This is a meal I crave in the early weeks of summer but is great any time of year if you have had the forethought to freeze pesto or just use store-bought. The thought of the flavour packed pesto combined with the hit of fresh sweet peas, salty bite of pancetta and little bits of mellow mozzarella are making my mouth water as I write this. I make the pesto in a fairly typical way – lots of basil. a clove of garlic, toasted pine nuts, fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, pinch of salt and pepper and lots of olive oil. No great revelations there. This recipe is about convenience so if you don’t have a big basil plant in your yard, or have no inclination to make pesto, then the store bought stuff would be just fine. Use any kind you like, but I think the refrigerated stuff is better than the shelf stable pesto in jars.
I am a recovering picky eater but I still do have quite a few holdovers from when I was a kid. For example, the photo in this post shows cherry tomatoes as a serving suggestion. Well, this plate was not my dinner. I don’t like cherry tomatoes so this was Simon’s. He loves them but I often compare the burst of the squishy inside of a cherry tomato to the popping of a zit. Yes, what a lovely metaphor to read on a food blog. You’re welcome. Anyhow, I also don’t like peas that are over-cooked so for this I only use fresh peas and I cook them for less than a minute. I put them in with the pasta when it is almost done just to bring out the vibrant green of the peas.
If you don’t have pancetta on hand then by all means, use regular bacon. If you want to get fancy with the mozzarella then I suggest getting some nice buffalo mozzarella. For this I buy the bocconcini pearls – they are about the size of a big blueberry. I just drain the container and add the whole lot to the pasta just before serving. They don’t have the same richness as the buffalo mozzarella but they are cute and convenient to add.
In my house this was a very kid-friendly meal. Timothy gobbled it up. He had no problem with the pesto but did balk at the peas. We would hide the peas when we were helping get some pasta with bacon and cheese onto his fork. I am not above trickery and subterfuge when getting healthy food into my little boy. He would eat macaroni and cheese, crackers and grapes at every meal given the option.
The leftovers for this are pretty good the next day for lunch. The oil does separate somewhat from the pesto and it can be a little greasy but I just leave the excess oil in the bottom of the container and carry on while I eat at my desk at work.
Flavour packed weeknight dinner with pasta, pesto, peas, pancetta, mini mozzarella pearls and grilled chicken.
15 minsPrep Time
20 minsCook Time
- 1 cup fresh basil, washed
- 1 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
- 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese + more for serving
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (use more if you like the pesto runnier)
- 5 slices pancetta
- 1/2 cup fresh shelled peas
- 1 cup of bocconcini pearls (little mozzarella balls)
- 2-3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- salt and pepper
- 400 grams pasta*
- handful of cherry tomatoes (optional)
- Marinade the chicken in the lemon juice, 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. You can do this an hour or so ahead of time or just a few minutes.
- Grill the chicken and when it is done, cover with foil and set aside.
- Fill a large pot and set it to boil so that it is ready for the pasta
- Slice the pancetta into little bite size pieces - about the size of a quarter. Add a little drizzle of olive oil to a frying pan and fry the pancetta until it is crispy and golden brown. When it is cooked, set it aside until you are ready to assemble the pasta dish.
- While the pancetta cooks, add the basil, pine nuts and garlic to a food processor. Pulse 5 or 6 times so that it starts to get blended. Now add the olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper and the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and pulse the machine until it is all chopped and blended together.
- When you have almost everything together, start cooking the pasta. When the pasta is almost done, add the fresh peas to cook with the pasta.Cook for the length of time on the package. The gluten-free pasta I use takes 7-8 minutes.
- Cut the cooked chicken into thick slices.
- When pasta is cooked al dente, drain the pasta and peas and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the pesto and mix well with the hot pasta and peas. Then add the pancetta and bocconcini pearls and mix those in with the pasta. Put the slices of chicken on top.
- Serve with a generous amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
*I used gluten-free pasta but any kind you have is fine.