Perfect Pesto

One of my favorite dishes ever is the Bella Original Penne Pesto from Bella Notte restaurant here in Lexington.  This place has always been one of my favorite restaurants, and even better it's locally owned and they use as many locally sourced ingredients as they can.  Their penne pesto is a super simple dish with penne pasta, toasted pine nuts, grilled chicken, and the most wonderful fresh pesto sauce.  It has been my secret project to try to imitate their delicious pesto sauce because it is just SO much more delicious than any other pesto I have ever tasted!  I finally found the secret: BUTTER, and lots of it!  I've also simplified the ingredients and steps as much as possible, to make this super easy and simple enough for a quick weeknight meal

Here's what you will need for this dish:

10 ounces pasta of your choice (I like penne, rigatoni, or bowtie)

1 lb chicken breast

1 cup Italian dressing

salt

pepper

1 tablespoon of garlic

1/4 cup olive oil

1 stick of butter

1 8 oz. jar pesto sauce

1/4 cup sundried tomatoes

2 oz pine nuts

1/2 cup parmesan cheese (shredded, shaved, or grated)

To begin, make a marinade for your chicken.  Add your chicken to a dish and cover with 1 cup Italian dressing, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon pepper, and 1 tablespoon of garlic.  You can flip your chicken a few times in the marinade to get all the pieces covered completely.  Cover your dish and marinate your chicken in the fridge for anywhere from 2-24 hours.  

When you are ready to begin making your pasta dish, cook your chicken in a skillet on medium to high heat until cooked throughout.  Put your cooked chicken to the side to cool while you start your pasta.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  Pour in your pasta and cook until al dente (about 8-10 minutes), stirring constantly.  Drain the water from your pasta and set aside.

Now for the most important part of the recipe: the sauce!   Add 1/4 cup of olive oil and 5 tablespoons of butter to a sauce pan on medium heat.  Once the butter is melted, turn the heat down to a simmer and add your entire jar of pesto sauce (8 oz. jar) and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.  If you want to make your own pesto sauce from scratch, I'm sure it would only make this dish even more tasty!  I usually have a jar of pesto on hand in the pantry, so using the pre-made pesto makes this recipe much quicker, and cleanup much easier!  Stir your sauce until well combined and keep on a simmer while you prepare your pasta.

Melt the rest of your butter in a pot on medium heat.  Add in your cooked, drained pasta and toss to coat with the melted butter.  This step will help your sauce stick to the pasta better.  Now you can also add in your pesto sauce, stirring thoroughly to evenly coat the pasta.  

Next your can prepare your added toppings.  I like to add sundried tomatoes and pine nuts (a must!), but you can certainly add additional vegetables of your choice.  I usually reuse my saucepan from the pesto sauce to toast the pine nuts.  Cook the pine nuts on medium to high heat until they are lightly browned, stirring constantly.  It's fine if there is a little sauce left in the pan, it will just add additional flavor to the pine nuts!  Dice your sundried tomatoes and add both your pine nuts and sundried tomatoes to the rest of your pasta.  Add your grilled chicken (you can cut it into small pieces before if you wish) and sprinkle your pasta with 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and toss thoroughly.  

This is a perfect, light pasta dish for summer and the leftovers are just as good heated up the next day!  Don't be afraid to try it with more veggies, or even sub out the chicken for some fresh fish or shrimp-  this pesto sauce tastes good on just about everything!  Enjoy!