My azaleas bloomed for the first time since we bought our house three years ago, I've only replaced the plant by the front door twice (last year was more like 5 or 6 times), I have a baby sago palm that looks quite pleased with his new home on my porch, and I have luscious basil plants a plenty growing in the back. (My mom's tip about cutting them down from the top of the plant to prevent flowering did the trick.)
So I decided to make use of a small basil harvest by making some fresh pesto. I saw this recipe in Epicurious a few months back so I used it as the framework for a yummy weeknight meal.
http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Zucchini-Corn-and-Basil-Fusilli-with-Bacon-242838 Our neighbors came over for dinner in celebration of little Logan's first birthday so I decided to add some grilled chicken to the pasta as well. I cut three chicken breasts in half length wise so that they would cook more quickly and evenly and then placed them in a glass dish. I always buy the Certified Organic Smart Chicken when available- not only is it better for you and the eco-friendly thing to do, it actually tastes like real chicken! I seasoned the halves with salt, pepper, and a bit of garlic powder and then drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I let them sit in the fridge for about an hour while I finished the rest of the preparations.
Next I made the PESTO:
4-5 cups fresh basil leaves
3 large cloves of garlic
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4-1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese
about 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
I roughly chopped the garlic and then dropped it down the tube into the food processor with the blade running. Next I added the pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and basil leaves. I pulsed the motor until it all started to come together but still had some texture to it and then poured the oil in with the blade running just until incorporated. I seasoned lightly with salt (the cheese adds a lot of flavor) and freshly ground black pepper. UTTERLY DELICIOUS! Store bought pesto doesn't even hold a candle to freshly made.
The flavor of the fresh pesto was so heavenly that I decided against the bacon in the recipe because I didn't want it to overpower. (And winning a battle over pork fat in this instance is really saying something about the pesto!) I diced one medium vidalia onion and sauteed it in some butter while I sliced two fresh local zucchini squashes. I added the zucchini as soon as the onion started to look translucent and sauteed 4 minutes more before adding a heaping cup of frozen sweet corn, one can of petite diced tomatoes (rinsed to remove the liquid) and some salt and pepper. I sauteed the vegetable mixture until the corn and tomato were just heated through, and then I set the pan aside.
John grilled the chicken breast halves and I cooked two packages of penne pasta in salted water- subtract one minute from package directions for my version of al dente- while the chicken rested. I drained the pasta into a colander in the sink and into the warm pot I added my pesto and about 1/3 cup of white wine- stirring to combine and warm. Back in went the penne, followed by the vegetable mixture and the chicken (sliced into bite size pieces). I tossed it all together and added some additional cracked pepper before transferring half of the pasta to a serving dish and sprinkling generously with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. (We saved the other half for left overs the next night.)
Served alongside a simple mixed green salad with balsamic vinaigrette, it was a hearty yet light and fresh tasting summer meal. Next time I would add some red pepper flakes to the vegetable saute to give it a little extra kick!
John made some brownies the night before to serve with ice cream for dessert. (He is the Brownie Czar of our house- for whatever reason, mine just aren't as good.) John, Leigh and Clark all went with plain old vanilla but I stepped it up with peppermint stick ice cream and I'm pretty sure mine was the best!
The Guest of Honor/Official Taste Tester Approved...