Pesto Roasted Chicken with Tomato-Basil Relish

by Lori on October 12, 2010

Picky eaters.  I’ve got two of them.  But the hardest part of their picky palate tendencies is that what one turns away from, the other one embraces and vice versa.  It sends me into a tail spin when I try to plan meals that everyone can agree upon.  Like many parents, I had to draw the line and proclaim, “What is on the table is dinner.  Take it or leave it; three-bite minimum before you say you don’t like it.”   It’s my mother-cook manifesto, and sadly I still have to go there, but it’s getting better.  Perhaps by the time they head off to college I won’t have to say it anymore.

That being said, I consider myself quite lucky that my kids have never turned away from vegetables or basic salads.  That’s huge.  It’s their unsophisticated palates that I consider to be the problem.  So that’s where I’ve take aim, and so far it’s working pretty well.  This summer I was bound and determined to get my kids to eat some of the fresh tomatoes harvested from our small garden, and tomato-basil bruschetta was my target.

They loved it, so I decided to use the tomato-basil topping as a relish for pesto roast chicken.  Since one of my kids doesn’t like pesto very much, I made sure to prepare a chicken without it.  This same child doesn’t like anything remotely resembling a sauce, so the tomato-basil relish goes on the side and that seems to work just fine.  For the rest of us, we just slather the pesto roasted chicken with the tomato-basil relish and go at it.  Served up with a side of Everyday Orzo, this meal hits the bull’s-eye!

There is no easy way to glamorize raw chicken for a photo.  But I wanted to show how I prepare the pesto roasted chicken.  And because I get really crabby when I get my hands dirty and can’t easily use my camera, we need to go with more verbal rather than visual instructions here.  For the child who doesn’t groove on pesto, the chicken in the foreground is simply stuffed with half a lemon, about 4 cloves of unpeeled, smashed garlic and 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary.  I give it a rubdown with olive oil and then sprinkle it with salt and pepper.  The unmistakable green chicken in the background has pesto covering every surface.  First, I rub some into the cavity.  Next, I disconnect the chicken skin along the breasts, legs and thighs by using my fingers to gently lift the skin away from the meat and create an area where the pesto can make contact with the meat.  Try not to tear the skin. Using a spoon, place some pesto under the skin and massage the skin in an effort to disperse the pesto onto all areas.  Make sure the skin covers the breasts as much as possible.  Once you’ve pushed the pesto around under the skin to your liking, rub the skin with some more pesto and feel free to add a little splash of olive oil if it seems dry.  Roast at 450 degrees F for 15 minutes and reduce temperature to 357 degrees F for 50 to 60 minutes.  I buy chickens that are between 4 and 5 pounds each.

I like to make my own pesto, but it doesn’t do well in baked dishes.  It’s tasty but turns an ugly brown-green color, so I go for store bought, jarred pesto in this dish.  I could add lemon juice to my pesto recipe, but I don’t really care for it that way.  I use Trader Joe’s Pesto alla Genovese instead.

Pesto Roast Chicken with Tomato-Basil Relish

For the chicken:
1 4 to 5 pound roasting chicken
1 jar basil pesto

First, remove the contents of the chicken cavity and discard,  and rub some pesto in the cavity.  Disconnect the chicken skin along the breasts, legs and thighs by using fingers to gently lift the skin away from the meat and create an area where the pesto can make contact with the meat.  Try not to tear the skin. Using a spoon, place some pesto under the skin and massage the skin in an effort to disperse the pesto onto all areas.  Make sure the skin covers the breasts as much as possible.  Once you’ve pushed the pesto around under the skin to your liking, rub the skin with some more pesto and feel free to add a little splash of olive oil if it seems dry.  Roast at 450 degrees F for 15 minutes and reduce temperature to 375 degrees F for 50 to 60 minutes.

For the tomato-basil relish:
2 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped and seeded, if desired
1 clove garlic, or to taste
scant 1/4 cup basil chiffonade
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Splash of balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Place chopped tomatoes into a medium sized bowl.  Press garlic clove through a garlic press and add to tomatoes.  Add basil, olive oil balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.  Toss together and let mixture sit on counter for about 15 minutes so flavors can combine.  Taste and adjust seasonings if desired.  Spoon over pieces of roast chicken.

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