A couple of years ago, I over-planted basil in the garden and ended up with WAY more than I could use. What to do? Learn to make pesto, of course! I found a great recipe that freezes and keeps well, and that’s the pesto I use for this pasta recipe. Store-bought pesto would work just as well.
My BFF Becky came up with this recipe. I can’t remember if she was inspired by something on Food Network or something in a magazine or what. I just know it’s yummy, and an easy go-to dinner in a hurry!
Ingredients for Presto Pesto Pasta…with chicken:
1 to 1 1/2 pounds of chicken (whichever cuts you like)
oil for cooking the chicken
salt and pepper
1/2 cup prepared pesto
1 package dried pasta (I used rotini–I like the way it holds the sauce)
1/2 of an 8 ounce package of cream cheese (I used fat-free!)
1 package pine nuts
1 cup of “pasta water” (taken from the pasta before you drain it)
Set a big pot of water on the stove and boil water for the pasta. (It will boil faster with a lid on it.) When the water comes to a boil, salt it with a palmful of salt, and add the pasta. Cook the pasta according to package directions, remembering to retain one cup of the pasta water before you drain the pasta.
Cut chicken into a large dice–about 1-inch pieces. This is easier to do if the chicken is partially frozen. (Safety note: always wash your hands before and after handling raw meat, keep a cutting board that is only used for raw meat, be sure your knife is sharp.)
Set a large fry pan over medium-high heat, and add about a tablespoon of oil in the pan. When pan is hot, add the chicken, season with salt and pepper, and cook until browned on all sides, and cooked through. Remove from heat.
When pasta is cooked, retain a cup of the cooking liquid–I just use a coffee cup–and drain the rest. Leave the pasta in the collander and return the pot to the stove. Reduce heat to low.
In the pot, combine the cream cheese and pesto. Stir to combine and melt together–this tends to be a bit sticky and gloppy. Add pasta water a bit at a time to thin and make the sauce less sticky. (Something about the starch in the pasta water brings this sauce to a nice consistancy.) Add the pasta and cooked chicken. Stir to coat with the sauce, add more pasta water as needed. ( I used about 3/4 of the cup, total.)
Place in bowls, top with pine nuts (and grated parmesan if desired) and serve!
Mr16 loves this pasta. It would be great with sliced tomatoes on the side, or a caprese (tomato slices, fresh mozzerella slices, basil, balsamic vinegrette) salad. This recipe would be yummy with shrimp or it would also be tasty without meat, for a great vegetarian alternative! Usually, I’m in a hurry when I make it and the pasta is the entire meal. So far, no complaints, because it’s just so yummy!
For anyone with a bit of time and a food processor, here’s the pesto recipe:
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil
4 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (evoo)
1 cup freshly grated parmesan
1/3 cup pine nuts
salt and pepper
Place garlic and basil in food processor and rough chop.
Add nuts and cheese, process until well combined.
With the machine running, stream in the evoo, add salt and pepper to taste.
Use immediately, storing unused portion in the refrigerator in an air-tight container. It freezes well–I place 1/4 cup portions in snack-size ziplocs, and then those packages in a gallon freezer bag. (So nice to have these little packages of summer-time flavor to open all winter!)
Last year I had too much flat-leaf parsley, so I made parsley pesto with walnuts instead of pine nuts. Yummy!