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
MAKE YOUR OWN PESTO!
For some reason I had this unfounded fear that pesto was difficult to make, but I was so wrong.
- Pine nuts – these are the traditional nuts to use in pesto, and I toast mine first to release the oils and develop the flavors. However, you can swap out other nuts if you prefer
- Garlic – 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.
- Olive oil – this is the only oil I’ve ever used for pesto. I’ve tried to go healthier and use just a little bit of oil, but it’s not the same. You lose the gorgeous, silky texture. Sometimes, you just have to splurge
- Red pepper flakes – these add just a little bit of heat, but too much will overpower the pesto. You can start out with just a little, and add more at the end.
- Parmesan cheese – for years, I used the cheese in the container at the grocery store. Then a few years ago I tried a block of parmesan from a specialty store…and never looked back. There is absolutely no comparison. It is well worth the extra cost, and it will last you quite a while.
One of my favorite things about pasta is that there are so many different shapes to choose from. Of course I use penne pasta for this Pesto Chicken Penne Pasta, but if you have another favorite shape, go ahead and use it. Just make sure to use a short cut of pasta.
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. Finally, add baby spinach and continue cooking until spinach wilts.
- PREPARE BASIL: 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.