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8 & $20: Chicken Breasts with Pesto 'Zoodles'

A fresh Italian white ties together this vegetable variation on pasta
Photo by: Greg Hudson
A Soave Classico had the freshness to mesh well with the green flavors in this dish.

Nicole Ruiz Hudson
Posted: August 22, 2017

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

“Zoodles!” The word is fun to say, and the dish—zucchini cut to look like curly spaghetti—is likewise fun to make.

Zucchini “noodles” make a wonderful, healthy swap for pasta whether you’re looking to reduce carbs, avoid gluten or just enjoy some fresh seasonal summer fare. I sometimes blend zoodles with real pasta when I want to lighten things up but still want a little of that toothsome pasta texture.

I make my zoodles using a spiralizer, which quickly turns vegetables into long, curly strands. You simply set the zucchini (or whatever you’re working with) in the machine and turn the crank. Three large zucchini made a rather substantial bowl of noodles.

Spiralizers come in freestanding and handheld versions, as well as attachments for a stand mixer. Mine was not expensive, but it does take up some room. If you don't want another gadget in your kitchen, you can use a julienne peeler or a mandoline to create long, thin strips, though they might not curl. If you’d rather not bother with this step, many grocery stores sell packages of spiralized vegetables, which would cut the prep time on this recipe to nearly nothing.

You don’t actually need to cook the zoodles; they're perfectly fine raw. I prefer them lightly warmed, though if you cook them too long they could get unpleasantly mushy.

You can buy premade pesto to really shorten the cooking time, but it’s easy to make a fresher version yourself. Here, I give amounts for the ingredients, but to be honest, I typically make it by taste, adjusting the quantities as I go. You can change up the proportions to suit your preference and also experiment with other greens like arugula or kale. Walnuts make a nice alternative to pine nuts as well.

This recipe makes more pesto than you’ll likely need to cover six servings of noodles. Save the rest, as you’re sure to find many other uses for it. Since the pesto has so much flavor, I kept the seasoning on the chicken very simple: just a little salt and pepper.

Given all the fresh flavors in this light dish, I opted to try two white wines alongside it: a South African Sauvignon Blanc and a Soave Classico from Italy's Veneto region. I sat down to test them out over dinner with my husband and my parents, who were visiting from out of town.

I really expected the Sauvignon Blanc to go well with all of the green notes in the food. This particular version, however, turned a little shrill with the vegetables, and, as my dad pointed out, the wine overpowered the food.

I find Soave Classico wines, made primarily from the Garganega grape, to be extremely versatile for food pairing. Good versions tend to have a balance of creamy texture, lively acidity and underlying minerality that works with a wide range of dishes. This one showed a mixture of stone, orchard and citrus fruits, with hints of white flowers and a stony finish. My mom noted that while the first wine seemed at odds with the food, this one meshed easily and the flavors seemed to flow. It was the resounding group favorite.

Chicken Breasts with Pesto “Zoodles”


Pair with a Soave Classico such as Prà Soave Classico Otto 2015 (88 points, $17).


Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Total time: 55 minutes
Approximate food cost: $29

  • 4 ounces basil (roughly 1 large bunch)
  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, plus more for garnish if desired
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • Salt
  • 2/3 to 3/4 cup olive oil, plus 3 to 4 tablespoons for cooking
  • 4 skinless boneless chicken breasts, about 8 ounces each
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 3 large zucchini (approximately 2 pounds), cut into long, thin, noodlelike strips with a spiralizer, julienne peeler or mandoline
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Pepper

1. Place the basil, garlic, 1/2 cup Parmesan, pine nuts and a generous pinch of salt in a blender or food processor. Run the blender and gradually begin to add the olive oil in a steady stream. Occasionally stop to scrape down sides with a rubber spatula, blending until the entire mixture is smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Set the pesto aside.

2. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Heat a generous amount of olive oil (about 3 to 4 tablespoons) in a large pan over medium heat. Add the chicken breasts and cook for 8 to 10 minutes per side, or until cooked through and lightly browned. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside to rest.

3. Remove any excess fat and liquid from the pan, if needed, retaining just a bit. Return the pan to the stove over medium heat and deglaze with a little lemon juice. Add the zucchini “noodles” and tomatoes to the pan. Squeeze the rest of the lemon juice over the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for 2 to 4 minutes, or until just heated through.

4. Remove the pan from the heat. Toss the mixture with pesto until lightly coated. Sprinkle with lemon zest to taste and season with additional salt and pepper as needed.

5. Slice chicken breasts against the grain on a bias. Distribute the pesto “zoodles” among 6 plates and arrange chicken slices on top. Garnish with additional Parmesan cheese as desired. Serves 6

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