Fresh Pesto Chicken and Roasted Greek Potatoes

To celebrate our arrival in Old Dave’s Harbour after a somewhat bumpy ride out of Wawa, I made pesto chicken breast in the oven with sides of my short-cut version of roasted Greek potatoes and green beans. The beans turned out to be a little too old and had no flavor. Not even healthy doses of lemon and garlic could salvage them. But the pesto chicken and lemony potatoes were a hit.

Fresh homemade pesto on an extended cruise is something of an incongruity unless you have access to fresh basil. We have encountered a couple cruisers who carry a few fresh herbs—including a sailing couple  who had an herb pot hanging from their boom while dockside, no idea where it gets stashed under sail. We have Julie’s brilliant “shoebag herb garden” (see Julie’s The Boat Garden Blog), which includes a thriving basil plant.

To make the basil, we dug our hand-cranked two-speed herb chopper out of its dark hole. This little gem has a pair of really sharp blades that successfully shredded the fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped garlic, and pine nuts in extra virgin olive oil. We then tossed in shredded parmesan cheese and blended it all together. Turned out great. Then I spread a layer of pesto on top of half a chicken breast that was already oiled up and sprinkled with salt and pepper and some of the zest of the lemon I zested for the Greek potatoes. I put the dressed up chicken breast on a wire rack and set it over the potatoes that were already in a lipped cookie sheet in the oven. Juice from the chicken added some flavor to the potatoes.

We enjoyed the pesto chicken and Greek potatoes with Naked Grape unoaked chardonnay.

Here are recipes:

Basic Blender Pesto

Yield: 2/3 cup

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbs toasted pine nuts
  • 2 cloves of garlic; lightly crushed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese; freshly grated

Directions:

Combine basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, and salt in blender or Cuisinart at high speed (use pulse feature on Cuisinart). Stop, scrape, and start a few times. When evenly blended, add parmesan and blend to preferred consistency.

If you do not have a blender or herb chopper on board, pesto can be made using a pestle and mortar and elbow grease. This is a labor intensive method that requires a large pestle and mortar. You would want to finely chop the basil and pine nuts and mince the garlic to speed the process. Start with the garlic, salt and enough olive oil to grind into a thin paste, then gradually add basil and remaining olive oil as you grind away.  Purists favor this method, claiming richer flavor.

 

Roasted Greek Potatoes

Serves 2

  • 2-3 large Yukon or other yellow/gold potatoes (3-4 medium)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Juice of ½ medium-to-large lemon (1/2-3/4 cups)
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 tsp oregano (1 tsp dried)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Italian parsley—coarsely chopped

Directions:

Scrub and quarter or eighth potatoes and place in mixing bowl. Toss with olive oil. Add half of the lemon juice and toss with remaining ingredients. Bake potatoes in a lipped cookie sheet or low cake pan 350 F for 30-40 minutes or until potatoes begin to brown. Turn potatoes and pour remaining lemon juice over them.  Use the juice of the entire lemon for extra lemon flavor. Garnish with parsley and serve hot.

Note: This is a short-cut version of classic roasted Greek potatoes, which involves roasting peeled chunks of potatoes as above for over an hour in a covered pan and half submerged in chicken broth. The idea is to get a crispy, lemony skin and creamy interior. My short cut gets the potatoes nearly as crispy and just as lemony and creamy in half the time.

 

Now, an aside about basil. No matter what you are cooking or preparing that calls for fresh basil, DO NOT substitute with dried basil. Dried basil is the soulless zombie of herbs. It is a crime against gastronomy. The salient characteristics of most herbs are concentrated in native oils, which are actually intensified as the herb dries.  Dried basil retains none of the spicy perfume or anisey flavor of fresh basil. None. Zilch. Not an iota. It is totally free of aroma and flavor except for a little bitterness—probably brought on by the memory of not being used while fresh.

Basil can be harvested and frozen—preferably flat in food vacuum bags—with some success. It retains much of the flavor, and works in cooked sauces and soups, but the leaves lose fragrance, texture and color and don’t work in pestos or other uncooked dishes. If you freeze the leaves, be sure they are dry before packing them. Water will turn the leaf an unsightly brown and neutralize the flavor.

Basil can also be chopped and mixed with olive oil or butter, then frozen. We freeze it in ice cube trays so a cube will be about 1 oz. or a couple tablespoons. Again, this works well in sauces and soups and makes a tasty basil oil or basil butter sauté base. It can even produce a decent tasting pesto, but the pesto won’t have that gorgeous green color—unless you use pistachios as the nut in the mix.

(Note: Time and air both rob dried herbs of their herbal qualities; keep herbs in air tight containers printed with date-of-purchase or –drying; dispose of them after a year.)

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