Chicken Pesto Pasta

  • Time: 40 minutes
  • Serves: 2
  • Level: medium

‘…This will make a glorious summer dish. Make more, it keeps a few days so you can keep enjoying it.’

Leo Williamson
‘Fresh home-made pesto is in a league of its own compared to the stuff in a jar…’

What you need

For the pesto

1 garlic clove – or 2, depending on your metabolism

30g pine nuts

45g Parmesan cheese – grated

60g basil leaves

60ml – 100ml extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

 

For the pasta

200g spiral pasta

300g chicken breast – (approx. two small or one large)

6 medium spears of broccoli

1 medium courgette

Lemon

Olive oil



Dad's Recipe Tales

The power of pesto

My earliest memories of pesto are of the strong pungent type we would occasionally have for lunch from cheap and cheerful Italian restaurants in Soho.  The initial gratification was followed by pesto-provoked metabolism malfunctions – leaving an olfactory trail of lunch throughout the office.  These pestos were so potent they would stay with you –  and your disapproving colleagues – all day long.

However, a well-made, balanced pesto is very delicious – a worthy celebration of basil. Still, there’s a tendency for pesto to overpower. To address this, I often soften the intensity; I might cut my pesto with parsley or use other nuts – such as walnut and go easy on the garlic and Parmesan.

Will the real pesto please stand up…

I have researched and produced a matrix of many (15) pesto recipes – the proportions swing about wildly. Therefore I can confidently assure you that there is no attainable definitive way to make a pesto. Whatever you end-up with will be similar to one that will have been published – or made before. It is essentially a paste of basil, garlic, nuts, cheese and oil. In fact, many recipes try to spin-out themes and variation in search of a distinctive recipe. Herbs other than basil can be substituted or partly mixed, such as, parsley, carrot tops, rocket and mint. Pine nuts can be mixed or substituted with walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, or pistachio. The sauce originates from Genoa in Italy – pesto alla Genovese – and was traditionally made with Sardo pecorino instead of Parmesan.  Many recipes will show a half and half mix of pecorino and Parmesan.

NB: We could look to Genoa for an authentic recipe – but no doubt there are as many local Italian variations as there are published recipes in the UK. Apparently the basil in Genoa is far superior to any other basil grown in Italy – so even if we did have the ultimate recipe it would fall short of a true Genovese pesto.

The problem with pasta…

Pasta in the UK is something of an anomaly – in Italy it is served in smaller portions as part of larger multi-course meals. In the UK we have turned the idea of pasta into a simple main course. This practice however has created some awkward issues, such as – how to we get our greens? (I am reminded of a TV cooking contestant on who was sternly chided for serving salad with pasta).

I do not make an issue of this and will happily serve salad – and bread – with our pasta meals. Further, as with this recipe, I will often include vegetables in with the pasta.

How Dad Cooked It

It is easier to make a larger quantity of pesto – any leftover will freeze very well or keep in the fridge for several days (cover the pesto with more oil).

  1. Marinade chicken breast in a squeeze of lemon, a tablespoon of olive oil oil, a pinch salt and couple of grindings of pepper for half an hour.
  2. Make the pesto: Ideally use a pestle and mortar. Pound the garlic with a pinch of salt, add the basil leaves and continue to pound, add the pine nuts and pound and then the cheese. When the sauce is a thick paste start to drizzle in the olive oil and stir with the pestle to blend the ingredients. Continue adding oil until the pesto is the consistency of commercial houmous. Alternatively, grate the garlic and put in a blender with the basil, nuts, cheese and half the oil – then add olive oil slowly until the desired consistency is achieved.
  3. Boil a large pan of lightly salted water and cook the pasta according to directions until al dente – drain reserving a cup of the water and keep warm.
  4. Boil the broccoli and courgette separately in lightly salted water until only just tender. I like to steam my vegetables in a wok with a small amount of water or stock. Time the cooking of the vegetables to be done as near as possible to the final assembling time – this way they will keep their colour. Alternatively, cook them in boiling water until just tender and drain and refresh in cold or iced water. This will preserve their bright green colour. Just before the assembling stage, toss the veg in a pan with a little water to warm through.
  5. Sear and fry on a grill pan or frying pan and finish in the oven until just done, and then rest.
  6. Slice the chicken on a diagonal into thin pieces.
  7. Put the pasta into a large saute pan or wok and heat gently. Loosen with a little of the pasta water – mix in the chicken, vegetables, and toss. Add the pesto in stages tasting as you go until it has the right balance – this is invariably less than estimated. Thin with a little more pasta water if desired, taste for seasoning, add a squeeze of lemon and serve with extra olive oil and Parmesan.

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