Pesto Chicken Penne Pasta is an amazing combination of flavors. Ditch the jarred pesto and make your own. There’s nothing like it.
When I first learned to cook, I rarely used fresh herbs. I bought dry herbs, because that’s what my mom did and what recipes called for. I got the herbs at Sam’s Club, but of course they are in huge bottles. Bad move for a single person, because dry herbs lose their power after a year. Now I buy them in small batches and completely replace the herbs every January.
A couple of years ago I decided to try my hand at growing my own herbs. I killed everything for 2 years straight, but finally figured out how to keep them alive. One of my favorite herbs is basil, because it’s easy to grow, and will survive the winter indoors. Fresh herbs are so wonderful for cooking, because they add a great punch of brightness and flavor to dishes.
I never ate much pesto until a few years ago; and when I did, I bought it pre-made from the grocery store. The first time my basil plants went crazy a couple of years ago, it was growing faster than I could use it.
Pinterest came to the rescue, of course, with all kinds of recipes. One of the first recipes I found, and one of my favorites, is Pesto Chicken Penne Pasta
For some reason I had this unfounded fear that pesto was difficult to make, but I was so wrong. I toast the pine nuts first, as that releases the oils and adds a depth of flavor. I have a bad habit of using too much garlic, and I swear I could kill demons with my breath all afternoon. Once I learned to roast garlic, I never looked back. Roasted garlic has this insanely amazing flavor, and it melts into whatever you mix it with. Most importantly, roasted garlic is so sweet you could almost eat it straight. Almost. Pesto is also very versatile, as you can substitute other types of nuts, and even different greens. The only “musts” are garlic, oil, and cheese.
I have tried to make “healthier” pesto, by using less olive oil. Nope, it’s just not the same. Sure it has less oil, but you lose the gorgeous, silky texture. Sometimes you just have to indulge a little bit.
I love this Pesto Chicken Penne Pasta because it is so versatile. The original recipe I found is nothing more than chicken and penne, topped with pesto. Super simple, but not very exciting. I made it that way the first time, but then began to play with variations. For a while I sauteed onions with the asparagus, but now I slowly cook the onions first, so that they lightly caramelize. I almost always use fresh asparagus, mushrooms, and green beans, but you can use your favorite green vegetables. I also add frozen peas for the last few minutes of cooking, for another layer of texture and flavor.
Pesto Chicken Penne Pasta is absolutely one of my favorite dishes. I love the mix of flavors and textures, and how versatile and easy it is to make.
Adapted from Sweet Anna’s
Pesto Chicken Penne Pasta
- 2 boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 4 ounces penne pasta
- 2 cups fresh basil
- 1/4 cup toasted Pine Nuts
- 4 cloves roasted garlic
- Salt & pepper
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1/2 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
- 1/2 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tbsp Margarine
- 3/4 cup yellow onions, cut into 1/2" slices
- 1/2 cup raw asparagus, cut into 1/2" slices
- 1/2 cup raw green beans, cut into 1/2" slices
- 1/2 cup portobello mushrooms, quarterte
- 2 cups baby spinach
- 1/2 cup frozen peas
Cook pasta according to instructions on box
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Grill until fully cooked through. I use an indoor grill pan, and cut chicken into bite-sized pieces first to speed up the cooking time.
Melt 1 tbsp margarine in saute pan over medium/low heat. Add onion and salt, and turn heat to low. Cook, tossing occasionally, for 10-15 minutes. The time is approximate, and the most important thing is developing a gorgeous golden color and soft onions.
Turn up heat to medium/low, add asparagus and green beans, and saute until tender-crisp. The length of time will depend on how cooked through you want them, but it will take about 10 minutes to reach tender-crisp.
Add portobello mushrooms, and cook for 3-5 minutes. Add frozen peas and cook for 2-3 minutes, until they are warmed through. Add baby spinach and continue cooking until spinach wilts.
Add basil, pine nuts, garlic, red pepper flakes, parmesan and salt & pepper to food processor. Pulse until everything is finely chopped. Turn on processor and slowly pour in olive oil until desired consistency is reached. Pesto should be smooth and creamy, but not swimming in oil.
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