I love Pesto Chicken, but realized that I have never actually made the pesto from scratch. Typically, I purchase ready made pesto at the store. I had to change that and set to work crafting my perfect rendition of pesto. This is not traditional pesto (surprise, surprise…). But, it does make the perfect accompaniment to chicken. Instead of going the pasta route, I turned to my other great comfort food love. It’s Pesto Chicken Grilled Cheese.
Pesto is made with fresh basil, pine nuts, fresh garlic, rich Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. Traditionally, it is made with a mortar and pestle, smashing the pine nuts and garlic into a paste and then incorporating the other ingredients until it becomes a smooth, bright green sauce. Lots of modern recipes opt for using a food processor to make pesto. They recommend combining everything except the oil into the food processor and then blending in the oil while the food processor is running.
No Fancy Tools Required
What happens if you don’t have a mortar and pestle or don’t own a food processor? Or maybe you’re like me and don’t want to haul out the food processor for a little bit of sauce. Good news! This recipe doesn’t require anything more than a knife and a cutting board. Granted, it’s a bit more “rustic” than traditional pesto, but it’s super easy, doesn’t require fancy equipment and adds some fun texture to the final dish. Get the full recipe and instructions by scrolling down.
Pesto Chicken Ingredients
I also changed things up on the ingredients. Instead of using pine nuts (which are crazy expensive!) I swapped in walnuts. They have the same general texture of pine nuts, but have a bit more bite to them. Also, I didn’t just stick to the basil for the greens. I adore arugula and wanted to break up the sweetness of the basil with some bitter, peppery greens. And finally, because I like a little extra pep in my step, one tablespoon of red wine vinegar brought the entire concoction together in harmonious balance.
Once you’ve got the pesto, the rest of this Pesto Chicken Grilled Cheese comes together easily. I selected a mild Havarti for the cheese, some simple browned chicken to make this sandwich eat like a meal and a nice crusty French for the bread.
But, like always, you can always make it your own. How do you like your pesto? Have you ever gotten creative with it? I’d love to hear your creative take!
My Pesto Chicken Sandwich Recipe
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 Tbs walnuts, fine chopped
- ¼ cup fresh basil leaves
- ½ cup fresh arugula
- ⅛ tsp pepper
- 1Tbs red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup olive or avocado oil
- 1lb chicken breasts, butterflied
- 1Tbs oil
- 2Tbs mayo
- 8oz havarti cheese, sliced
- ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 1 loaf crusty French or Sourdough bread
- Start with the pesto by placing the garlic clove on a cutting board and smashing it with the flat side of the knife. Sprinkle the salt on top of the smashed clove and still using the flat side of the knife, work the salt and garlic together until they form a paste. Keep the paste on the cutting board to work into the other ingredients.
- Start mincing the walnuts, working in the garlic and smashing with the flat side of the knife to continue to break down the nuts.
- Add the basil and arugula to the work surface and mince and work into the walnut garlic mixture, taking plenty of time to get the nuts and herbs into a fine texture then transfer to a jar or bowl.
- Add the pepper, vinegar and oil to the jar and stir, smashing against the sides with the back of a spoon until a thick green, chunky pesto is formed. Cover and reserve until ready to build your sandwiches.
- Next, cook the chicken. Heat 1 Tbs oil in a fry pan or cast iron pan over medium high heat and cook the chicken searing until golden brown on both sides and cooked to an internal temp of 165F. Remove the chicken and allow to cool, then cut into thinner pieces by cutting against the grain on the bias.
- Clean out the pan you cooked the chicken with. Then spread one side of a slice of bread with mayo and place the bread mayo side down onto the cleaned pan. Then place 2 oz of sliced havarti on top of the bread and then cover the pan with a lid. This will melt the cheese while the bottom of the bread browns.
- Once the cheese is melted and the bottom of the bread is browned, remove to the side and add the other piece of bread into the pan, also smeared with mayo. Then smear on a liberal amount of pesto to the bread in the pan, sprinkle on 2 Tbs Parmesan and top with ¼ of the chicken. Take the other piece of already browned bread that has melted cheese on it and place on top so that the cheese is on the chicken. Press down and cover the pan with a lid to keep the cheese melty.
- Once the bottom piece of bread is browned, remove entire sandwich and serve immediately.