It’s always lonely to be by yourself at home and when my mother left for Paris with my grandmother, that left my father doing just that- being home alone! Remedy: have him over for dinner! (NOT Silence of the Lambs kind of “have you over for dinner”, though…) I figured that my father would perhaps be a bit unsettled by some of my more experimental foods… and his standards are quite exceptionally high, as the gifted chefs in the family are all on his side (minus my mother, of course), so… traditional-ish it was!
I decided to do something very familiar and comforting: confit some tomatoes in the oven, bake some chicken so that it’s juicy and tender, and toss it in some whole wheat pasta shells and housemade pesto, with some shaved parmiggiano on top. What can go wrong there?
It was really quite delicious, and the leftovers were super convenient for bringing in to work the next week. This is a great keep-in-the-fridge-for-a-few-days dish, and a rather simple one as well. The sweetness of the tomato cuts into the nuttiness of the pesto, while the cheese on top adds some hints of earthiness that makes the whole thing come together quite nicely.
Whole Wheat Chicken ‘n Pesto Shells with Tomates Confites
- 1 lb (1 box) whole wheat pasta shells
- 1 box (usually 8-12 oz) cherry tomatoes
- 1/2 generous cup house-made pesto
- 3-4 medium-sized chicken breasts
- extra-virgin olive oil, kosher salt, freshly-cracked black pepper
- parmiggiano reggiano (or reggianito) to shave
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and place a Silpat or other silicone mat on a baking sheet (large enough to fit all your chicken on)
- Set a pot of water to boil for pasta; salt generously and drop in 1-2 tsp olive oil into the water
- Measure out pesto and leave on the counter so it can warm while you prepare the rest of the dish
- Lightly coat a second baking sheet with olive oil (just brush on a very thin coat)
- Cut the cherry tomatoes in half (whichever way you like) and arrange (fairly haphazardly, really) on the baking sheet. Salt lightly and sprinkle with herbs or spices if desired (my mother uses Herbes de Provence; I’m a fan of a pinch of paprika/cumin/coriander). Drizzle with more olive oil on top.
- Clean the chicken breasts and arrange on the baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Flip and repeat so that both sides are coated and seasoned.
- Once the oven is sufficiently hot, place the tomatoes on the bottom rack and the chicken on the top rack (if you have two racks, that is) of the oven
- Once the water is boiling, place pasta in water and cook as directed; I like mine just a bit al dente (it’s what the Italians do)
- Bake the chicken for about 10 minutes, then flip the oven using kitchen tongs, a glove, and patience/care. Don’t burn yourself with that oven door open! You can always take the sheet out, flip, and return to the oven if you’re not too lethargic. While you’re at it, rotate the tomato pan.
- After another 10 minutes, take your tongs and press upon the chicken. If there’s a lot of give, leave it in for another few minutes- you’re looking for the outside to be golden brown and for the inside to have only a bit of give. The squishier it is, the less cooked- and unfortunately, sashimi chicken isn’t a good dish to try :)
- Once the tomatoes are drying out a bit and are blistering, you can remove them from the oven. The amount of time they spend in there is totally up to you- if you have the time, roasting them at a lower temp (360 or so) for longer yields even better results; this is the ‘quick version’
- Remove the tomatoes and chicken from the oven and let cook for a moment.
- Once pasta is cooked, drain (but not excessively, a little water in this is fine) and place in a large mixing bowl. Using kitchen tongs, cut the chicken into large, wide (but fairly thin) strips. Add to bowl. Scrape tomatoes as-is into bowl as well. Scoop in the pesto, and mix. Add salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle in a bit of olive oil. Shave the cheese on top and…. voila!
It’s one of those go-to standbys for me because I don’t need to consult a recipe and it has infinite variations. Sometimes I also confit some bell peppers (red/yellow/orange)… sometimes with herbs, sometimes with spices… carrots work nicely, too, when baked with cheese. You get the idea- pick the brightly-coloured vegetable(s) of your choice! And then dig in :)