Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Penne ala Pesto

My husband took me out to eat at a favorite local Italian restaurant the other day.  (Wasn't that sweet of him?) Their special of the day was Penne ala Pesto (Penne noodles in a creamy pesto sauce with chicken).  I love pesto, so I thought I'd give it a try. :)  This dish was really good, but I thought it didn't have quite enough pesto, since I really like to taste the basil flavor.

Imagine my delight, when upon going out to my garden, I found that my basil plants had put out new leaves after the heat of the summer!  I had given them up for gone long ago.  Last spring I had planted a bunch of basil plants so that I could make pesto.  I made several batches and froze them in the spring before the weather got too hot.  After the plants went to seed, I figured that was the end of them.  So I was surprised and pleased when I found my plants had put on new tender growth!

So I set off to make pesto and to recreate the restaurant recipe to my liking.  I use a very basic pesto recipe.

Basil Pesto

1 cup firmly packed basil leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 large clove garlic, quartered
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil

Put all ingredients except oil into a blender or food processor.  Blend using the pulse setting, stirring often and scraping down sides until coarsely chopped.  Turn blender on a low setting and gradually add olive oil until everything is chopped and is the consistency of soft butter.  Use or put into a sealed container right away.

After I made the pesto, I put water on for the noodles and started making the cream sauce, which is basically like an alfredo sauce with pesto added.

Creamy Pesto Sauce

2 tablespoons butter
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup cream
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup prepared pesto
1/2 teaspoon salt
grilled chicken slices, optional

Melt the butter in a large saucepan.  Add minced garlic to the butter and saute for about a minute.  Pour milk into a measuring cup and add flour.  Blend well.  Add milk mixture to the butter and garlic in the pan.  Add cream.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened.  Add cheese and stir until melted.  Add pesto and salt.  If desired, add chicken and continue to cook until everything is heated through.

By the time the sauce and chicken were done, the noodles were done, and we had a great supper!  I confess, it may not be the healthiest, but I have a weakness for cream. :)

Note: You can also buy pesto in a jar or in the refrigerated section of your grocery store.  Buying basil at the store can be expensive!  If you find you really like pesto, it is not hard to grow a basil plant!

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