Basil Pesto-Stuffed Chicken Breasts


After one of the worst winters in history here in Chicago, one good thing has come out of it: plenty of moist, rich soil with a sunny spring and summer.

As a result, my basil has been more bountiful than ever!

I love basil. It is easily my favorite herb because of its aromatic quality and light taste. I snip the top sprigs regularly to add to salads, soups and any number of savory dishes like pasta, sautéed zucchini or green beans. This regular snipping encourages regrowth; it also prevents blossoming and seeding, which can cause the plants to wither. Later in September before the first frost, I snip off 3-inch branches of basil and let them root in a vase of water for about 10 days. I plant them in potting soil in a decorative pot on my kitchen windowsill. In the spring I replant the basil in my garden.

But never fear—if you haven’t planted any basil, it’s not too late to pick up a bunch at your local farmers market. August is the height of fresh basil season and you will find large bunches at very reasonable prices.

Pesto is great way to preserve extra basil. It will keep for up to one week in the refrigerator or three months in the freezer. If you have a bumper crop of basil, double or triple the following recipe. I like to mix it with a little mayonnaise and diced chicken and tomato for a tasty chicken salad. You may also enjoy it tossed with hot cooked pasta or served as a dip for fresh raw vegetables.

The chicken dish below is one of my family’s favorites. Serve it with roasted sweet potatoes and a simple salad of sliced heirloom tomatoes over lettuce drizzled lightly with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Basil Pesto
Makes about 1 cup

  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Sea salt or kosher salt to taste


1. With motor running, drop garlic cloves through the feed tube of a food processor. Process until minced.

2. Add basil and nuts to food processor; process until fairly smooth, scraping down sides once.

3. With motor running, add oil in a stream; process until smooth. Add cheese; pulse just until cheese is incorporated. Season to taste.


Pesto Stuffed Chicken Breasts
Serves 4

  • 4 bone-in, skinless chicken breast halves (1-1/2 to 2 pounds total)
  • 1/3 cup basil pesto
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil


1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Spread pesto evenly over tops of chicken; place in a shallow roasting pan. Combine breadcrumbs, lemon peel and pepper; sprinkle evenly over chicken. Drizzle butter evenly over chicken.

3. Bake 25 minutes or until golden brown and internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Serve immediately with any pan juices poured over the chicken.


Karen Levin is a freelance recipe developer living in Highland Park with her husband of 36 years.