Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chicken Chili with Pesto

This Chicken Chili with Pesto is yet another one of our favorite soups. I know...another favorite? (I did, however, give fair warning several weeks back of our little soup affinity. And yes...there are more.) This particular chili, however, came immediately to mind when we arrived home last Saturday afternoon to find this at our front door...

Now you might think that's just a bunch of flat-leaf parsley...and you'd be entirely correct. Yet, for me, finding this heap of parsley on my doorstep (with a main stalk that must have been at least an inch in diameter) is kind of like having a colorful bouquet of fragrant flowers arrive unexpectedly. I think that if you love to cook and appreciate food, it is very endearing to think that someone thought enough of you (and your interests) to take the time out of their busy schedule to share a little something from their own, personally tended garden. There was no note, just a bag with this beautiful parsley inside. The fact that this bright, late-season harvest appeared on our doorstep on one of the most dreary, rain-soaked days we've had this fall was also particularly uplifting.

I do have to mention that I don't have a vegetable garden of my own so these little unexpected gifts are especially appreciated. I realize how fortunate I am to have some very talented green-thumbed friends who are also incredibly generous.

Checking my email early Sunday morning, I did figure out the identity of my most recent little elf. Though the weather we had on Saturday was far from harvesting weather, she apparently had quite a little crop to bring in and thought of me...lucky me!

Well, that bounty of parsley was quickly whirred up into a pesto...

And then set aside to serve with this Chicken Chili -- which is dotted with chunks of chicken, carrots, celery, onions, and cannellini beans...all swimming happily in a wonderful, rich, and flavorful broth that's enhanced by cumin, chili, oregano, and, of course, zesty pesto. If you can imagine the flavors you get with just a little dollop of this green magic...herbs, parmesan, pine nuts...you can almost taste the goodness of this chili. 

While I often tend to make a more traditional basil-based pesto, I switched it up this time (given my little parsley bonanza) and used about a 3:1 ratio of parsley to basil for this pesto and it turned out great. In fact I think that the parsley flavor is particularly suiting for this chili. While you can follow a recipe for pesto, I just kind of threw it all together and whirred it up in my food processor -- handfuls of parsley and basil, a few cloves of fresh garlic, a handful of toasted pine nuts, some parmesan cheese, and some salt and pepper. Give it a few pulses to break it down, then add a stream of good olive oil in until you get a nice pesto-like consistency. Give it a taste and adjust with additional herbs, cheese, salt...whatever...until it's to your liking. Place any leftover pesto in a container, drizzle a little olive oil over the top to kind of "seal" it, cover it and place it in your fridge. It will keep nicely for a few days. You can add it as a sandwich spread or mix it into some fresh pasta for dinner. But first...swirl a dollop into this chicken chili...and enjoy!

Chicken Chili with Pesto
adapted from a Cooking Light recipe
serves 4

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion, diced
1 1/2 pounds (3 large) skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 cups carrot, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1/4 cup (1 small can) diced green chiles (I use mild or medium Ortega-brand chiles)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (more or less, depending on saltiness of broth used)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 can (16 oz) cannellini beans (or other white beans), rinsed and drained
4 cups chicken broth 
pesto (homemade or store-bought)

1. Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and chicken. Saute 5 minutes. Add carrot, bell pepper, and celery; saute another 4 to 5 minutes. Add chiles and next 6 ingredients (through broth). Bring to a boil.

2. Cover and reduce heat, simmer for 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in 3 to 4 tablespoons pesto OR plate individual servings and drop a dollop of pesto on top of each.

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