Penne With Chicken And Pesto

After years of buying little tubs of pesto at the store or the farmers' market, I finally stepped up and made my own. I knew it was simply a matter of tossing some ingredients in the food processor, but I don't know why it took me so long to try it.

Last week I went to the farmers' market in Central Square and selected a lush, aromatic bundle of basil -- perfect for pesto making. I already knew I had the rest of the ingredients at home because I pretty much always have olive oil, Parmesan cheese, and garlic. I'm not so likely to have pine nuts, but I happened to have some leftover from another recipe (which I had thrown in the freezer to keep fresh).

Even though pesto is indescribably delicious, I can't imagine just dipping a spoon into it and eating it, so I planned a recipe around it. This simple recipe consists of three basic ingredients: pesto, chicken, and penne. It's easy to make too. Just make sure you read the whole thing through before starting in case you want to time it out like I did so everything is generally ready at the same time. Besides, it's always good practice to read a recipe in it's entirety before preparing it.

Penne with Chicken and Pesto

What you'll need:

2 chicken breasts
1 lb box penne (You could use another shape, but I liked the way the penne went with the chicken.)

Pesto (ingredients to make your own below -- based on Giada de Laurentiis' recipe)
2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 garlic clove, peeled (I put mine through my garlic press because it's easier than peeling it.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup olive oil (roughly)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I used Kraft because I had it, but I think freshly grated would have improved the flavor of the pesto.)

First, place the chicken breasts in a large pan and fill the pan with water until the chicken is covered. Lightly salt the water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Then cover and reduce to a simmer. Continue simmering for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and let stand 12 to 14 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Then remove chicken from the water and set aside on a plate.

While chicken is cooking, prepare the pesto. Pulse basil, pine nuts, garlic, salt, and pepper in food processor until finely chopped. Gradually add in olive oil just until mixture is smooth and thick. Place pesto in a large bowl (one big enough to fit the chicken and penne), and stir in the cheese. Season more if necessary. Set aside.

Cook pasta according to directions. Then drain and toss with a splash of olive oil.

With the pesto resting and the chicken cooked, while the pasta water is boiling (or once your pasta is done, whatever works better for you), shred the chicken. Cut chicken into large chunks and use two forks to pull the meat apart.

Then stir some chicken and some penne into the pesto mixture. Continue to gradually add more chicken and penne to the pesto until the pesto to chicken/penne ratio is right for you. I used all of the chicken and most of the pasta. You can drizzle in a little more olive oil to moisten the mixture and enable you to stir it more easily if you want.

Then serve!

I threw some diced Campari tomatoes on top of my pasta. I absolutely love tomatoes, and look for any excuse to eat them. They go great with pasta, pesto, and chicken -- so for me, they really brought the whole dish together.

But boyfriend had his as is, and really enjoyed it. Either way, it's incredibly tasty.

Best way to reheat the leftovers: Throw them in a pan over medium-high to high heat, add a little more Parmesan cheese, and saute until the pasta and chicken start to brown and get a little crispy. (If your pasta is a little dry, just add more olive oil when you reheat.) I promise you it's amazing.