Hope everybody enjoyed their holidays – I know I certainly did! I spent my time off eating lots of yummy food, collecting awesome gifts from relatives, putting away said gifts (amazing how much stuff an infant gets!), and cooking. I really enjoyed the cooking. It is so relaxing and fulfilling for me. I don’t get to do it as much as I would like being a mother to an infant so the extra time at home during the holidays is a welcome reprieve.
Today I bring you a fresh, lighter take on a favorite comfort food of mine: pasta. When made with this pesto sauce it tastes surprisingly refreshing and light. This dish will surely wow any dinner guest! My mother was impressed when I made it for her the other night…so there’s that. Of course, like all of my recipes, this dish is very simple, quick and nutritious.
I used this basil pesto recipe that I have posted about before (it’s that good!) but this time I went a step further by baking with additional cheese, tomatoes and basil, mmm. You can even make a bulk prep of the pesto to freeze and use as needed. I tend to do this more often than not as I usually have more herbs on hand that I need to use up before they go bad. This is a great money saver and way to have an easy, healthy meal on hand at all times!!
Basil Pesto Penne with Chicken
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino, Parmesan-Reggiano, or Romano cheese
- 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- 1 package whole-wheat or brown rice penne pasta
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves (for topping)
- 1 Tbsp. all-purpose seasoning (salt-free preferred)
- 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat 8×8 baking dish with cooking spray.
- Coat chicken in all purpose seasoning and salt and pepper to taste. Add to medium pan on medium-high heat and cook chicken in 1 tsp. olive oil until cooked through (no pink). Set aside.
- In food processor, add pine nuts and garlic cloves. Process until finely ground. Add in cheese, basil leaves, salt, and pepper. Slowly adding in olive oil, pulse until well combined and consistency is to your liking.
- Cook pasta according to package instructions, drain.
- Note: You could simply mix pasta, sauce, and chicken together at this point, topping with tomatoes and basil leaves and eat as is.
- Add pasta, pesto sauce, and chicken to prepared baking dish. Mix well. Top with remaining basil leaves, cheddar cheese, and tomatoes. Bake uncovered for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is bubbly.
Hey ya’ll! Hope you guys have enjoyed the holiday season thus far. I am getting into the Christmas spirit this week trying to wrap up the last of my gift purchases.. Since I am still working on losing the last 10 pounds of baby weight (or just all that gelato I ate while pregnant…) I have been trying to focus on including lots of vegetables and lean proteins in my diet while avoiding all the sugary sweets people in my office keep bringing in!
This recipe was a hit in my house! It hits all the marks on winter comfort food being warm, gooey, and hearty but packs a punch of protein, vitamins and minerals with all the cheese and veggies. I love to spice it up a bit with some red pepper flakes which in turn spices up your metabolism, win-win!
Make sure to use whole wheat pasta or pasta made from brown rice/quinoa/vegetables whenever possible. I personally have sworn off any bread or pastas that are not made from whole wheat or brown rice/quinoa. Another thing to note is that you should be using whole fat cheeses or milk (although I can’t bring myself to do that a lot of the time!). It is healthier to be as close to the natural source as possible…once you start going low-fat foods tend to become more and more processed. This recipe uses 1/2 low-fat and 1/2 whole fat cheese in order to cut down on total calorie count. It is little choices like this that can really overhaul your diet without making too large of a lifestyle sacrifice.
Try bringing this to your holiday party instead of regular mac and cheese and you won’t be disappointed!! One tip I use to keep myself on track with my diet during holiday parties is to bring a dish of my own to the party. It really helps to have at least one dish you know you can eat that is good for you but won’t leave you craving the bad stuff!
Loaded Veggie Mac and Cheese
- 1 package whole wheat (or brown rice pasta) rotini
- 1 cup frozen broccoli florets, chopped
- 1 package frozen mixed vegetables
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves
- 3 Tbsp. whole wheat flour
- 1 ½ cups skim milk
- 1 cup low-fat sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 cup gouda cheese
- ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 2 Tbsp. whole wheat breadcrumbs
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Bring a pot of water to boil and coat a non-stick baking sheet with olive oil (or nonstick cooking spray). Once water is boiling, add pasta to pot and cook according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
- Toss frozen veggies in ½ Tbsp. olive oil, spread evenly onto baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes until tender. Remove from oven, toss with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in dutch oven (or large skillet) over medium heat. Add garlic and cook ~30 seconds. Whisk in the flour and cook 1 minute. Then slowly whisk in the milk, stirring constantly until mixture is slightly thickened. Add cheddar and gouda cheese, mixing well. Add cayenne pepper, garlic powder, all purpose seasoning, salt and pepper, pasta, and vegetables, mixing well.
- Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and place dutch oven (or casserole dish filled with mixture) into the broiler in your oven at 500 degrees F for 3-4 minutes or until the top is golden brown.