If you are like me, you love a big dish of pasta with a fatty alfredo or penne sauce. However, because of the calories and high amount of carbs and starch, if you are going to eat it, you need to balance that out with some nutrition. One of the best recipes I use to get a little color in my pasta is my own recipe for pesto penne.
It is true, you can buy packages of pesto sauce in the grocery store that only requires a little water and olive oil, however, part of the joy of cooking a great meal is making it yourself. Sometimes it tastes better than store bought, and sometimes not, but either way, you experience something new. And the combinations are endless.
There are many variations of this type of pasta combination and I will also include a pasta casserole recipe that includes chicken breast strips or cubed chicken.
First, here is what you need to make a delicious veggie pesto penne.
Prepare Pesto Sauce
Begin with a large pot of water and heat until it begins to boil. You can add salt to the water if you like that added taste, but I tend to leave it out since there is already so much sodium in our food supply.
While the water is heating up, you can begin the pesto sauce. If you have a food processor, use it, however, I use my blender for things like this and it works out fine.
Combine the following in a food processor/bender.
- 1 cup of parsley
- ½ cup of mint leaves
- ½ cup of halved walnuts
- 2 tbsp. of lemon juice
- 2 cloves of garlic, smashed
- Salt and pepper as desired
- Italian seasoning as desired
As the food processes, add 1/3 cup of olive oil and a 1/4 cup of water and allow it to blend until smooth.
Prepare the Penne
By now, the water in the pot should be boiling, so add about a 10 ounces or more of pasta and allow it to cook to your desired level of softness. Follow the directions on the packaging, but I typically let it boil for about 10 minutes. If you like your pasta a bit crunchy, boil it for less.
While it is coming to a boil, cut a bunch of asparagus into one inch pieces. I have also used broccoli as a substitute.
Several minutes before you are going to remove the pasta from the heat, add the asparagus pieces.
Next, add two cups of frozen green peas or cut green beans. I have used both and they are great. I have also used broccoli florets steamed beforehand and cherry tomatoes. This recipe is very versatile.
Remove from heat and drain the mixture in a colander in the sink. Now you are ready to combine the pesto and penne.
Combine the Pesto and Penne
In a large bowl, combine the penne and pesto sauce and toss until it is covered. Add additional salt and pepper as desired, then top with the cheese of your choice.
Alternate Method using Garlic Chicken
Another variation on this recipe is to add chicken strips.
Begin by heating butter, minced garlic and olive oil in a large sauce pan on the stove, then sauté the chicken until cooked. Add to the pesto and penne mixture and toss to cover the chicken completely with the pesto.
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Pesto Penne Chicken Casserole
For this casserole, you will need the following ingredients:
- 8 - 10 ounces penne pasta
- 1 to 2 chicken breasts shredded or cubed
- 2 cups shredded cheese (your choice)
- Baby spinach
- 1 tomato diced
- 1/2 jar Alfredo sauce
- 1 cup of milk of your choice
- 4 ounces pesto sauce
- Seasoned bread crumbs
- Parmesan cheese
- Olive oil
Begin by preheating the oven to 350 degrees F while you boil the pasta in a large pot of water on the stove top.
While that is going on, combine the cubed chicken, grated cheese, 1 - 2 cups of baby spinach, diced tomatoes, Alfredo sauce, milk and pesto sauce in a large bowl and blend thoroughly.
After the past has boiled for about 10 minutes, remove it from the heat and drain it in a colander in the sink.
Add the pasta to the chicken mixture you prepared in the large bowl and toss making sure the pasta is fully coated.
Now place the entire mixture into a 9 x13 rectangular or an 8x8 square baking pan.
Before placing the pan in the oven, you need to make one more mixture for a topping. In a separate bowl, mix up some bread crumbs, 1/4 cup of olive oil and some Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle the mixture over the chicken and pasta mixture, then cover the pan with aluminum foil.
Place in the oven for about 45 minutes until the casserole browns slightly, or begins to bubble.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool about 15 minutes and top with diced tomatoes before serving.
If you get really lazy and do not have time to collect all of the spices and ingredients to make the pesto sauce, there are packages you can buy in the grocery store that contain everything you need. They only require some olive oil, some water, and whisking on simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes on the stove top.
However, if you want more variety in your sauce, experiment with some of the options I have laid out above. I have baked several other ingredients in the casserole such as broccoli florets to try to get at least some nutrition in it.
However, this is not a healthy meal no matter how much you try, so just relax enjoy it every once in a while.
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