Gratin-Style Pesto and Goat Cheese-Stuffed Chicken with Roma Tomatoes is easy, elegant and a delicious way to use some of your summer basil pesto!
An abundance of fresh basil in the summer is a wonderful problem to have. It about makes me crazy to have shrubs of it in the summer, then in winter have to resort to a $2.99 package in the grocery store that contains a paltry sprig, which most likely was picked a week before.
To preserve some of that bounty, make pesto. First, you’ll want to immerse the basil (stems and all) in a sink full of cool water. Dirt will fall to the bottom and insects will detach themselves. Remove the leaves, then repeat the immersion process to remove every last impurity. Place the leaves in a salad spinner to remove as much excess water as possible, then spread out on a large kitchen or bath towel to dry some more for an hour or so.
For basic pesto, combine 2 cups packed fresh leaves, 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1/3 cup lightly toasted pine nuts or walnuts, 3 cloves minced garlic and salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste in a food processor or blender. Process until smooth.
If you plan to freeze it, forget half of what I just said. You’ll want to omit the garlic, Parmesan cheese and nuts. Pesto that was frozen and thawed won’t be quite the same as fresh, but it’s pretty close. No matter what you do, the top of the frozen pesto will turn a dark green color. Simply scrape some off the top to reveal the beautiful bright green pesto underneath.
This easy, elegant chicken dish inspired by French gratins came about from our trying to find another use besides pasta for our basil and pesto abundance. A gratin is generally anything baked in a shallow dish–often oval–with a crusty, cheese topping.
Roma tomatoes are low in moisture and are used to make tomato sauces and paste so they hold up well in this dish. The panko, seasoned dry breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese create a crispy contrast to the rest of the dish.
This is now a favorite of ours and it’s the perfect late summer supper for two. We enjoy it with grilled vegetables such as zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, eggplant and onions. A good, crusty bread is also nice to mop up the flavorful juices at the bottom of the baking dish.
….And yes, the basil pesto after being cooked in this dish turns a dark green color. Oh well, as with the $2.99 winter sprig of basil, there are just some things you simply can’t control.
- Cooking spray or olive oil
- 2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 heaping tablespoons basil pesto, preferably homemade
- 2 ounces goat cheese (about half a 4-ounce log)
- 4 small plum tomatoes, halved
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons panko
- 2 tablespoons seasoned dry breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Basil sprigs for garnish
- Preheat oven 375 degrees. Spray a large oval baking dish with cooking spray or brush with olive oil.
- Butterfly the chicken breasts. Season inside and out with salt and black pepper. Place equal amounts of the pesto, followed by the goat cheese in each chicken breast. Secure with toothpicks and place in the prepared baking dish.
- Arrange tomato halves (cut side up) around chicken breasts. Season with salt and black pepper.
- Combine Parmesan cheese, panko, seasoned dry breadcrumbs, olive oil, garlic, and parsley in a small bowl. Scatter evenly over chicken breasts and tomato halves.
- Bake for approximately 25 minutes or until cooked through to 165 degrees in the center of the filling and topping is lightly browned and crusty. (Remember to remove toothpicks prior to serving.)
MAKE AHEAD: Stuff the chicken up to 12 hours ahead of time; refrigerate. When ready to bake, mix together the breadcrumb mixture and cut tomatoes. Arrange, top and bake.