Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Besto Pesto

We loosely follow the South Beach Diet in our house, so if you don't feel comfortable using some of the reduced fat ingredients I mention, feel free to substitute according to your own tastes and dietary needs! I am certainly not a registered dietician or nutritionist, and as such am not qualified to make recommendations for dietary requirements; however, I do have a passion for healthy eating choices and fresh ingredients! Bon appetite!!

Well, I've been looking out my window on an almost daily basis and drooling over that yummy fresh basil and trying to decide exactly what I should make first! When my in-laws were visiting over Memorial Day weekend, my MIL mentioned a recipe I'd shared that has since become one of her favorites: Baked Pesto Chicken! So, I decided that not only would I make the dish for dinner one night this week, but that I'd try my hand at homemade pesto. Note: if you live in a super hot environment (like Hampton Roads) and notice your basil is looking wilty, harvest it and place the stems in a glass of cool water; it'll perk back up in a couple of days! Read on for step-by-step directions...

To make the most amazing pesto you've ever tasted, gather fresh pesto, fresh garlic (yes, fresh makes a difference!), shredded parmesan cheese (or a blend of Italian cheeses like the one pictured below), pine nuts (they're in the Italian aisle of my grocery), olive oil, salt and pepper.

Clean your basil by rinsing under cold water and patting dry with a paper towel. Remove the leaves from the stem (it doesn't have to be pretty, I grabbed several leaves at a time and ripped them off). You'll need about 2 cups, loosely packed:

Peel 2 cloves garlic. Yes, it's really as simple as placing the clove on a hard surface and giving it a whack with the flat of your knife. Sometimes you have to whack it a little harder than others. Once the skin has a break, just peel it off:
Start with 1/4 C each pine nuts and shredded cheese. Pile everything into the food processor:
Top your ingredients off with 1/3 C olive oil and pulse until desired consistency.
Adjust ingredients according to your taste buds. I ended up adding 2 more (smaller) cloves of garlic, the remainder of the jar of nuts (about 1/3 C total, see picture above), another handful of cheese (again, about 1/3 C total), and an additional "glub" of olive oil. I also left mine on the chunky-ish side when pulsing as I don't like things overly liquified. This recipe makes 1 1/2 to 2 C pesto.
Transfer your pesto to a tupperware dish and pour a little more olive oil on top. Refrigerate and stir to combine when ready to use!

This pesto is tasty on just about anything! I top tortellini with it as a refreshing summer side dish. I also make the following recipe (mentioned above as a favorite of my MIL, who, by the way, hates to cook doesn't enjoy cooking nearly as much as I do!):

Baked Pesto Chicken

Preheat oven to 375.

Spread about half the pesto, as prepared above, in the bottom of a Pyrex dish (I use an 8x8 for three incredibly huge boneless, skinless chicken breasts). Pierce chicken with a knife and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. Place chicken on top of pesto. Spread remainder of pesto evenly on top of chicken.

Cover dish with foil and bake until chicken is cooked through (start at 25 minutes, checking regularly).

Remove foil and sprinkle with reduced fat mozzarella cheese. Return to oven until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes.

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