There is an old recipe on the website (with an abysmal photo that is in dire need of an update) for Pesto Chicken with Panzanella Salad that I made years ago, once, but remembered it rather fondly and thought I would make it again and update the photo.  As is usually the case with a busy family, everyone ditched me last minute because of work/social commitments etc and I had all of the ingredients to make the salad but as it consists of toasted bread it was not going to be ideal for leftovers or to be reheated.  That got me thinking…….what if instead of the salad component of the dish, I turn it into a Pesto Chicken with Panzanella Risotto that can be reheated and also delicious for leftovers the next day?! Sometimes, and I mean sometimes, I even amaze myself as this was an absolute triumph!

I quickly got over the fact that I had been abandoned by the family, poured a glass of wine, popped on the tunes and set about bringing this dish to life.  Risotto is one of my most favourite dishes to cook and the flavour in this one was absolutely divine.  Please, do me a favour and make a homemade pesto (the link for mine is below).  Store bought just does not cut it and it literally takes 5 minutes to pop the ingredients in a blender.  You can even make double and freeze the remainder for another meal, like this Chicken Schnitzel with Spicy Tomatoes, Bocconcini & Pesto

Prep time:  30 Minutes

Cooking time:  40 Minutes

$$  Medium Budget

Serves 4

Ingredients for the Pesto Chicken & Panzanella Risotto:

Olive oil for frying

20gm of butter

8 chicken thigh fillets, trimmed of excess fat

4 tbs of basil pesto

1 brown onion, finely diced

2 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1/2 a tsp of chilli flakes

4 anchovy fillets, finely chopped

1 tbs of baby capers

1 small jar of chargrilled peppers, drained and sliced (or approximately 1 cup)

1 cup of pitted Kalamata olives, halved

1 1/2 cups of arborio rice

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

1 cup of dry white wine

1 litre of chicken stock

1 bag of baby spinach leaves

1 cup of whole basil leaves

1 cup of grated parmesan cheese

8 baby truss tomatoes

Sea salt & cracked pepper

Micro herbs, chopped parsley or basil leaves to garnish

Grated lemon rind & toasted pine nuts for garnish

Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

To prepare the Pesto Chicken & Panzanella Risotto:

Place the chicken fillets in a large bowl and spoon over the pesto.  Use a spoon or your hands to really massage the pesto into the chicken so that it gets into all of the nooks and crannies.  Heat a large, non stick fry pan and add a little oil.  Fry the chicken thighs on both sides until golden and place on a lined baking tray.  Bake in a preheated 180°c oven for 15 minutes then pop the truss tomatoes on the tray and drizzle with a little olive oil before roasting for a further 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked all the way through and the tomatoes are starting to blister.

While the chicken is in the oven, cook the risotto.  Give the pesto pan a wipe out with some paper towel and add 1 tbs of olive oil and the butter to the pan.  Once bubbling, fry the onion until starting to soften and then add the garlic, chilli flakes, anchovies, capers and olives.  Fry for a few minutes until the anchovies have dissolved then pour in the rice.  The secret to a good risotto for me is this part of the recipe, toasting the rice.  I always fry the rice for a good 2-3 minutes, stirring continuously, toasting the grains and sealing in all of the starch as it prevents the risotto from becoming gluggy.

Once the grains have toasted, squeeze in the lemon juice and pour in the wine.  Allow the wine to reduce, stirring occasionally until it has almost disappeared before you start doing the same with the stock.  Pouring a little in, reducing, stirring and so on until the rice is almost cooked…….about 15 minutes.  Once the rice is almost cooked, add the roasted capsicum strips and half of the parmesan, stirring through and still adding liquid if the risotto is appearing too dry.  When the rice is done (it should be soft but with a bit of bite to it) stir through the baby spinach and basil leaves and season with salt & pepper.

To serve the Pesto Chicken with Panzanella Risotto, divide the risotto between four serving plates and top with the pesto chicken pieces and truss tomatoes.  Sprinkle over toasted pine nuts, remaining parmesan, grated lemon rind and scatter over the herbs before finishing with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.