Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tuscan Roasted Tomato Pesto Pasta

I've been mulling over exactly how to make this dish for several days, eyeing my now suddenly prolific roma tomato bushes. The basil didn't do so hot this year in our yard, but a neighbor has an abundance, so I took advantage of her generosity this week and picked a bag full, anticipating a wonderful batch of homemade pesto. This is a dinner that requires planning ahead, though none of the steps are difficult. Roasted tomatoes are worth the effort. The sweetness of the roasted tomatoes is balanced perfectly by the bold flavors of the pesto and the salty bacon. I would classify this dinner in the "deeply satisfying" category, and the fact that my two year old begged for fourths should tell you something. Make it for company and they'll think you're a culinary genius all while you're laughing behind your hand because it's really quite simple.
Pesto is one of those things that I just eyeball. First, I would highly recommend doing this in a food processor, not a blender. I, unfortunately, do not own a food processor, so I was forced to wrangle and mash and grit my teeth through a 45 minute mess in the blender. Irritating, because it would really only take 5minutes start to finish in a food processor.

3 cups of packed basil leaves (washed and stems removed)

2/3 cup pine nuts

2/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

3-4 cloves garlic, peeled

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

olive oil - enough to allow it to blend freely, but not be soupy

Place all of these ingredients in a food processor and drizzle a generous amount of oil on top. Pulse several times until it is coarsely chopped, adding more oil as necessary. Pulse a few more times until it is finely chopped. Scoop into containers to freeze or refrigerate, covering with a very thin layer of oil to preserve the fresh green color, or use immediately.

Voila! Pesto!

Next up are the roasted tomatoes. I started these in the early afternoon, because they take 2 1/2 to 3 hours to roast properly. You can crank up the heat to speed them up, but I've found that results in burned bottoms and not as awesome of flavor.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Slice 1 dozen roma tomatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out the seedy pulp, leaving the core intact. Drizzle lightly in olive oil and toss to coat, then face them cut side up on a baking sheet. Sprinkle kosher salt, a few grinds of pepper and 1 T. raw sugar evenly over the top.
Bake for 2 1/2 - 3 hours, or until the bottoms are beginning to brown, the tops are soft and shriveled, and the aroma causes you to snitch one right off the pan. (For that matter, fill the whole pan, because you'll be sorely tempted to eat more than one. I used a dozen for the dinner recipe, but made double that.) Roasted tomatoes will keep for a few days tightly covered in the refrigerator, and make an absolutely amazing grilled cheese on sourdough.
Now for the dinner. Start a pot of water boiling and fire up the grill.
1/2 pound penne pasta, cooked to al dente
2 chicken breasts
kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, garlic powder
3 T. apple cider vinegar
2 T. honey
3 strips bacon, fried until crisp and crumbled (optional)
12 roasted roma tomatoes (24 halves), sliced into wide strips
1/2 cup fresh pesto (store bought or homemade)
1/4 parmesan cheese
fresh basil leaves for garnish
Add the pasta to the pot of boiling water. Butterfly the chicken breasts and sprinkle the salt, pepper and garlic on the cut sides. Grill on each side for about 8 minutes until cooked through, basting with a mixture of vinegar and honey. Set aside to let the juices rest for a few minutes, then slice into thin strips.
Once the pasta is done cooking, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the pesto and toss until the pasta is evenly coated. Add the tomatoes, crumbled bacon and chicken, and carefully toss again until evenly distributed. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top, add basil leaves for garnish and serve immediately.
Edited to add that apparently Sara and Kate were on the same wavelength as me this week! Check out their post here about fresh pesto, including a similar, but quicker version of this dinner.


The Grant Family said...

Umm.....that looks soooooooooo good! I'm so grateful for the bags of romas sitting on my counter. I will definitly have to try this one! I never would have though of the vinegar/honey mixture for the chicken but sounds deliciously perfect! the way.....PLEASE come borrow my food processor next time you make pesto. The thought of you spending 45 minutes blending that makes me feel bad. Please, please run over here next time. Or I'll even bring it to you!

Amber said...

How did I miss that you have a food blog? I think my life is now complete.

Nurse Heidi said...

Stephanie, I often use either a lemon juice/honey mixture or a vinegar/honey mixture (balsamic or apple cider) to baste my grilling chicken. It doesn't make it super sweet, just enough, and it also seals in the juices nicely. For fajitas I'll use honey/lime over the top of the dry seasonings - it helps them stick on nicely.

Sara @ Our Best Bites said...

Ahh, great minds do think alike! I love it. And I completely agree that EVERYTHING is better with bacon! I better toss some in mine next time too, lol.

Strong Family said...

sounds good. Why do you use kosher salt and raw sugar. Is there a better taste, or just plain better for you.

Marisa said...

Wow!!! That looks SO good--I wish I could just eat it right now! I can't wait to try it!

Nurse Heidi said...

The raw sugar I really notice a difference on. It's different than brown sugar, but has that same sort of caramelization. A box of it lasts me a good long time because I don't use it on very many things, but the things I do use it for make it worth it. It's awesome on pie crusts.

Kosher salt? I've just gotten used to it. I like the bigger crystals, and the flavor is different. We'll probably all die from thyroid problems due to a lack of iodized salt...oh well. I have a salt grinder that turns it into lovely little flakes and tidbits.

And Amber, I'm quite pleased that I can complete your life ;). I've been trying to keep up with one post per week, but sometimes even that is too much.