When I was a kid, I had a neighbor who I loved to visit in the early evenings. This sweet, little old Italian lady was a pesto master, and I'd go watch her pound basil and pine nuts in her mortar and pestle. Despite her slight frame, she pounded that pesto with everything she had, and within minutes she had reduced the greens, nuts, and garlic into a perfect, creamy texture.
It would be years before I learned to make pesto on my own, and years beyond that for me to perfect my mortar and pestle technique. These days, though, I find it a lot faster to use my food processor. Sure, handmade pesto makes for a special touch, but on those days when you want something tasty and quick, the food processor is a godsend.
After years of experimenting with pesto, I've learned to use all sorts of ingredients for fun flavor combinations. The greens can be anything from arugula to spinach, and you can change up the nuts to use whatever's in your pantry. Here, I've combined spinach with pistachios and heady pecorino cheese, making a delightfully savory topping for chicken and pasta. This simple Italian dish is satisfying and comforting, and still only takes 20 minutes to make. Not too shabby!
- Yield:Serves 4
- Active time: 10 minutes
- Total time:20 minutes
- 2 cups packed spinach leaves, stems removed
- 1/3 cup pistachios
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 medium clove garlic, coarsely chopped (about 1 teaspoon)
- 1 teaspoon juice from 1 lemon
- 1/3 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/4 pound chicken breast, chopped into 1-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 cups cooked spiral pasta
Add spinach, pistachios, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the spinach is roughly chopped, about 8 short pulses. Add cheese and continue pulsing until roughly chopped (you can hop more or less to taste), drizzling a little extra olive oil if pesto is too thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
Season chicken cubes with salt and pepper. Heat butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat until foaming subsides. Add chicken and cook, turning occasionally, until barely cooked through (check by cutting open a cube, it should be opaque all the way through), about 8 minutes.
Fill four bowls with an equal amount of cooked spiral pasta, then divide the chicken evenly between each bowl. Drop a generous dollop of pesto into each bowl and serve immediately.