Pesto Pasta with Smoked Chicken

This dish has been a long time coming, in many ways. It is chiefly made by one of the housemates of the Male of the Species, a delightful fellow called Maximilian (who has such an awesome name that no sobriquet is necessary). All of the housemates swore by it, said it was delicious and easy, and yet somehow I never managed to visit on a night it was being made. Finally I did time my visit right, and got to both taste the dish in question and see it being cooked as well. I instantly decided I needed the recipe, and Maximilian was quite happy to give it to me. Somehow, though, it never materialized. Being a busy person, it doubtless slipped his mind. Eventually, after many threats and apologies, I have received the recipe and made my own attempt. Thanks Max!

Basil Leaves

I started off by making the pesto. You need about two cups of fresh basil leaves. In my case, I used basil from my garden, since home grown is as fresh as it gets. I’m going to digress here and do a little plugging for perennial basil. I currently have standard basil as well as the perennial growing, and there are distinct advantages to both, but the perennial one eventually wins because, well,Β  it’s perennial! That means fresh basil all year round.

It also grows like a weed. The Male of the Species has one in his backyard, and it has to be sheared every month or two to stop it taking over the backyard- this means that you can make heaps of pesto in bulk, for sandwiches or pasta. It almost means you HAVE to, or you won’t be able to get out the door, which is good because then you regularly make it.Β  I once picked a washingbasket full of basil when visiting the Male of the Species, and it made no noticeable dent in the shrub, the thing is just that big. It also seems to flower continuously, which attracts bees to fertilize your other plants and looks rather nice. It grows well from cuttings too, so if you can find someone with a plant just grab a bit and stick it in the ground, and away you go!

There are some disadvantages, of course. The leaves are usually smaller than normal basil, and they’re sort of furry rather than that shiny glossy green so they don’t look as good for garnishing. They also wilt much faster, so if you take some away with you for a weekend it’s going to look a lot shabbier a lot faster than the standard stuff. The taste is also not exactly the same, although it’s pretty darn close, but in the end having heaps of fresh basil all year round more than makes up for any deficiencies. Or you can just grow both, like I do πŸ™‚ You may note in the final photo I used standard basil for the garnish because it does look better.


But back to the pesto! Use a food processor, not a blender- blenders are the spawn of the devil when it comes to making pesto, they just don’t work. Hurl in your two cups of leaves, a palmful of pine nuts, four or five cloves of garlic, and a hefty slosh of olive oil (we’re talking pretty hefty here). You should also throw in about 60 grams of parmesan, but unfortunately my mother went to visit my grandmother and took my packet of parmesan with her (the thief!) and since I was making this at ten at night I wasn’t going down to the shops to get more, so this particular mix goes without. This was unfortunate, because I do think it impacted on the taste in the end- I don’t think it was as good. You would normally serve it with parmesan and pepper on top, so that probably didn’t help either.

Anyway, this is a pretty standard pesto recipe- if you want you can make heaps more of it and freeze it, since it freezes (or rather unfreezes) well. I imagine you could also use bought pesto which would make things a whole lot faster, but the dish would probably be nowhere near as nice.Β  Whizz it all up (add more olive oil if you need to) until it is, and I quote, “a dazzaling bright green”. Maximilian typed this on his phone πŸ™‚ Once that’s done you can put your pesto aside and we move on.

Smoked chicken

Let me freely admit right here that I am not one of nature’s carvers. When Maximilian makes this he gets nice little cubed chunks of chicken. When I make this I get contorted, twisted gobbets of flesh. That being said, it doesn’t affect the taste. Using smoked chicken is not like normal chicken. For starters, it’s cooked so it isn’t slimy and it’s a lot firmer to cut. Also, it smells damned delicious. The recipe he gave me says to use four large breasts, but I was told that he actually uses a whole smoked chicken, since it’s considerably cheaper to buy that way (about $28 a kilo for breast as opposed to about $11 a kilo for the whole thing). This means you can gnaw on a wing while you carve up the rest of the beast. Believe me, you will want to, it smells awesome and as we all know, feeding the cook during the process of cooking is critical to prevent collapse from starvation.

You can keep the skin on, I did and it’s very tasty, or you can remove it if you’re feeling health concious. Cube your chicken and chop up a large onion. Then throw the onion into a pan, and soften with a little olive oil until it’s a little browned. Make sure you use a hella big pan, because everything is going to end up in here. Maximilian uses an unaturally large saucepan (awesomest piece of kitchen gear ever). I used a wok. Once it’s looking good and browned, throw in your chicken and turn up the heat so it browns a little as well.

