As you may have experienced, raw garlic can have a sharp bite and bitterness, which doesn’t get any less noticeable once minced. To tame the garlic flavor and coax out the natural sweetness, give whole garlic cloves a toast on a sheet pan. It tastes like roasted garlic, adding depth to the pesto.
Walnuts not only add creaminess and texture to the pesto, but also toasting enhances the oils delicate nutty smell. Doing these three things before processing the pesto turns up the flavor level, for a more bold and balanced sauce.
One of my go-to methods for making lean chicken breasts that stays tender and juicy is baking them in a high heat oven for a relatively short period. Merely drizzling the chicken with a little bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper adds just enough flavor without overpowering the pesto sauce. The even flow and distribution of heat in the oven keep the chicken from becoming dried out, as long as you keep a close eye on doneness. I like to have an instant-read thermometer handy to check.
Easy Baked Pesto Chicken
- Cook Time: 1 hour
- Persons: 4
- Difficulty: Easy
- 2½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breast, 4 pieces, pounded to ¾-inch thickness
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, (120ml), plus more for drizzling
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
- black pepper, as needed for seasoning
- 1 cup basil, (30g, 1 ounce) packed
- 1 cup baby spinach, (30g, 1 ounce) packed
- 3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
- ¼ cup walnuts, plus more for garnish
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
- 1 cup diced tomatoes, ¼-inch dice
- Place oven rack to the center position. Preheat oven to 450°F.
- Drizzle both sides of the chicken breast with olive oil. Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper.
- Place chicken in an ovenproof baking dish or skillet.
- Bake in preheated oven until the internal temperature of the chicken is no longer pink and reaches an internal temperature of 165°F, about 15 to 18 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the pesto. Place the basil and spinach in a resealable plastic bag. Use a rolling pin to lightly bruise the herbs and greens. Transfer to a food processor or blender.
- Heat a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Toast garlic until the outsides are lightly browned, shaking pan occasionally, about 8 minutes. Peel garlic and add to food processor.
- Place walnuts in the same pan and toast over medium heat, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to food processor.
- Add ½ teaspoon salt to the food processor.
- Process pesto by pulsing five times to help break down the greens.
- Turn food processor on low speed, as it’s running slowly drizzle in ½ cup olive oil until a smooth pesto with some smaller pieces is formed, about 10 seconds from start to finish.
- Add the parmesan cheese to the pesto and process on low speed for 5 seconds.
- Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired. Transfer pesto to a small bowl.
- Brush some pesto sauce on each cooked chicken breast. Transfer to a serving platter.
- Top chicken with chopped walnuts, tomatoes, and cheese. Serve extra pesto sauce on the side.