As you may have guessed from previous posts, I love a good pesto. My favourite is a traditional basil and pine nut pesto which I switch up with a bit of baby spinach thrown in. Because this recipe makes too much for one serving of pasta, I try to come up with different uses for my leftover pesto. You can always freeze leftovers in small batches in airtight containers if you wish to save it for future use. However, I prefer to refrigerate my pesto and use it shortly after making it to ensure it retains it’s fresh, green taste. Pesto is incredibly versatile and you can substitute other leafy greens and nuts for those that I use. In all pesto sauces, the main ingredients remain: toasted nuts, leafy greens, grated cheese and oil. The traditional way to make a pesto is with a mortar and pestle but I cheat and use my Kitchen Aid food processor instead (I can make a batch of pesto in less than 15 minutes which is perfect for our busy lives). My recipe is based on one from Food Network Magazine, and has become a mainstay in my home when I want to make a quick, fresh sauce other than my marinara.
2/3 cup pine nuts
2 cups baby spinach (this is more tender than regular spinach, I prefer it but you can always use regular)
1 cup fresh basil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp chili flakes
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan reggiano
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Small sauce pan
First, lightly toast your pine nuts in a dry pan. Keep a close eye on them and remove them from the heat as soon as they have browned then set aside.
When your pine nuts have cooled, process them into a fine grind. Add your spinach, basil, garlic, salt and chilli flakes and pulse to a fine dice. Add your grated parmesan and pulse to incorporate.
Finally, slowly add your olive oil and pulse to incorporate. Set your finished pesto aside while you prepare your chicken.
2 chicken breasts
2 cups of baby spinach
2 cups of pesto
2 tsps chili powder
2 cloves garlic, quartered lengthwise
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp chilli flakes
Extra virgin olive oil
2 baking pans
Pre heat your oven to 400 F. Set aside 1 cup of pesto and mix the other cup with the baby spinach for your filling. Because the pesto is so flavourful, your chicken will not need any other seasoning.
Slice your zuchinni and peeled sweet potato into 1 centimeter chunks. Place on the pan with the garlic and season with the chilli powder and flakes, salt and pepper. Bake covered until nice and brown (approximately 45 minutes). While the veggies are baking, butterfly your chicken.
Divide your spinach mix evenly between the two breasts and close the butterfly. It does not need to be neat; overflowing filling looks more appetizing in my opinion.
Take small pieces of aluminum foil and create ‘ties’ for your chicken. Use the ‘ties’ to hold your butterflied breasts together (I used this instead of twine because I was concerned the latter might burn). Spread the remaining pesto on top of your chicken and place in the oven on a rimmed baking pan.
Bake for 30 minutes (or until your chicken is cooked through). Baking pesto can be messy! While it bakes, some of the oil from your pesto will separate and drip into your pan. If you do not use a rimmed pan, you will have a grease fire in your oven: be very careful!
Serve right out of the oven and enjoy.