Tonight’s dinner uses a super versatile, flavor-packed secret weapon: pesto sauce. I’ll be using the pesto sauce 4 different ways in the next few days. Tonight, the pesto will be used to season the chicken breasts, and mixed with lemon juice to create a chimichurri style vinaigrette to dress a grape tomato salad. Later in the week, I will use more pesto to make meatballs with minimal fuss. A few days after that, I’ll use the last of it for a shrimp pesto pasta. You can use a jar of prepared pesto, but it is quite easy to make your own. Here’s what you’ll need:

I make my homemade pesto with only a small amount of basil, and I use spinach for the rest. Everyone I’ve ever served it to likes it better than straight basil pesto, and it’s much cheaper to make, especially when it’s not the summer, and basil isn’t in season. Using spinach in place of basil is actually traditional in Peru, which had an influx of Italian immigrants in the 1800’s, who brought recipes for basil pesto with them. However, in Peru, spinach was the abundant green crop, so the substitution was made, and Peruvian pesto was born. 

You can use either a food processor or a blender. Start by grating the parmigiano reggiano in the blender or food processor:

Now add all the rest of the ingredients, and blend until it’s a texture that you like. Some people like it pretty chunky, and some more smooth. This recipe uses half the bag of spinach, so I’ll wilt the rest of the spinach into the couscous I’m serving as a side dish. Bonus vegetables!

I like it pretty smooth, which is why I use my blender. A food processor gives a chunkier texture, while the blender makes a smooth emulsified sauce.

Pour it into a jar, and refrigerate until you’re ready to use it.

Now, on to the chicken, couscous, and salad. Here’s what you’ll need:

Begin by patting the chicken breasts dry with paper towels, then smear with pesto sauce.

I’ll be cooking my chicken breasts sous vide, but you can place them on a sheet pan and bake at 375 for about 20 minutes, until they register 160 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Meanwhile, prepare the tomato salad. Place a tablespoon of pesto in a bowl, and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon.

Next, use the tip of a paring knife to break off shards of parmigiano reggiano cheese. Imitation American parmesan cheese will not do this, and doesn’t taste nearly as good, so be sure to get the real stuff. 

Halve a pint of grape tomatoes, and mix them with the lemon pesto dressing and the parmesan shards. Set aside for serving.

When the chicken is done cooking, let it rest on a cutting board while you prepare the couscous. Follow the box directions, boiling the water and spice packet, and then stirring in the couscous. 

Now gently add the remaining half bag of spinach on top of the couscous. 

Put on the lid, remove the pan from the heat, and let it sit 7 minutes. Stir it all together, and you’re ready to serve dinner! Place some couscous on each plate. Slice the chicken breasts and add them on top, then add the tomato salad.

SPINACH AND BASIL PESTO SAUCE

1/2 cup (120 ml) olive oil
1/2 cup (50 g) parmigiano reggiano  cheese
3 medium garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup (15 g) fresh basil leaves
1 3/4 cups (65 g) fresh spinach leaves
3 Tablespoons (25 g) pine nuts
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Use your blender or food processor to grate the cheese. Add the remaining ingredients and process until the consistency you desire is achieved. Taste, and add salt and pepper as desired. Refrigerate.

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