The next step, I was very suspicious of. It sounded a lot to me like a wanker step (an unecessary but makes you feel more like a chef step that may make a tiny difference in flavour but not really) but I did it anyway, since I was making it for the first time. Next time I won’t, and see if it makes any difference. The (potentially wanker) step is to remove the chicken and onion from the pan, pour in a cup of white wine and scrape all the browned goo off the bottom into it. Then you can put the onion and chicken back in. Why you can’t do this with the stuff in the pan and reduce washing up I don’t know. We’ll see. Let it reduce for five minutes, and don’t inhale the fumes from the pan, since it’s mostly ethanol. I did that, and since I hadn’t had any dinner yet I got a bit woozy. But I imagine you all know not to do that πŸ™‚ Go have a glass of wine while it’s reducing, since you have the rest of the bottle spare.

After it’s reduced, you can put in your pesto. If you’re not making the pesto fresh (either using bought or defrosted) then I would pitch a guess at it being about 4 tablespoons of it. While you’re at it, add 500 ml of liquid chicken stock. Guess what! You get to reduce again! Fifteen minutes this time- it’s probably a good time to throw your pasta on. Penne seems to be the go, but there’s no reason you couldn’t use other types of short pasta like spirali. Not spaghetti though- I think that could get awkward trying to get at the chicken chunks. Now go have another glass of wine and the other chicken wing while it’s reducing.

The Sauce

Then finally you add about 50 ml of non-thickened cream. Stir that through, and you’re done! Now you just have to drain your pasta and stir it in. Serve it with some parmesan (fresh is best if you can get it) and some pepper. It’s surprisingly quick and easy to make, and is exceptionally delicious. Also, I think it reheats better than things with ordinary chicken in. Ordinary chicken tastes a bit funky once it’s been microwaved, but because this stuff has been smoked, it doesn’t have that problem which is brilliant. This does end up being rather huge, it’ll feed you a good 6 people or more (depends on how much pasta you put in) and because it’s reasonably easy it’s a good entertainer.

Thanks again Maximilian, it was well and truly worth the wait!

Edit: Oh, and I forgot to mention, completely gluten free as long as you use GF pasta!

Pesto Pasta with Smoked Chicken

13 thoughts on “Pesto Pasta with Smoked Chicken

  1. Yum, creamy pesto sauce sounds awesome! It’s a shame your parmesan went missing at an inconvenient moment.

    Looks like you get an amazing quantity from this recipe. I’ll have to come and be part of the crowd next time. We’ll just need some gluten free pasta.

  2. That’s a great sounding pesto! Thanks for the recipe. Unfortunately my basil has all died off 😦 I’m trying to plant some more from the seeds – but maybe the perennial one is a must to go along with my normal one.

  3. They sounds lovely! especially with the smoked chicken…I always do love a good pesto pasta πŸ™‚ but I totally get what you mean about the funky taste chicken gets when it gets reheated…I can’t stand that taste…so I don’t usually make chicken dishes that need to be reheated πŸ˜›

  4. I love making basil pesto at home as I can tailor the nuts to whatever I feel like (macadamia is fantastic in pesto). Smoked chicken is glorious -I just wish it wasn’t that pink hue which makes everyone say “Is this chicken undercooked?”

  5. Oh I get contorted, twisted bits of chicken flesh too! The final dish looks great though, your fresh pesto looks amazing. It must be satisfying to use your own grown basil, I am planning to buy a basil plant soon

  6. Great recipe! I buy smoked chicken every week (for standby, just in case) and always end up eating up. And I agree, it seems a bit unnecessary to remove the chicken and stuff before scraping the pan…

  7. i love that blue glazed bowl in your first picture. it’s such a great colour! and oh(..) at your thriving basil. ours is alive, but by no means a rampant grower… how / where / what do you do to it?

  8. Well, shez, I don’t really do anything in particular with it. I stuck it in the ground and it’s growing well. Basil supposedly likes a nice sunny position, but mine is in almost total shade beside a fence. Sun is better, plenty of water, and if nothing else water it with some seasol mixed in water. Of course, at this time of year normal basil would be dying off so if it’s the usual stuff it’s probably due to start looking seedy.

  9. For some reason while I was reading this I was imagining you on a t.v cooking show! It was very entertaining to say the least.

    It sounds so delcious and easy to do. I make my own pesto to, but I always just fold it into the pasta after its been cooked, I’ve never cooked it before, that would really change the dynamics.

  10. Smoked chicken is awesome and I can see it going very well with this pesto dish. I wonder if it’s worth making my own ? I often just buy it from the deli.

  11. Maria, of course it’s worth making your own! It’s fresher and tastier, and if nothing else it means your kitchen will probably smell pleasantly of basil for a day or two πŸ™‚

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