Cooking is my favorite hobby and it’s so rewarding because you can share the outcome with everyone.  Now that nicer weather is here, it is the perfect time to go outside and tend to your garden or make use of the fresh summer produce currently available.  Here is one of my favorite summer recipes that brings vibrant colors and flavors together for an easy meal.

Chicken Pesto Pasta – serves 4

1 lb chicken breasts

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp olive oil

1 bundle asparagus, roughly 15 spears

½ cup roasted cherry tomatoes or sundried tomatoes (see Ingredient Note)

8 oz penne pasta

1 cup reserved pasta water

1 ½ cups Pesto Sauce – store bought or homemade (see recipe below)

Salt and pepper to taste

For the pesto sauce:

1 cup fresh basil leaves

1 cup spinach leaves

2 cloves garlic

½ cup roasted nuts (see Ingredient Note)

½ cup parmesan cheese

Salt to taste

1/3 cup olive oil

1.  To make the pesto sauce, add the basil, spinach, garlic, roasted nuts, parmesan cheese, and salt to a blender or food processor and blend until finely chopped.  Then, on low speed, slowly drizzle in olive oil until all ingredients combine and sauce forms.  You can add water or chicken stock to loosen the mixture, if necessary.  (You can make this sauce ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator or even the freezer until ready to use)

2.  Remove woody ends of asparagus and discard.  Season asparagus and chicken with salt and pepper and grill for approximately 10 minutes, or until asparagus is lightly charred and chicken reaches an internal temp of 165 degrees. Once off the grill, cut chicken into bite-sized pieces and asparagus spears into ¼ inch pieces. 

3. Bring 1 gallon of water and 2 tbsp salt to a boil in a large pot and cook penne pasta according to instructions on box or until al dente.  Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, and then drain.

4.  Combine the minced garlic, olive oil, grilled chicken, grilled asparagus, and roasted tomatoes together in a large pot and cook over medium heat for just a few minutes.  Add the pasta, reserved pasta water, and pesto sauce and mix everything together.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Top with parmesan cheese and enjoy!

Ingredient Notes:

Roasting cherry tomatoes is as easy as putting them on a skewer and throwing them on a grill until lightly charred.  This enhances their sweetness, which perfectly balances this dish.

You may use the traditional pine nuts for this sauce, or you could also use almonds or walnuts as well.  It is absolutely essential to roast your nuts prior to blending as it releases the natural oils of the nuts and gives the pesto sauce a more robust flavor.  Do this by spreading them out on a baking tray in a single layer, and roast in the oven at 425 degrees for 12 minutes or until fragrant.