One summer my friend Becci was visiting, and as usual we had a veritable feast the first night, involving gnocchi with pesto. The second night, I didn't have a menu planned, so I opened the fridge and stared at the leftover pesto and some chicken breasts that needed to be cooked like yesterday. I thought, why not just spread the pesto on the chicken and see if breadcrumbs will stick to it, instead of having to do the usual flour-egg-breadcrumbs dredging routine? It worked! And the chicken was delicious. Becci asked for the recipe and I was like, errrrr....there isn't one. She said, "I shall call it... Chicken à la Zinser."
"I like it," I said.
So this is my attempt at making this into an actual recipe. It's summer, so don't put too much effort into it but serve this with whatever tasty vegetables you have lying around; I did a quick sauté of cherry tomatoes, spinach and garlic in olive oil.
You could just buy regular chicken breasts and then flatten them yourself with a meat mallet, but then you have a dirty meat mallet and a phobia about chicken germs on the counter even if you flattened the chicken inside a ziplock bag (or maybe that's just me), so look for thin-sliced cutlets if you can, to skip that step.
1/3 cup pesto (recipe below)
4 thin chicken breasts, no more than 1/4 inch thick, about 1 1/4 lbs (the meat guy sliced two fat chicken breasts lengthwise when I asked if they had any thin-cut chicken breasts)
pinch salt and pepper
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
2-4 Tbsp olive oil
1. Spread the pesto on one plate or shallow baking dish big enough to hold the chicken. Put the breadcrumbs on a second plate. Sprinkle the chicken breasts with a little salt and pepper.
2. In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. You want it really hot so that when you add the meat to the pan, it sizzles instantly. This will help get a nice brown exterior without overcooking the interior.
3. While the pan is heating, spread the pesto evenly on the chicken breasts (I just use my hands because they're already meat-contaminated anyway from taking the chicken out of the package). Then dredge the chicken in the breadcrumbs on the second plate, pressing firmly to make sure a uniform layer sticks to the pesto.
4. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken to the pan in an even layer. If your pan isn't big enough to fit all four, do two at a time and add a little extra olive oil if the pan gets dry in between the two batches.
5. Cook until the bottom is golden brown, about 4 minutes, then flip over to cook the other side, about another 3-4 minutes. Once the chicken is browned on both sides and cooked through (check the thickest part of the chicken breast to make sure it's no longer pink), remove from the pan.
I was interested in trying a recipe that stayed bright green even without adding parsley (which I was out of) or spinach, so the internets came to the rescue and I tried this New York Times recipe. I didn't think the flavor suffered from the blanching; in fact, I thought it was the best pesto I've made in a while.
2 cups packed basil leaves (I weighed them out of curiosity since it bugs me the basil measurement is always in cups- what if I packed my cup way lighter than yours? I had 80 grams.)
2 Tbsp toasted pine nuts
1/4-1/3 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup tasty extra-virgin olive oil
1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, minced
1/3-1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1. Bring a small pot of water to boil over high heat.
2. Set up a bowl nearby filled with ice water.
3. Put the basil leaves in a small sieve or colander that will fit in the pot of water.
4. Once the water is boiling, plunge the sieve of basil into the pot for five seconds, then quickly drain it and put the sieve in the bowl of ice water. Blanching deactivates the enzyme in the basil that turns it brown quickly after exposure to the air (oxidation).
5. Remove the basil from the ice water and squeeze all of the excess water out.
6. In the work bowl of your food processor, pulse the pine nuts and salt until the nuts are finely ground, then add in the blanched basil. Process until the basil is finely chopped, then stream in the olive oil while the processor is still running. Scrape down the sides in case any errant basil leaves tried to escape, then pulse a few times more until you have a uniform paste. Remove from the work bowl, then stir in the Parmigiano Reggiano and minced garlic cloves (I found that adding it later instead of pulsing along with the nuts and basil prevents the garlic from being too strong).
7. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Because of the blanching, the pesto should stay bright green even after a day or two.