Make Ahead

Chile-Garlic Chicken With Spinach Pesto Pasta

September 21, 2022
2 Ratings
Photo by Melina Hammer
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 10 minutes
  • Serves 4-6
Author Notes

This dish is a harmony of flavors and textures. It comes together in an instant—equally perfect for casual get-togethers or a weeknight meal. While pesto is typically made with basil, this sauce makes use of easily available spinach. It's supple and rich and stays beautiful bright green as it gets tossed onto chewy noodles. It’s the perfect backdrop for garlicky, chile-infused seared chicken thighs (or eggplant, or tofu, for vegetarian options). Choosing boneless meat means it’ll cook up in no time flat. Bright, juicy tomatoes and the crunch of crushed hazelnuts, showered over top, make the dish feel extra special. This batch makes enough sauce to enjoy for another meal to follow. If you plan on stretching the pesto out over the course of multiple days, simply pour a thin layer of olive oil to cover the sauce’s surface, then seal it in the refrigerator.

You'll also notice that this recipe calls for toasted hazelnuts. Here's how to do it: roast hazelnuts on a sheet pan in a 375°F oven until fragrant, about 7 minutes. Transfer hazelnuts to a shallow bowl to cool to room temperature, then slough off the skins. That's it! —Melina Hammer

What You'll Need
  • Marinade
  • 1/2 teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated on a microplane
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 ¾ lbs)
  • Pesto Pasta
  • 4 cups well-packed spinach
  • 1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, divided
  • 2 ounces finely shredded parmesan
  • 1/3 cup coarsely snipped chives
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 8 ounces orecchiette pasta
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced into halves
  • Flaky salt
  1. Make the marinade: Stir the garlic, oil, salt, and spices together into a uniform paste. Pat the thighs dry and arrange them on a tray. Spread the mixture to coat the top side of each thigh. Set aside as you make the pesto.
  2. Rinse spinach and toss in a colander. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the spinach, ⅓ cup hazelnuts, parmesan, chives, and olive oil and pulse until it resembles a lush paste. Taste, and season with a pinch of kosher salt and black pepper as needed. Transfer the pesto to a pint-sized wide-mouth jar with a lid and seal. Refrigerate if not using straight away—this step can be done up to 3 days in advance.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook orecchiette according to package instructions for al dente. Use a slotted spoon to transfer pasta to a heat-proof bowl. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil onto the pasta, toss to prevent sticking, and allow to cool as you cook the chicken.
  4. Heat a large cast iron pan until hot over medium-high heat, then arrange 3 to 4 pieces marinade side down. Sear undisturbed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until thighs turn opaque around all edges.
  5. Turn thighs to the second side and sear for 2 minutes further or until a food thermometer reads 160°F, then transfer to a platter to rest. Repeat with remaining thighs until all have been seared.
  6. Toss half the pesto with the pasta to thoroughly coat, then transfer the pasta to a large serving platter. Slice chicken into ¼-inch-thick slices across the grain and arrange onto pasta, adding any accumulated juices. Scatter tomatoes around. Crush remaining hazelnuts with the flat of a chef’s knife and sprinkle them over all. Season with freshly ground pepper and flaky salt, and eat at once.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Sarah Heckroth
    Sarah Heckroth
  • Melina Hammer
    Melina Hammer
Melina is the author of 'A Year at Catbird Cottage' with Ten Speed Press. She grows an heirloom and pollinator garden and forages wild foods at her namesake Hudson Valley getaway, Catbird Cottage. Melina loves serving curated menus for guests from near and far seeking community amidst the hummingbirds, grosbeaks, finches, and the robust flavors of the seasons.

2 Reviews

Sarah H. October 19, 2022
This was delicious! My chicken took way longer than 4 minutes to cook, about 10 minutes each, across two batches. The pasta got cold waiting, so I wish I would’ve started the chicken before/at the same time as the pasta.
Melina H. October 20, 2022
I’m so glad you love this dish! They take me about 6 minutes, all said and done. Did you use boneless thighs? And was your pan screaming hot when you began cooking them?