It's summer and my garden is swinging, which is fabulous because yesterday I got the pecks for pesto. Have I said how much I LOVE cooking in the summer, because I freaking love it. Fresh herbs and veggies from the garden are absolutely unbeatable in flavor to anything you can get at the store, so I decided to clip some basil and roll old school by making my pesto with my Great Grandfather Pietro's mortar and pestle, while a bit of an arm workout, the explosion of taste that this method brings is pretty epic. If you haven't tried it, I really suggest you do. My Great Grandpops set is wooden and the sentimentality that I feel when I use it is overwhelming, however, if you don't have a mortar and pestle and are thinking of getting one, I have my eyes on this marble baby and I would suggest it, as I think you are going to get the best grind on with a marble mortar and wooden pestle, it's totally on my birthday present list. And if you are saying, "Girl, you are crazy. I barely have time to cook let alone break this basil concoction down by hand for 30 minutes." , I feel you, I only do this when I have the time. I sit at my kitchen table, crank the Jimmy Roselli and sip red wine while getting a great arm work out AND making dinner. But you don't have to do that, you can use a food processor, but just know, with every bite you take, that about 70% of that in-your-face pesto flavor has been taken away and the pesto Goddess is crying. Did I just guilt you into trying this the old fashioned way? I hope so.
This recipe involves rolling chicken breasts with your pesto, but if you would rather enjoy this with pasta, you can do that too! It's a pretty basic pesto recipe. Also, I LOVE the depth of flavor that toasting your pine nuts brings, but if you are a purist, you don't have to do that either. You can just add your pine nuts sans toasting!
Now, let's get going and rock this pesto party!
What Do I Need?
for the pesto...
30 - 35 Large basil leaves
3 Rough cut cloves of garlic
2 Ounces of Pine Nuts
1/2 Cup Pecorino Sardo OR you can use Pecorino Romano if you can't find the Sardo
1/3 Cup Olive Oil
For the Chicken
1 Ib Chicken Breast Filets (this make 4 chicken pesto rolls)
12 Cherry or Grape tomatoes
1/4 Cup Dry White Wine
Optional Pasta side! I like penne for this.
Pre-heat your oven to 375
It's time to PARTY! Wash your basil leaves and set them on a cloth to dry. Now toast your pine nuts by putting them over medium heat in a small saute pan. DO NOT add oil or butter or anything but DO watch them closely and keep them moving in the pan. It should take about two minutes before you notice them browning a bit and getting fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside. Now chop your garlic and grate your cheese, set aside.
Now split your chicken breasts in half by cutting them down the middle, pound them with a mallet for a few minutes to thin them out, I like mine at about 1/2" thick, salt and pepper them and set aside.
Now your basil leaves should be dry and your pine nuts cooled. It's time to flex those muscles and get to grinding. First place your pesto leaves in your mortar, then add your garlic and begin grinding. Grind for about 5 minutes to get your basil down and then add 1/2 your pine nuts and grind again for 5 minutes, now add the remainder of your pine nuts and you guessed it, grind for 5 minutes. Now add your cheese, and again, I like to do this in small increments. So add a bit of cheese, mix it in, add more and continue until all your cheese is in. Next add your oil, and again, i like increments, so add it bit by bit. You should now have a nice pesto consistency that is like a paste. My pesto here is a bit chunky, which doesn't bother me as it's going inside the chicken. If I were to use this solely for pasta, I would keep grinding until it was broken down a bit more. . Honestly the whole thing takes me about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with a tiny bit of salt and set aside. If you want to use a processor, add your basil, nuts and garlic, pulse it and then add these, pulse again and then oil. That will take you 5 minutes, but think of the flavor lost!
Now spread one table spoon of pesto on each chicken breast, roll and tie them. Don't worry if your roll is messy! You are going to have leftover pesto, so don't contaminate it by double dipping your chicken touching spoon! Pull out 4 Tablespoons and set aside!
In an ovenproof sauté pan, heat a nice drizzle of olive oil and add chicken, brown on all sides, this will take about 2 minutes. . Some pesto will fall out, that is totally cool - in fact it's good! Now toss in any leftover basil leaves and those cherry tomatoes! Now toss in your 1/4 cup of white wine. Transfer your pan to the oven and cook for 20 - 25 minutes. When you serve toss in the tomatoes and a bit of sauce from the pan.
NOW if you want to serve this with pasta, get that water boiling, and make a nice penne. You can use the remaining pesto to dress it and serve it with your chicken.
Take Note: The pestle method here, is about moving in a circle, not smashing. So let the pestle circle the bottom and you can add some crush power to the garlic and pine nuts, their abrasiveness helps break down the basil! And if you feel like there are too many leaves in there at once, you can take some out and add as the volume breaks down.