To make the salad more substantial, I added chopped spinach and cooked orzo. The ratio of basil to spinach was 1:1, so the fresh basil flavor is still plenty strong.
My favorite discovery when making this dish was learning how well pesto works as a “breading.” The ground pine nuts and parmesan cheese form the perfect crispy exterior when grilled or sauteed.
This salad will serve four for dinner.
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 1/2 cup pesto
- 1 cup orzo
- 2 cups basil, chopped
- 2 cups baby spinach, chopped
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, diced in half
- 1 cup small mozzarella balls (aka cieliegine), diced in half
- 1/3 cup flavorful olive oil
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Step 1. At least one hour before cooking, combine the chicken thighs and pesto in a gallon-size sealable plastic bag. Squish everything around so each piece of chicken is completely coated in pesto. Marinate in the refrigerator.
Step 2. Cook the orzo. Bring a medium pot of water to boil and season with salt. Cook the orzo until done, then drain and rinse the orzo with water thoroughly to cool it down.
Step 3. Cook the chicken in a large saute pan, grill pan or outdoor grill over medium-high heat. You’ll get more flavor yet less crispiness using the outdoor grill. Cook until the chicken is firm to the touch and its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F, about 20 minutes (depending on the thickness of the thighs).
Step 4. Prepare the salad. Combine the chopped basil and spinach, and diced tomatoes and mozzarella. Add the orzo. Season with salt and pepper, then whisk the olive oil and balsamic vinegar together to form a vinaigrette. Pour this over the salad (it might seem like a lot of dressing, but the orzo soaks it up).