Pasta is a great staple to keep in the pantry – it makes for a quick and easy dinner any night of the week, without much stress or thought. Unfortunately, though, you can get stuck in a rut pretty quickly – noodle + red sauce + protein gets a little boring week after week. This pasta dish is about as quick as opening up a jar of marinara, and tossing the noodles into boiling water – it probably involves about 5 more minutes of prep, but it’s super flavorful, and a total departure from your usual red sauce and ground beef.
Orecchiette with Pistachio Pesto and Chicken Thighs
adapted from here
Serves about 6
1 pound orecchiette, cooked until al dente
8oz shelled pistachios*
2-3 T chopped fresh mint
4 green onions
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan, plus more for serving
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
pinch of kosher salt
1/3 cup olive oil
about 2/3 pound chicken thighs, baked and shredded
*If you can’t find shelled pistachios, you’ll need about 16oz of unshelled pistachios to get as much as this recipe requires. You’ll also need a high threshold for searing pain in your fingertips, as shelling that many pistachios is an exercise in frustration and throbbing hands.
1.) Start by preheating your oven to 350°, and baking your chicken. I happened to have a package of chicken legs in the freezer, so that’s what I used – but regular chicken thighs will work great. Rub the meat with olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake in a foil-lined baking dish for 30-45 minutes (bone-in chicken will require more toward 45 minutes; boneless should be cooked through in 30). Remove the chicken from the oven, let it cool slightly, and shred with two forks.
2.) While the chicken bakes, set your pasta water to boil, and make the pesto. Add the pistachios to your food processor, and pulse until the pistachios are well-chopped, but still fairly chunky (about 10, one-second pulses). Add the mint, 2 of the green onions, and garlic, and pulse a couple more times; then, let the food processor run while you drizzle the olive oil in. Keep in mind that you want everything to be evenly processed, but you still want the pesto to have a good amount of texture.
3.) Remove the pesto to another bowl, and stir in the grated parmesan cheese. Set aside. Salt the pasta water well, once it has come to a boil, and cook your pasta.
4.) Before draining the pasta, reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta water; drain the pasta, and return it to the pot. Add the pesto and shredded chicken thighs to the pot, and pour in the reserved pasta water. Stir until everything is well-combined.
5.) Take your remaining green onions, and cut them into 1/2″ pieces on an angle. Garnish your plates of pasta with the green onions, and more grated parmesan.
This pesto is GOOD. It’s incredibly flavorful, and pairs nicely with the richness of the chicken thighs, but the two don’t compete with one another. The green onions and mint lighten it up enough so that it’s not heavy, and the pistachios are nutty and salty and crunchy, which is a great departure from your typical tomato-based meat sauce. Paired with a big salad and some crusty bread, this dish would be great for company!
You could definitely make the pesto a day or two ahead of time; just allow it to sit out at room temperature for about an hour before mixing it with the pasta (the chill of the fridge stiffens up the olive oil, which makes it hard to mix into the pasta when it’s cold). Also, you can totally omit the chicken if you’d prefer for this to be a vegetarian dish!
Seriously, the shelled pistachios are worth the extra $1,