Chicken, and Spinach, and Pesto! Oh My!
Unlike in the Popeye comics, spinach will not make one invincible. It is chock full of vitamins, helping those of us not made of ink get…well…as close as we can. And hey, it’s a tasty way of getting there…
Combined with pesto and lean meat, spinach provides for very nutrient-rich dishes. Although higher in fat content, pesto contains olive oil (no pun intended) and pine nuts, considered to be good fats. Lean meat adds protein to the mix…
Another thing I like about the recipes I’ve run into with chicken, pesto, and spinach as ingredients are that they are relatively easy to make…especially if you go the semi-homemade route with the pesto.
I prefer making fresh pesto, though, as I feel it is fairly easy. It also ensures I don’t get any the extra stuff that manufacturers might put into the jarred variety…
I also don’t take my spinach canned… ;-)
The first recipe I’ll feature (under the jump) in this post is a chicken/spinach soup I found in Cooking Light Magazine. There are many things I like about this recipe: Not only is it relatively easy to make, it’s colorful and not hard on the waistline…
- 2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1/2 cup carrot or diced red bell pepper
- 1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 8 ounces), cut into quarters
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 5 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried marjoram
- 6 ounces baby spinach, coarsely chopped
- 1 15-ounce can cannellini beans or great northern beans, rinsed
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/3 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- 3/4 cup plain or herbed multigrain croutons for garnish (optional)
- Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add carrot (or bell pepper) and chicken; cook, turning the chicken and stirring frequently, until the chicken begins to brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Stir in broth and marjoram; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes.
- Transfer the chicken pieces to a clean cutting board to cool. Add spinach and beans to the pot and bring to a gentle boil. Cook for 5 minutes to blend the flavors.
- Combine the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, Parmesan and basil in a food processor (a mini processor works well). Process until a coarse paste forms, adding a little water and scraping down the sides as needed.
- Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces. Stir the chicken and pesto into the pot. Season with pepper. Heat until hot. Garnish with croutons, if desired.
Putting spinach *in* your pesto makes for a very bright-colored pesto (as well as much yumminess). Earlier this week, I made this recipe combining pasta, chicken breast tenders, and spinach pesto.
Capellini (Angel Hair Pasta) with Chicken and Spinach Pesto
While I typically don’t measure everything I put into my pestos (Shocker, I know!), the recipe I use for spinach pesto is similar to a recipe from $5 Dinners.com:
from $5 Dinners
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- Handful of mint leaves
- Several handfuls of basil leaves
- Handful of spinach leaves
- 2 garlic cloves (minced)
- 3-4 Tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
I don’t use mint and I put grated Parmesan cheese in instead. I put the pine nuts in my blender first (I don’t have a food processor yet) then put in the basil, garlic, cheese and spinach. I added olive oil, then used the “chop” function of my blender, adding more oil until I got the the consistency I wanted.
Here’s how it turned out:
For the chicken, I wanted to add an extra layer of flavor. After cutting a pack of chicken breast tenders (between 1 and 1.5 lbs worth) into cubes, I cooked them in balsalmic vinegar and brown sugar. I also not didn’t measure the vinegar or the sugar (just put enough to be “to taste”).
I drained the balsamic/brown sugar mixture, and let the chicken cool. After cooking a package of capellini (angel hair) pasta* according to the box directions (as well as letting it cool and draining it), the pesto, chicken, and pasta were tossed together, producing the very green creation below…
The chicken took on a little bit of the flavor of the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar mix…just enough to make their presence known, but not clashing with the other flavors.
The pasta a little bit closer:
I realize pine nuts can be pricey, but walnuts work just as well for pesto. I’d imagine chick peas might work well for those with tree nut allergies, and I’ve seen some versions online without nuts at all. Will have to ask Cultural Infidel how her foray into nutless pesto went…
* Usually Ronzoni’s Healthy Harvest, but I have to go for their Smart Taste for Angel Hair…