Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Chicken Pesto Pasta

My brother got married this weekend, and I can't wait to tell you about it, but I made a great dinner tonight, and I needed to share it with you immediately. It's not the most beautiful looking plate of food, but trust me on this one. Because it's freaking awesome.

Years ago, I fell in love with a dish at The Cheesecake Factory, a chicken pesto pasta with mushrooms, pine nuts, and sun-dried tomatoes. It had a cream-based sauce, and though the portion was huge enough to feed me for days, it was still too fattening and too rich to make me feel good about myself.

(I'm not really that hard on myself, but I knew that there was a way to create a similar dish without sacrificing too much of my health. Besides, dairy makes my tummy mad.)

I've been really good about eating the many things that I've frozen in the last few months, like tortilla soup, pasta sauce, and , and I was needing something fresh. On a rainy day, comfort food seemed the only thing to hit the spot. I shredded about half of a rotisserie chicken, but I'm sure that sliced chicken breast would work just as well. Additionally, I lovepestos of all kinds, but I find that using both basil and spinach works well - it results in a slightly more mild pesto.

Pesto Chicken Pasta

For the pasta:
1/2 rotisserie chicken, shredded
1 package baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced into half moons
1/2 pint grape tomatoes, halved
olive oil
8 ounces dry pasta, medium shells

olive oil and pine nuts, for garnish

For the pesto:
1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed tightly
1 cup fresh spinach leaves, packed tightly
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
salt & pepper
fresh grated parmesan

Remove about half of the chicken from a small rotisserie chicken and shred with your fingers or two forks. Set aside. You can freeze the remainder of the chicken for up to a month.

In a small pan, toast the pine nuts until golden. Set aside.

In a deep pan, drizzle enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Turn the heat to medium. Add sliced onions and mushrooms. Toss to coat in oil and reduce heat to low. Add a little salt. Cover, stirring occasionally.

In a food processor (or blender), blend the basil, spinach, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan, and a little salt and pepper. When chopped finely, let the food processor run and slowly drizzle the olive oil into the mixture. When the pesto starts to pull away from the blade and stick to the side, it's about ready. Scrape the sides and pulse the blade a few times to make sure that everything is incorporated. Set aside.

Add the shredded chicken to the onions and mushrooms. Mix thoroughly and cover, keeping the heat low.

Bring water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions. When cooked, turn off heat, but do not drain. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pasta to the chicken mixture. It's okay if it's not fully drained. Next, spoon the pesto atop the pasta. Slowly mix together, adding some of the pasta water a little at a time. In all, you'll add 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of water, depending on the consistency of the sauce you desire.

Lastly, mix in the tomatoes - you want them to be warm, but not runny. For each serving, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle pine nuts on top. You could add a little more parmesan, too, if you're into that sort of thing.

Have a glass of wine! Chardonnay, I would think.


Waayers said...

That sounds amazing. You know what would also be good on it? Mozzarella. Oh, but you don't really like cheese, huh?

Heather said...

waayers - Oh I'm sure that any manner of cheese would be good. But then I would get a tummy ache and I would be sad.