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Can't stand the heat? Get out of the kitchen!

  • KAREN CIMMS/TIMES NEWS For the best pesto, always use the freshest ingredients.
    KAREN CIMMS/TIMES NEWS For the best pesto, always use the freshest ingredients.
Published July 17. 2013 05:03PM

In addition to an abundance of fresh, affordable produce, summer also brings lots of heat and humidity. There's a variety of flavorful options for dinner, but who wants to stand over a hot stove to prepare them? Not me, that's for sure!

This Chicken Pasta Salad with Pesto is a longtime summer favorite in my house. The chicken can be baked in the morning, during the cooler part of the day; and if you don't feel like turning on the oven, it can also be poached.

You can even go as far as using a store-bought rotisserie chicken. (I've never had one but I know good cooks who will use them in a pinch.)

Personally, I highly recommend baking the chicken over poaching it for this recipe. The additional flavors that develop when it bakes, as well as the seasonings, such as the garlic powder and dill weed, add another layer of flavor to this dish that you just won't get from poaching.

It is also important to use a twisted pasta with this dish, such as rotini or rotelle. The corkscrew shape of the noodle provides lots of nooks and crannies for the pesto to hang on, guaranteeing lots of flavor in every bite.

If you are familiar with pesto, mine might seem a bit different. This recipe features more parsley than basil. Sometimes I think basil can get a little overwhelming, and this version has a lighter, fresher taste.

Traditional pesto is also made by pounding the basil with a mortar and pestle, crushing it and the rest of the ingredients to form a thicker sauce. I don't own a mortar and pestle, and even if I did, I would still use my blender.

When you make pesto, always use the freshest ingredients and the best olive oil. Dried parsley and basil, powdered garlic and cheese from a shaker will make for a very disappointing pesto.

And while we are talking about pesto, you may want to double the batch, especially if you are making your Chicken Pasta Salad a day in advance. Pasta has the tendency to soak up dressing, so you may want to stir a bit more into the salad before serving.

There are also a lot of other uses for pesto. You can use it as a sauce on linguine or just spread it on some warm and crusty Italian bread.

Chicken Pasta Salad with Pesto

Serves 8

For chicken:

3 large bone-in split chicken breasts

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed

1/2-1 teaspoon garlic powder

Salt and pepper to taste

For pesto:

3/4 cup olive oil

4 tablespoons fresh parsley

2 tablespoons fresh basil

1/4 cup walnuts or pignoli (pine nuts)

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

For salad:

1 pound rotini pasta, cooked al dente

1 pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise

1 can small black olives

Boston or Romaine lettuce

Rinse the chicken breasts and pat dry. Place in a large baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and season with garlic powder, dill weed, salt and pepper. Roast in preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour or until done. (Depending on the thickness of the chicken breast, this could take a bit longer.)

When the chicken is cooked, remove it from oven and set aside to cool.

In the meantime, cook rotini pasta according to package directions. Drain and then rinse with cold running water. Set aside to drain and cool.

For the pesto, on a cutting board, give walnuts a rough chop. Combine the parsley and basil, and give them a rough chop as well. Combine the nuts, parsley, basil, garlic, cheese, salt and pepper into a blender with the olive oil, then purée until smooth. Set aside.

When the chicken has cooled enough to touch,

remove skin and peel the meat from the bone, cutting it into bite-sized pieces. In a large mixing bowl, add cooled pasta, chicken, tomatoes and black olives, and toss to combine. Pour pesto over top and stir into the mixture, coating all of the pieces. Refrigerate for several hours.

Serve over leaves of Boston or Romaine lettuce.

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