Friday, September 11, 2009

Penne with Fresh Pesto, Summer Vegetables and Grilled Chicken

I've really turned over a new leaf recently in the gardening department. I have historically had a rather poisonous black thumb when it comes to sustaining plants of any kind- but I'm happy to report that I've made some improvements this summer.
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. 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...


  1. Looks delish! And your taste tester is the cutest! :)

  2. Seriously Maggie...this dish was sooo delicious! Thanks again for having us over. And your "official taste tester" will gladly taste anything you make...along wih his parents ;)