Pesto chicken

Pesto chicken with spinach, cherry tomatoes and free range egg pasta

Pesto is a rich and flavourful sauce made from pounding fresh basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheeses and extra-virgin olive oil. The word “pesto” is Italian and it means “to pound or to crush”. This sauce is not cooked and can be made and refrigerated for a week.

The nuts and olive oil in this sauce make it rich in good fats, which are beneficial for heart health. The basil, garlic, olive oil and nuts are high in antioxidants, which protect cells from oxidative stress.

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is made from unpasteurized raw milk with no additives or preservatives and so is considered a natural and healthy product. It has high protein content and it may also be rich in probiotics and good for digestive health. The Pecorino Romano cheese is made from 100% sheep’s milk and so is easier to digest. It has a salty and nutty flavour.

You can serve the pesto sauce with pasta or even as a sauce over meats. I have used it with chicken breasts in this recipe and cooked it over a bed of spinach and cherry tomatoes. You can also use zucchini, peppers and tomatoes or any other vegetables of your choice.

The pasta is an addition and it can be replaced by brown rice. I used pasta as I had fresh pasta made from free range egg.

I use a mortar and pestle to pound the ingredients as I love the control I have over the consistency of the paste. However, you can use a food processor, which is faster and can be more efficient.

Serves 6

Ingredients:

Pesto sauce:

Fresh sweet Italian basil leaves – 4 cups

Pine nuts – 1/3 cup

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese – 1/2 cup

Pecorino Romano cheese – 1/2 cup

Extra virgin olive oil – 1/4 cup

Garlic cloves – 2

Black pepper – 1/2 tsp

Sautéd Spinach

Olive oil – 4 tbsp

Garlic cloves – 4

Dried red chilli pepper – 1 tsp

Sea salt – 1/2 tsp

Frozen whole leaf organic spinach – 400 gms

Organic heritage cherry tomatoes – 10

Cooking the Chicken

Chicken Breasts – 600 gms

Olive oil – 1 tbsp

Sea salt – 1/2 tsp

Cracked black pepper – 1/2 tsp

Method:

Preparing the Pesto Sauce:

Pesto sauce
  • Remove the stems from the basil leaves
  • Add the leaves in a mortar and sprinkle some sea salt
  • Pound the leaves with a pestle
  • Add the garlic and pound into the basil
  • Add the pine nuts
  • Add the cheese and olive oil gradually
  • Sprinkle in the black pepper
  • Keep pounding and mixing all of the above until it is a paste
  • Alternatively, add the basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, cheeses and olive oil into a food processor

Sautéing the Spinach

  • Add olive oil to a small sauce pan with the whole garlic pods and the red chilli pepper and salt and let it cook until the pods are soft
  • Pour 2 tbsps of this garlic and chilli infused oil into a pan and then throw in the spinach leaves and cook slowly for a 3-4 minutes and remove from the pan

Cooking the chicken

  • Rub the chicken breasts with salt and pepper
  • Drizzle the olive oil into a skillet and heat on low fire
  • The chicken breasts should be sliced horizontally to give them a 1.5 inch thickness
  • Place the chicken breasts in the heated oil and cook for two minutes on each side and remove from the pan

Cooking the chicken pesto

  • Pour the rest of the garlic and chilli infused olive oil in a skillet
  • Place the spinach at the bottom and throw in the cherry tomatoes
  • Place the chicken on top and cover and cook for a further 3 mins
  • Spread the pesto sauce over the chicken and cover for 2 minutes
  • Cook the pasta separately and drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over and twist into coils
  • Remove the cover and then sprinkle some toasted pine nuts, grated cheese and basil leaves on top of the chicken pesto and serve with the pasta coils in the skillet!
Chicken pesto with spinach and cherry tomatoes

Author: Healthybalance

I am a certified integrative nutrition health coach from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. I run workshops on wellness and work with clients individually. My coaching involves enabling clients to address the root cause of any imbalances in their lives and to empower them to become advocates for themselves so that they can make long-term changes that lead to their optimum health and wellness. The work of an integrative nutrition health coach is to help clients understand the synergy that exists between the primary areas in ones life like sleep, exercise, satisfaction in our relationships, career and other such domains and the food we eat. I work with young adults ages 12 and above and women, mostly pertaining to weight loss, gut issues, and hormonal imbalances.

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