I discovered pesto fairly late in life, and it’s a shame I missed out on years of deliciousness.  In this recipe video, I make a spaghetti pesto with chicken that is both tasty and pretty easy to make.  Pestos are traditionally made with basil, garlic, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese.  In this version, I change it up a bit because I didn’t have pine nuts; I had almonds.  But in the spirit of No Recipe Required, I didn’t let that stop me.  In addition to using different nuts, you could use other greens like spinach or arugula, or even make pesto from olives, artichokes, or any number of things.  For this video, let’s focus on a more traditional version.

Recipe Overview and Keys to Success

Pesto is an uncooked sauce, and like most things uncooked, I find it’s super important to use great ingredients, and to keep the flavors in balance.  Here are a few of the things you should do to make a great spaghetti pesto:

  • Use fresh basil, that looks good.  Not old, wilted, gross basil…and certainly not any pastes or pre-processed basil.  Same thing with the olive oil and cheese – use the best you can find.
  • After you blanch the basil leaves, dry them out well.  Otherwise the excess water will thin out your sauce and make it less flavorful
  • Of course, don’t overcook the pasta
  • Taste as you go.  When you’re blending the ingredients, stop a few times to taste and adjust the quantities to suit your tastes – that’s what I refer to as balance.  If it needs more bite, add a bit more lemon juice, more body, add some more cheese, more flavor, you probably just need a bit more salt

Ingredients for Spaghetti Pesto with Grilled Chicken

  • Fresh basil -  2 cups loose packed
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • One lemon – for both zest and juice
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Handful of almonds – maybe a 1/4 of a cup
  • Olive oil
  • Teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  • 1 chicken breast

To make the Pesto

  • Pesto is the blended combination of basil, nuts, cheese, olive oil, lemon and garlic; you can adjust the ratios to your tastes
  • Blanch the basil leaves in a pot of boiling salted water for about 30 seconds to cook them; remove them and cool under cold water to set the color
  • Pat the basil leaves dry on some paper towels
  • In a blender, combine the basil leaves, red pepper flakes, garlic, the lemon zest, and a enough water and a bit of olive oil to allow the blender to grind up the ingredients
  • As you blend, scrape down the sides, and if needed, add a bit more water/oil, until you get a thick paste (note at this point, the pesto freezes well, so you can make more than you need and freeze the rest
  • Put into a bowl, and cover tightly with some plastic wrap, while we cook our chicken and pasta

Cook your Pasta and Chicken

  • Season your chicken breast simply with salt & pepper, maybe a bit of chili powder and/or paprika like I do in the video
  • Sear off the chicken in a hot pan until cooked through, and then set aside while you cook the pasta
  • In a pot of boiling, salted water (you can use the same water you cooked the basil in) cook your spaghetti until it is al dente
  • As your pasta cooks you can slice the chicken into bite size pieces (or you can leave in strips or whole if you’d like)

Putting it all Together

  • Since we’re not cooking the pesto, I like to serve this dish in a warm pasta bowl, so you may want to put your bowls into a 200 degree oven for 5 – 10 minutes before plating.  Then while they heat
  • In a mixing bowl, place your cooked, well drained pasta
  • Add a few tablespoons of good olive oil, a few tablespoons (enough to coat all the pasta) of the Pesto we made earlier, the parmesan cheese, a bit of lemon juice, and salt and pepper (don’t forget to season), toss to combine
  • Add a bit of pasta water (or more olive oil) if the pasta looks dry, and add your chicken, again toss to combine
  • Plate up in your warmed bowl, garnish with a bit more cheese if you’d like

Enjoy!!