Friday, January 20, 2012

Easy Baked Pesto Chicken Recipe (Low-Carb, Gluten-Free)

This Easy Baked Pesto Chicken is a tasty low-carb main dish, perfect for the South Beach Diet Phase One or any carb-conscious eating plan.

Easy Baked Pesto Chicken Recipe found on

(I don't think I could go clear through the Month of Daily Phase One recipes without featuring this Easy Baked Pesto Chicken from 2010, which is without a doubt one of the most popular Phase One recipes on the blog.  It's delicious even with purchased pesto from the store, but if you make your own pesto and keep it in the freezer, that will make this dish even better!)

I first stumbled on to this recipe for Easy Baked Pesto Chicken when I was looking in The South Beach Diet Quick and Easy Cookbook for a recipe my friend Bonnie had recommended. At my house there's fresh basil on the counter, I'm freezing basil for winter, and I've now made two batches of Basil Pesto with Lemon, so it's not really surprising that a recipe using pesto would catch my eye. If you don't have any basil growing, you can certainly make this ultra-easy main dish with purchased basil pesto, which is what the recipe in the book called for. If you have more fresh basil, or more basil pesto left in your jar after you make this, look after the recipe for some other ideas using pesto.

After I trimmed the boneless-skinless chicken breasts, I cut each one into 2 or 3 lenghthwise strips. The recipe didn't call for this, but I figured it would make the chicken pieces be surrounded with the pesto flavor. (By the way, I save all those chicken scraps in the freezer and use them to make homemade chicken stock.)

Spray the casserole dish with non-stick spray, then spread 1/4 cup of basil pesto over the bottom of the dish.

Then lay the chicken strips over the top of the pesto and season with salt and fresh ground black pepper.

Spread another 1/4 cup of basil pesto over the top of the chicken strips. (I used a rubber scraper to spread the pesto in the dish and over the chicken.)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here's a reminder that you need to cover the dish with foil. Then bake at 375F/190C for 25-30 minutes, just until the chicken is barely cooked through. (Don't cook too long at this stage, or the chicken will be overcooked when the cheese is melted and browned.)

When chicken is done, sprinkle 1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese over the top and bake about 5 minutes more. (If your broiler is separate from the oven, start preheating it at this point.)

I wanted the cheese to be lightly browned, so after 5 minutes I switched to broil for about 5 minutes, just long enough to get some color on the cheese. Serve hot, maybe with rice or couscous to soak up the juice.

Baked Pesto Chicken
(Makes 4 servings, recipe adapted slightly from The South Beach Diet Quick and Easy Cookbook.)

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and fresh ground black pepper for seasoning chicken
1/2 cup basil pesto (I used my homemade Basil Pesto with Lemon, but you can use purchased pesto.)
2 oz. (1/2 cup) grated low-fat mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 375F/190C. Trim all visible fat and tendons from chicken pieces, then cut each chicken breast lengthwise into 2 or 3 pieces. (I cut the larger ones into 3 strips and the smaller ones into 2 strips.)

Spray a 9" x 12" (or 8.5" X 12.5") baking dish with non-stick spray, then spread 1/4 cup basil pesto over the bottom of the dish. Lay chicken strips over the pesto, then spread 1/4 cup more basil pesto over the chicken.

Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil (or use a baking dish with a tight-fitting lid) and bake the chicken for 25-30 minutes, just until chicken is barely firm and cooked through. (Don't cook too much at this point, or the chicken will be overcooked by the time the cheese is melted and browned.)

When chicken is barely cooked through, remove foil and sprinkle chicken with 1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese. Put dish back into the oven without foil and cook 5 minutes more, just until cheese is melted. (If your broiler is separate from the oven, start preheating it when you take the chicken out.) After I melted the cheese for 5 minutes I switched my oven to broil and broiled for 5 minutes more, just long enough to get the cheese lightly browned.

Serve hot. There will be some flavorful juice in the bottom of the dish when this is done, so you may want to serve with rice, couscous, or quinoa to soak up the juice, but if you're eating this for phase one, just spoon the juice over the chicken.

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South Beach Diet / Low-Carb Diet Suggestions:
This easy chicken dish would be suitable for any phase of the South Beach Diet, or any other type of low-carb or low-glycemic eating plan. Be sure to use low-fat mozzarella for South Beach, since pesto is relatively high in fat.

More Recipe Ideas Using Basil Pesto:
(Recipes from other blogs may not always be South Beach Diet friendly; check ingredients.)

Basil Pesto with Lemon and Ten Ideas for Using Basil Pesto from Kalyn's Kitchen

Easy Pesto Pasta Salad with Olives and Roasted Red Peppers from Kalyn's Kitchen

5 Easy Ways to Use Basil Pesto from Kitchen Gadget Girl Cooks

Tomato Pesto Pizza from Farmgirl Fare

Spaghetti with Basil Pesto, Tomato, and Olives from The Perfect Pantry

Grilled Pesto Chicken from Whipped

Late Summer Vegetable Soup with Basil Pesto from Food Blogga
(Want even more recipes? I find these recipes from other blogs using Food Blog Search.)counter customizable free hit
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  1. Raising Mama, I love spinach in pesto, hope you enjoy this!

  2. I can't wait to try your recipe looks amazing! Also included you in my weekly meal plan this week.

  3. I tried this tonight and OMG yum, one of my new faves for sure! My fiance noted that it's be yummy with some artichoke hearts over angelhair pasta.Thanks for the recipe!!

  4. Michelle, so glad you liked it. And I think the idea of artichoke hearts sounds great!

  5. One of our go to dinners! We just love it and SO MANY MORE of your recipes. You're the best and your site is great! Thanks for sharing with us :)

    1. Thanks Sammi; so glad you're enjoying the recipes.

  6. I'm making this for company tonight - and I thought with all the fresh tomatoes available now, I would put some sliced tomatoes on the chicken before I put on the cheese!


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