Updated: Aug 12, 2020
You might assume that I come from parents who love to cook, but that’s not the case. My parents are wonderful people with many, many talents- one is a musician, the other an artist, both are amazing role models and grandparents- but cooking is not one of their preferred hobbies. Take-out is the name of the game at “Suki and Rico’s” house! They rotate weekly among a few local restaurants, and lucky for them I always cook too much so they often get “take-out” from my cocina as well. One of the meals that makes my Mom’s weekly menu is the chicken pesto pasta from a San Antonio establishment that shall remain nameless (*hint cough hint* the initials E and Z are involved). Their pasta is pretty good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s nothing to write home about: overcooked fusilli, tough chicken, and an oily sauce all messily mixed together in a plastic take out bowl with some fake Parmesan sprinkled on top. YUM... I guess. This recipe is my way of proving to my parents just how much easier and tastier home cooked versions of take-out favorites can be! I start by making a simple and delish spinach pesto in my food processor. I love to mix greens like spinach, kale and even arugula into pestos for added nutrition, flavor and boosted green color. This is also a great hack for getting greens into your kids! Instead of seasoning my chicken with salt and pepper and calling it a day, I reserve some of the pesto to make a quick marinade for the chicken breasts and then throw them on a hot grill. Once they are nicely charred, the breasts get thinly sliced and tossed in with the some cooked pasta, the pesto, more spinach, and diced tomato. This is an easy, delicious, family friendly meal. My boys love it just as much as we do! Home cooked doesn’t have to be hard, and it’s ALWAYS better than take-out. Hopefully I’ve convinced you and my parents too! Mom and Dad, this one’s for you.
prep time: ~45 min. cook time: ~15 min. serves: 4-6
3 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
12 oz brown rice, whole wheat, or regular penne pasta (or similar short shape)
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 cups baby spinach
1 cup seeded and diced tomato
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup plus 2 tbsp spinach pesto (recipe follows)
SPINACH PESTO 2 cups packed basil leaves, roughly chopped
2 cups packed baby spinach
1/2 cup pine nuts (toasted or untoasted, doesn’t make much different IMO)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 plump clove of garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp kosher salt
black pepper to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
FOR SERVING torn basil leaves, toasted pine nuts, and grated Parmesan cheese
Make the pesto by combining all the ingredients minus the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor or blender pitcher. Pulse to make a paste, then slowly begin to drizzle the olive oil in through the feed tube while the motor runs. The sauce should be thick and creamy, but loose enough that it slides slowly back off a spoon. Reserve 2 tbsp pesto in a small bowl and set the rest aside in an airtight container until ready to use. *If using the pesto later on in the day or even the next day, cover the surface with an even layer of olive oil to coat before placing the lid on and refrigerating. This will help to prevent oxidation (browning).
To the bowl with the reserved 2 tbsp pesto, add the lemon juice, 1/2 tsp salt, and a few cranks of black pepper and stir to combine. Season the chicken breasts all over with salt and pepper and add them to a ziplock bag or another bowl. Pour the pesto marinade over the chicken and massage to coat each breast in the mixture. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hrs.
Preheat an outdoor grill (or grill pan) to medium high heat and oil the grate. Add the chicken breasts and cook about 4-5 minutes per side, or until charred in spots and the internal temperature of each breast registers 165°. Remove to a platter to rest at least 5 minutes, then thinly slice the chicken into strips crosswise against the grain.
Bring a large pot of liberally salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions. Before draining, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water then drain the pasta in a colander and set aside. Add 1 cup of pesto, the baby spinach, diced tomato, toasted pine nuts and grated parmesan to the bottom of a large bowl. Add the cooked pasta and chicken on top and pour over the pasta water. Toss everything to combine and check for seasoning. Serve the pasta hot in bowls with toasted pine nuts, basil and Parmesan sprinkled on top.