Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Art of Pantry Foraging

We've all been there; staring at the contents of your refrigerator or pantry wondering, "What do I make for dinner"

Luckily I'm the kind of gal that always has canned tomatoes and rice, or in this case, couscous, in the cupboard. Also, luckily for me the herb garden is bursting with basil right now. That set the gears into motion..

I remembered seeing this dish on Rachael Ray's show before and decided to use that as my inspiration. Since I didn't have the soft cheese for the inside, I thought the couscous mixed with the pesto sauce would make a nice substitution. I also didn't have any pine nuts, so I used almonds instead.

Stuffed Chicken with Pesto Couscous

4-6 Chicken breast or thighs, boneless and skinless
1/2 cup slivered almonds (or pine nuts)
8-10 large sprigs of Basil
Parmesan cheese, grated, to taste
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup couscous
1 cup chicken stock
2 medium onions, diced
1 large can of diced tomatoes or tomato sauce
1 small can of sliced mushrooms, drained
Salt and pepper, to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 350*F.

Start by toasting the nuts lightly in a skillet over medium heat, you do not need oil. Stir or toss often so that they do not burn. Pull the nuts off the heat when they start to turn toasty brown and release their delicious aromas and set aside.

Next start the couscous, bring 1 cup of chicken stock with about 1 tbsp of olive oil to a boil. Once the liquid comes to a boil, quickly stir in the couscous and remove from the heat. Cover the pot and let sit for 5 minutes.

Sweat a quarter of the diced onions in a medium saute pan with olive oil. Season with a small amount of salt and pepper. When they are translucent set aside for the Pesto sauce.

In the same pan, saute the remaining onions in another Tbsp of olive, again seasoning lightly, until they are translucent. Add in the can of tomatoes and bring to a simmer. To break down the diced tomatoes a bit you can use a potato masher to smush them and break down the chunks. Add the can of mushrooms last. Simmer over medium heat until you are ready to assemble.

To start the pesto, take the basil leaves off of their stalks and do a rough chiffonade, to help the food processor get started. Add the basil, nuts, onions, grated Parmesan cheese, and a few tablespoons of olive oil into a food processor. Pulse at first to combine, then puree until smooth, adding olive oil as necessary to make a paste. Combine the pesto paste with the couscous and adjust the seasonings if necessary.

To assemble: Spoon a small amount of the tomato sauce into the bottom a large glass casserole pan to help prevent sticking. For chicken breasts, slice the piece almost in half so that it opens up like a book. For boneless thighs, they should open up in a similar fashion, if not slice them open as well. Season the insides with salt and pepper. Scoop a large spoonful of the pesto couscous mixture onto the chicken pieces. Roll them up and place into the pan, seam side down. If there is any left-over couscous mixture, tuck it around the chicken pieces. Top the chicken with the remainder of the sauce. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake in the oven on the middle rack for 50 - 60 minutes, or until the chicken pieces are done.

Please note that for this recipe some measurements are estimated; I assembled this with the end result in mind, so please use your best judgement and adjust the amounts to your tastes

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