesto that contains cheese develops a “gummy” texture when thawed. Grated parmesan can be added after thawing frozen pesto.)  Transfer the pesto to a small container with a tightly fitting lid if it will not be used immediately.  Pesto can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or divided into portions and frozen. (Placing plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pesto when refrigerated will help to maintain the bright green color of the basil.  However, if the color of the pesto begins to darken, it will not affect the flavor.)
To make the marinade for the chicken:
Combine olive oil, celery salt, ground cumin, marjoram, thyme leaves, rubbed sage, rosemary and coarse ground black pepper in a large bowl.  Add thinly sliced chicken and turn the chicken to coat with the olive oil/herb mixture.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow chicken to marinate at least 30 minutes or up to an hour.
To prepare the chicken with pesto sauce and pasta:
1) Prepare pasta according to package directions.
2) While water is boiling for pasta, place marinated chicken, along with herb/oil marinade, into a large skillet and sauté over medium heat until chicken is evenly cooked, with no pink remaining.  Remove chicken from pan and put in covered bowl to keep warm.  Spoon one-half of the pesto mixture into the skillet and stir in 4 to 5 tablespoons of milk, as needed, to bring the pesto to the consistency of a thin (but not watery) sauce.  Gradually stir 3 to 4 tablespoons of grated parmesan into the pesto/milk mixture to bring sauce to the desired thickness.
pesto blended with milk and parmesan cheese to make sauce

pesto blended with milk and parmesan cheese to make sauce

Taste the sauce and add additional salt and/or pepper, as desired. Return the chicken to the skillet, gently turning the chicken to coat with the sauce. Finally, add the drained pasta, and using two large spoons, toss the pasta with the sauce/chicken mixture.
blending pesto sauce with herbed chicken and pasta

blending pesto sauce with herbed chicken and pasta

Serve immediately, garnished with shredded parmesan.
Makes 4 servings

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