When most of us think of Italian food, we think of carb-based dishes like pizza, pasta and chicken parm or veal Milanese – all of which are great in the colder months of the year when we’re looking for a little extra comfort in our bellies. But when it’s roasting outside, most of us crave something a little lighter (OK, fine. pizza is the best no matter what the weather is like).
But Italian cuisine is far more than just carbs, cheese and sauce. Italians are also masters of the grill – just go to Tuscany and order a bisteca Fiorentina (Florence’s iconic, massive grilled T-bone steaks) for poof of that.
Italian cuisine varies heavily from region to region, but throughout most of the country, the focus is on simplicity and high-quality, fresh ingredients rather than complex sauces and techniques. Much of Italian grilling is a squirt of lemon here, a pinch of parsley there. These fiery pesto chicken skewers require a bit more work than that, but not much.
Making fresh pesto – one of the easiest sauces to whip up – is the key to this recipe. Just toss some fresh basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and parmesan cheese into a food processor along with some roasted red peppers and spicy cherry peppers for some added flavor, and use it to coat chicken thighs before skewering them and tossing them on the grill. The result is a dish that’s light, flavorful and refreshingly herbaceous.
Remember, it’s all about quality, fresh ingredients here. And if you really can’t imagine having an Italian meal without the carbs, you can always serve this chicken with spicy pasta salad or grilled pizza. Buon Appetito!
- 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
- 1 1/2 cups roasted red peppers, sliced
- 5 hot cherry peppers, stemmed and seeded, or to taste
- 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves, plus more to serve
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- As needed extra virgin olive oil
- To taste salt
- To taste freshly ground black pepper
- 10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into chunks
- 1 large red onion, cut into wedges
- 1 large red pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into chunks
- For serving lemon wedges
- 1 In the bowl of a food processor, combine the toasted pine nuts, roasted red peppers, hot cherry peppers, basil, garlic, parmesan, and paprika. Process until well-combined.
- 2 Stream in olive oil until the pesto reaches a thin enough consistency to coat the chicken as a marinade. Season with salt and pepper and adjust ingredients as needed.
- 3 Transfer half of the pesto to a large freezer bag and reserve the rest for later.
- 4 Add the chopped chicken thighs to the freezer bag of pesto. Seal, then use your hand to massage the pesto all over the chicken thighs to ensure that they are evenly coated. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
- 5 Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high heat. Make sure it is clean and well oiled so the chicken doesn’t stick.
- 6 Thread the chicken cubes, red onion, and red pepper onto metal skewers. If using wooden skewers, be sure to pre-soak them in water first for at least an hour to prevent them from catching fire. Brush the chicken with the reserved pesto.
- 7 Grill until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165°F, about 4-5 minutes per side. Serve warm with basil and lemon wedges.