Pesto Pasta with Chicken and Grilled Summer Veggies

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Pasta salads are the perfect light, easy, summer meal. They come together quickly, make a nice dinner or side dish, and they are a great way to use up all of the delicious vegetables that are growing in your garden. For this recipe I used a mix of zucchini, red bell peppers, corn on the cob, and green onions but you can substitute any or all of these with whatever favorite vegetables you have on hand. Pasta salads are extremely versatile in that you can add in whatever meat, cheese, dressing, and veggie that you like and it will always turn out delicious.

Because I had a nice amount of basil growing in my yard I decided to make a quick and easy fresh basil pesto . It takes only minutes to pull together and it’s the perfect “sauce” for both the pasta and to season the chicken that I added into the salad. The fresh grilled vegetables are really what amps up this salad to awesome, they impart such a nice, sweet element to the dish. I happen to love fresh mozzarella, preferably from my local Italian deli, but in a pinch I do use pre-packaged “fresh mozzarella” from BJ’s. For this recipe I threw in some of the fresh mozzarella pearls, teeny tiny little balls, from Bel Gioioso. They aren’t as amazing as true fresh mozzarella but in this dish where they are tossed together with pesto, chicken, pasta, and fresh veggies they work just fine.

If you don’t have time to make everything for this dish all at once you easily make much of it in advance. The pesto will keep for 5-7 days in the fridge, the vegetables can be grilled and diced ahead of time as well as the chicken. When you’re ready for dinner just boil the pasta and toss everything together. Super easy!

Ingredients

  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1″ thick slices
  • 2 ears of fresh corn on the cob
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into sixths
  • 4 green onions, trimmed and sliced thin
  • 4 tbs olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup fresh mozzarella pearls (or torn up fresh mozzarella)
  • 1 lb penne pasta
  • 1 lb chicken breast, cubed and cooked
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • fresh parsley, for garnish
  • 3/4 cup pesto

Instructions

Heat the grill to medium-high. Toss vegetables in the olive oil with a little bit of salt and pepper. Grill corn, turning periodically, for about 10 minutes or until slightly charred in spots. Grill the pepper and zucchini slices for about 4-6 minutes, turning once. Remove from the grill and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. In a skillet, heat the remaining 2 tbs of olive oil over medium heat. Add in the cubed chicken and season lightly with salt and pepper. Saute until slightly browned and cooked through. Towards the end of the cooking, add in 2-3 tbs of the pesto sauce and stir to combine. Set the chicken aside on a plate and cover to keep warm.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions. Drain and run under cold water to cool off the pasta just a bit, you don’t want it steaming hot.

Combine the cooked pasta, chicken, mozzarella balls, green onion, and grilled veggies. Toss gently with the pesto until well combined. Season with salt and pepper as needed and garnish with fresh parsley. Serve warm, at room temp, or cold.

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Make Your Own Fresh Basil Pesto

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There is nothing more “summery” than a fresh basil pesto. Just one whiff of a fresh basil leaf immediately brings to mind long, warm, summer days and evening meals out in the yard. Pesto is the perfect summer dinner accompaniment because it is so versatile. Its light, flavorful taste is great mixed with pasta, cold or hot, and it’s even delicious spread on a slice of toasted Italian bread or used as a sandwich topping. You can also add a dollop to soups, use as a marinade for chicken, or even mix it into a homemade salad dressing. There are literally countless ways to use fresh basil pesto in your cooking.

When summer is in full swing and your basil plants are running rampant making a basil pesto is the perfect way to use up some of those beautiful basil leaves. Make a big batch of pesto and store it either in the fridge or in the freezer so you’ll always have some on hand and ready to go. Homemade pesto will keep in the fridge for about 5-7 days and in the freezer for up to 9 months. When freezing pesto in an airtight container, be sure to pour a thin layer of olive oil over the top before sealing. Doing this will help to prevent browning as it freezes and keep the pesto looking green and fresh when thawed .

Another little tip for keeping your pesto bright and green is to blanch the leaves before making the pesto. To blanch, simply dip the leaves into boiling water for a second or two and then submerge them into ice cold water. This will “set” the color and keep your pesto nice and vibrant even after running it through the food processor.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves, cleaned and stems snipped
  • 2/3 cup of toasted pine nuts
  • 2/3 grated Pecorino Romano cheese or Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Instructions

In a food processor combine all of the ingredients and process until smooth. Scrape down the bowl as needed.