Foodie Friday--Pesto Bechamel Pasta

When the weather starts cooling down, I tend to cook more in the kitchen. And most of the items I cook could be termed 'comfort food', which usually translates into creamy, carb-loaded concoctions.
The other day, I looked in the fridge and saw store-bought pesto and some leftover chicken (seasoned with fajita seasoning and grilled few days ago).

Now, pesto can be an overpowering thing since basil is the number one ingredient, along with olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and some brands add parmesan cheese and/or pine nuts or almonds. The brand I picked up this time was in the refrigerated section and was far less garlic-y than the brand in the hard goods aisle. I personally don't like the pesto that's this strong, so I will find ways to dilute the intensity.

So my idea was to make a chicken, pesto, pasta thing. And then I remembered my Chicken Lasagna recipe. I had to make a few changes, because the sauce was just a hair too thin for the pound of noodles that I cooked--I added about three large spoonfuls of grated parmesan cheese, which was about 3/4 cup.

Here's the recipe:

Pesto B├ęchamel Pasta

4 Tbls. butter
1/2 cup flour
3 cups milk
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup basil pesto
leftover chicken--sliced

Place pot of water with salt for the pasta on stove, on high, as you begin to make the b├ęchamel sauce. Cook pasta al dente according to pasta directions.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add flour and stir, cooking for about 2 minutes. Slowly add milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Simmer about 2-4 minutes. Add pesto, salt and pepper. Adjust seasoning. Add chicken.

If the sauce is finished before pasta, place a lid on it to keep warm.

Drain pasta. Add to sauce mixture. Fold pasta into mixture. If sauce is too thin, add grated parmesan cheese until desired thickness.

Serve with side of green salad.

Tips & Tricks:
  • taste your pesto before you add it. Some brands are loaded with garlic or salt, and you don't want to over season your meal
  • the roux will seem chunky after the flour is added, just keep stirring so it doesn't burn. Turn down heat just a little to help keep it from burning
  • I use skim milk, but if you want a richer sauce use whole milk. If you don't have whole milk (I don't), add a little cream in place of some of the milk. Instead of 3 cups of milk, use 2 cups of skim milk and one cup of cream
  • season intelligently. If you don't like nutmeg, don't add nutmeg. If your pesto is salty, then don't add salt until after you mix in the pesto to see if you need to add any salt.  
  • I use a whisk instead of a spoon to stir, since whisks break up lumps.
  • I didn't have fettuccine noodles, so I used some trumpets. The shapes are fun, but they took a little longer to cook than thinner noodles.
  • The sauce was too thin for these noodles, so I added a couple large spoonfuls of grated parmesan cheese to help thicken it slightly.
And this is another recipe that my family demolished in less than 24 hours.


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