Sunday, July 10, 2011

Summer Salad... Chicken Pesto Pasta

This weekend was the annual family reunion where the whole fam gets together for a picnic/BBQ.  No one wanted to man the grill so we decided to do summer salads as the main entree.  Tuna mac is a classic, but I wanted something lighter, something fresh and healthy!  I must admit, it wasn't quite the same, without a charcoal burger in hand...but this recipe was awesome and super easy to make!  I made a pasta salad with chicken, pesto mayonnaise, red peppers, sundried tomatoes, and basil and everyone was raving about it.

The best part about this dish is that you can make it ahead of time and you can even use leftovers!  Plan ahead and make extra meat to use in your summer salads!  Think: Grilled chicken for dinner one night...and transform the leftovers into a pasta salad the next!  It saves time and money!

Buy too much Basil at the store?  Have leftover basil from a recipe and don't know what to do with it?  Turn it into pesto! It is easy to make now-a-days with a food processor or blender and keeps for at least 2 weeks in the refrigerator.  Not to mention... it freezes very well if you are afraid it won't be used up quick enough Pesto is a classic sauce originating from Northern Italy.  Traditionally it was prepared with a mortar and pestle and was named "pesta", which means to pound or to crush.  The ingredients are simple, including olive oil, pine nuts, basil, crushed garlic, and cheese.  It is becoming more popular to create variations to the traditional ingredients (sundried tomatoes, or cilantro pesto).  I

 Olive oil is an unsaturated oil (the heart-healthy kind) and small amounts can help improve your cholesterol profile.  It is important to remember moderation when using any type of oil though because just 1 teaspoon (about the size of your fingernail) is a serving at 50 calories.

Classic Pesto Recipe

2 cups of basil, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts*
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated

Directions:  Toss all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth!  Enjoy over pasta, rice, pizza.... or as a sandwich spread, or start to a homemade salad dressing!

*Try buying them in bulk at your local grocery store.  They are expensive but worth it!  Walnuts or pecans can be substituted.

Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad
Serves 8

1 pound of chicken, grilled or baked *season with garlic powder, dried oregano and pepper
1 pound of bowtie or shell pasta
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
1/2 cup prepared pesto (recipe above)
1/2 red pepper, diced
1 small onion, diced
Sundried tomatoes, 1 cup chopped
1/2 cup basil, chopped
pepper, to taste

Directions:  Cook chicken ahead of time and allow to cool, cut into small strips.  Cook pasta as directed and add chicken to the pasta in a large bowl.  In a small bowl mix the pesto and mayonnaise together.  Combine with the pasta and chicken.  Combine the remaining ingredients and allow to chill in the fridge.

Enjoy with a salad and fresh fruit! <3

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