The perfect combination of flavours, this basil pesto chicken pasta combines an easy homemade pesto sauce with the perfect strips of oven baked chicken breast, whole wheat pasta and toasted pine nuts for a comforting and easy meal.
Chicken Pesto Pasta – the breakdown:
To make this delicious pasta dish, you need to prepare a few things.
Pesto Sauce: This is the star of the dish so I highly recommend you go for a homemade recipe. This is a really easy one that basically just requires you to throw a bunch of things into a food processor. It’s bright and fragrant and delicious! The full post here has the full breakdown and also instructions for long term storing.
Baked Chicken Breasts: Instead of plain chicken, an easy spice rub coats chicken breasts that are baked at a high temperature to produce chicken that is crispy on the outside and juicy and tender on the inside. A little sweet, tangy from the mustard, this is a winning recipe I use all the time. Full post here.
Pasta: I almost always use whole wheat pasta. I think it tastes equivalent to the white stuff and is so much better for you. My kids are completely used to whole wheat pasta. I used fusilli in this case, I love how the pesto sauce gets into all those little nooks and crannies. Feel free to use penne, spaghetti, linguine, or whatever else you have on hand.
Garnishes: A lot of extra parmesan cheese and some fresh basil make this extra delicious. I love topping it the pasta with some toasted pine nuts too. You can find full instructions on how to toast pine nuts here.
Why do I need to reserve some pasta water?
Pasta water is starch infused water that works great at getting that thick, pasty pesto into a more cohesive sauce texture. It will ensure that the pesto coats the pasta more effectively, so that you don’t end up with uneven dollops of pesto and dry bits of pasta. The pasta water emulsifies the sauce because of the starch, and is a very common technique in Italian cooking.
Switching up this basil pesto chicken pasta:
You can omit the chicken, and keep this dish vegetarian.
You can also use any leftover chicken you have, or shredded rotisserie chicken. Alternately, you can pan cook the chicken in order for it to cook faster.
To make this creamier, add a big dollop of mascarpone cheese, or simmer some heavy cream in a saucepan and stir the pesto sauce into the heavy cream.
Try adding some chopped up sundried tomato to the finished dish.
Add some peas or broccoli florets, and/or asparagus.
Chicken Pesto Pasta
For the pesto sauce:
- 4 packed cups fresh basil leaves 100 g
- 1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
- the zest of one small lemon
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 5 garlic cloves
- 1 tsp salt
- 2/3 cup toasted pine nuts, cooled
- pinch red chili flakes
- 1 cup good quality olive oil
For the chicken breasts:
- 2 chicken breasts
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp mixed herbs, oregano or thyme
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- 1 tsp olive oil
For the pasta and assembly:
- 250 grams pasta of choice, I used whole wheat fusilli (about 1/2 box or 8 ounces)
- handful fresh parmesan cheese
- handful fresh basil leaves
- 2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
For the pesto sauce:
- In the bowl of a food processor or blender, add all the ingredients from the basil leaves through to the red chili flakes (everything except the olive oil).
- Blend to combine until basil is chopped up. Then, drizzle in the olive oil while blending until all the olive oil is added and a paste with some texture forms. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
For the chicken:
- Preheat the oven to 220 C (425 F). Flatten the chicken breasts slightly by pounding them with a rolling pin until the whole breast is of the same thickness.
- In a small bow, mix together all the dry ingredients, mustard, and olive oil until a paste forms.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, place chicken breasts on parchment paper, and spread the spice and oil paste evenly all over the chicken breasts, bottom and top.
- Bake the chicken for 18-20 minutes, until cooked through. For the final 1-2 minutes of cooking, if chicken hasn't browned, use the broil function of your oven to give it a touch of color. Watch carefully!
- Allow chicken to rest for a few minutes, then slice it up to top the pasta with.
For the pasta and assembling:
- Cook the pasta according to package instructions and then drain, reserving a little of the pasta water.
- Toss the pasta thoroughly with 1/2 cup prepared pesto, and add a little of the reserved pasta water to make it more saucy. Top with the grilled chicken, extra parmesan cheese, and toasted pine nuts, plus fresh basil if desired.
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