This is a recipe that I just threw together and wrote down as I went along. My original idea was a creamy, bacon, chicken dish to serve over pasta. As soon as I thought about pasta, my mind immediately went to pesto. I love pesto on pasta – say that three times fast! So I added pesto to the mental list of ingredients, and continued thinking about the flavors. I started thinking about the creamy base sauce. Bacon is salty, and when I make homemade pesto I add a lot of parmesan cheese which can be salty as well. I’m out of my pesto, so I would be using a store bought pesto that I had never used before. I guessed there would be a good amount of salt in it as well, so I really had to think about how I could make a creamy sauce that still had a lot of flavor, without adding salt or any other strong flavors that would compete or overpower the fragrant, basily pesto flavor that I love. Cream cheese came to mind. Perfect. But cream cheese and pesto seemed a little ho-hum. I wanted to fill the taste out a bit. Make it a little more complex. I wanted some punches of flavor that wouldn’t overwhelm the overall dish, but would add bites of brightness. Savory dishes with bacon….Hmmm… Then it came to me. Another favorite of mine, and the reason I originally cooked all the bacon in the first place was to make a BLT&A sandwich, which was sublime I might add. To get the maximum tomato flavor I decided on sun-dried tomatoes. I also decided more vegetable sounded like a great idea, so I lined my baking dish with a bed of fresh spinach, which I already had on hand, and before baking, topped the chicken with fresh asparagus – again, because I had it on hand.
*** Things to consider BEFORE you start cooking:
Ingredient substitutions. In this recipe, the one substitution that could really affect the taste is the type of garlic you use. I used ready-to-use minced garlic from a jar. In my opinion, this type of garlic does not pack the same punch as freshly minced garlic does, so I used a lot. If I were to chop fresh garlic, I might only use about half, in this case, maybe only a tablespoon. If I were using garlic powder, I would only use 1 -2 teaspoons. In instances of substitution, I recommend adding a little and tasting as you go. The same goes for the pesto. When making this recipe, I had not used this brand of pesto before, so I added and tasted until I got the flavor I was looking for, which equaled 2 heaping tablespoons. If I used fresh, or another brand, I might have to adjust this.
Creamy Bacon Pesto Chicken
3 – 4 boneless chicken breasts, cut into hearty slices (I sliced mine into 1″ to 1.5″ pieces)
1 8oz pkg of neufchatel or cream cheese
1/2 c sour cream
3 T. milk
2 T. pesto (I used 2 very generous tablespoons)
2 T. ready-to-use minced garlic (pls see note *** above if substituting)
1/2 c. frozen chopped spinach, thawed, excess water squeezed out
1/2 c. chopped sun-dried tomatoes reconstituted in warm water and drained
1/2 c. cooked bacon, crumbled
12 oz of sliced mushrooms (I used portobello) sauteed in 1 T of butter
Chop sun-dried tomatoes and soak in warm water to soften. Drain and set aside.
Saute mushrooms and set aside.
Spray a large covered baking dish with cooking spray. Line bottom of dish with chicken pieces.
In a bowl, combine cream cheese, sour cream, milk, pesto and garlic. Mix to combine. Stir in spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, and bacon.
Spread mixture over chicken pieces. Cover and bake at 350°F for an hour. Serve over pasta or rice.
After the Dish Notes:
The chicken was fantastic! It delivered just the right amount of pesto flavor and tomato punch that I was looking for. The bacon flavor was present, but not overwhelming. It provided enough salt to bring out the flavors of the other ingredients.
When making it again, however, there are a couple of things that I would change. Please note that I did not add the following to the recipe above, but they are in the blog entry, so I will mention them. First, I would skip the bed of spinach. For me, it served a purpose since I had it on hand and needed to use it up, but it really didn’t add anything to the dish. There is already spinach in the sauce, and unless you pack the fresh spinach into the bottom of the dish, it basically disappears. The next time, if I want additional vegetables, I’ll try thick slices of lightly sauteed zucchini. I say lightly sauteed because I’d want to sweat out some of the moisture of the squash before adding it, but not cook it so much that it would be overly mushy in the completed dish. This brings me to the second thing I would change. I would not add asparagus. The flavor of the asparagus worked beautifully with the other flavors, but for me, they got a little over cooked. Next time I would either serve a lightly sauteed asparagus on the side, or not add them until about halfway through the cooking time. Lesson learned.