Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Recipe: Cilantro Walnut Pesto Chicken

Some writers say the leaves are used for seasoning, but this statement seems odd, as all the green parts of the plant exhale a very strong odour of the wood-bug. – Vilmorin-Andrieux, The Vegetable Garden (1885)

A great way to use too much cilantro.
That’s an odd quote, especially since it's from an 1885 gardening book. I actually quite like fresh cilantro. What I don’t like is being “forced” at the grocery store to purchase too much.

Most recipes that use cilantro call for 1/4 cup, 1/2 cup or even 1 cup at the absolute most. Why on earth do the sell it by the bushel at the grocery stores? Huge bunches. In case you don’t know what a bushel is, it’s the equivalent of 4 pecks.*

Deliciously different pesto.
So what can you do with your leftover cilantro? I usually think of making Thai food, or in this case, pesto. Cilantro is quite common as an ingredient for pesto, usually paired with walnuts. 

It’s essentially just a substitution of two ingredients in regular basil pesto. If you have a favourite recipe just substitute the cilantro for the basil, and walnuts for the pine nuts.

So now I have to deal with the pesto. Alas, my life is full of travails.

I found a reference online about stuffing chicken breasts with pesto so I thought the same could be done with thighs. Why not? The recipe was simplicity itself, just the chicken, pesto and some salt and pepper. I’ll outline my method below.

I believe this would be stunning rubbed between the skin and meat of a turkey if anyone is thinking of roasting one for Easter.

I served this dish with a variation on one of my all-time favourite Italian recipes: pasta with pesto, green beans and potatoes. If you’ve never tried it you have no idea what you’re missing. You can find directions HERE.

My variation was Romano beans and potatoes tossed in cilantro with some cream. You have to only cook the potatoes until “al dente.” Still a little crisp. Heat the beans in the same water with the potatoes for the last 3-4 minutes of cooking time. It's always good to not dirty a pot.

I think I cooked my potatoes for a couple minutes too long, but it was still great.

Try this meal. The pesto potatoes and beans are very filling, a little different and delicious.

I made enough for two people. The recipe feeds four.
Cilantro Walnut Pesto
Time: 10 min  | Yield: about 1-1/2 cups
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted if you wish
3 cups chopped cilantro
6 garlic cloves
1/2 cup parmesan
1/2 tsp salt
about 1/2 cups olive oil

Combine all the ingredients except for the olive oil in a food processor and purée. With the motor running pour in enough olive oil to make a loose mass. By that I mean it moves fairly easily around the bowl.

Remove to a covered dish and refrigerate until ready to use.

Cilantro Walnut Pesto Chicken
Prep: 5 min  |  Cook: 40 min  |  Serves 4
8 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in
8 heaping tsps pesto
salt and pepper

Ready for the oven.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Loosen the skin on each chicken thigh. Place 1 tsp of pesto between the skin and meat and smooth it around so it covers the inner surface. Season each thigh with salt and pepper.

Place the thighs bone-side down in a hot dry sauté pan and let brown until the release easily. Chicken fat will render out while it fries. There is no need to add oil.

Turn and repeat on the pesto side, taking care not to break the skin free of the thigh. The chicken will release when it’s ready.

Place the thighs in an oven-proof baking dish and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes.

Serve with the potato bean side dish described above.

*OK, I was just having fun. A bushel is an old harvesting measurement, as is a peck. Do you remember “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers…? Loosely, 1 bushel is equal to 150 cups. That’s a lot.


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