One of my greatest cooking challenges is the simple weeknight dinner. I know that sounds silly. Because how hard could that really be? Don’t we all have our go to meals that we fall back on Monday through Thursday?
Spaghetti and meatballs. Roast chicken and potatoes. Macaroni and cheese. And I could go on and on with meals that most likely grace all of our tables.
But here’s the thing, I get bored easily. I can’t eat the same meals week after week. Unfortunately I’ve created four mini-mes that share the same issue. So I’m constantly on the quest for easy to make weeknight meals that don’t take a ton of time to prepare but still keep things interesting.
And what I’ve found is that the recipes don’t have to be some kind of culinary masterpiece to keep things from getting monotonous. Even a change of form is enough to perk up mealtime. Like this dish, Creamy Pesto Chicken Spirals. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made some variation of chicken with pesto. I also make lasagna on a regular basis which also gets boring quickly.
However, when I marry the two recipes together with a couple of tweaks, I have a rich and satisfying dish that gets the kids eating instead of complaining.
And then we whip up a batch of pesto. Pesto takes no time to make and adds so much incredible flavor to the dish. It’s really flexible too. Some people can’t eat pine nuts (pignoli). If that’s your case, just substitute with sunflower seeds. It really doesn’t make a difference. Or you can skip seeds/nuts altogether. There are no hard rules with pesto.
After shredding the chicken you toss it into a bowl with some of the freshly made pesto and shredded mozzarella cheese. Usually I’d tell you to shred a block of mozzarella because it really does taste better than the bagged pre-shredded variety. But to be honest with you, when it’s being mixed together and baked in a cheesy pasta sauce, I don’t think it makes a dang bit of difference. Who wants complicated on a weeknight? Not me.
Once the pesto chicken filling is rolled up in cooked lasagna noodles, it’s placed in a baker and smothered with a super simple to make creamy pesto cheese sauce. I know this sounds like a lot of steps, but none of the steps are difficult or time consuming.
Heck, you could make this ahead of time and freeze it if you like. Just make sure you let your baker come to room temp before popping it into the oven. Otherwise you will spend the rest of your evening on a date night with Easy-Off Oven Cleaner.
So there you have it. Something different to make for dinner this week. I’d love to tell you that I’m constantly coming up with exciting meals for my family every day of the week. But the truth is, I’m just like you. Sometimes winning at dinnertime and sometimes not so much.
My goal for A Beautiful Bite in 2014 is to come up with more weeknight meals that are interesting, easy to make and worth serving to your family. I’d also like to win the lottery, develop washboard abs and be the catalyst for world peace. So we’ll see how that all shakes out. But for today, let’s start with this one dinnertime idea.
- 3 cups packed fresh basil leaves
- 4 garlic cloves
- ¼ cup pine nuts or sunflower seeds (or skip if you'd like)
- 1 cup olive oil
- pinch of salt and ground black pepper to taste
- ¾ cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 stick of butter
- 3 Tbsp flour
- 2½ cups milk
- 2 cups parmesan cheese, grated
- 8oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
- ⅓ cup pesto
- 1 lb lasagna noodles cooked al dente
- 6 cups cooked chicken meat, shredded (I used white meat, but dark is fine too)
- 1 cup pesto plus ⅓ cup reserved for sauce
- 1 lb mozzarella cheese, shredded and divided
- Preheat oven to 350º.
- For the pesto, place all ingredients except cheese into a food processor and process until smooth. Stir in the parmesan cheese.
- For the cheese sauce, place butter in 2qt heavy pot and heat over medium-high heat. After it's melted, add the flour. Stir constantly until mixture turns golden, about four to five minutes. Add milk, cheeses and ⅓ cup pesto. Cook until slightly thickened, another four to five minutes.
- In a large bowl, mix together the chicken, pesto and 8oz of shredded mozzarella. Mix well to thoroughly coat. Spread an even layer of this mixture over a cooked lasagna noodle and roll up.
- Place rolls into a greased 9x13 baker. Pour cheese sauce over top. Feel free to sprinkle extra parmesan cheese over top if you like. Bake in a 350º oven for thirty minutes or until golden and bubbly.