Penne With Chicken and Walnut Pesto Recipe

In “Let’s Go Nuts!” in the February 2017 issue of School Nutrition, contributing Editor Kelsey Casselbury leads readers through an exploration of different “nutty” facts and trivia. In addition to the recipes published in the print edition, the following recipe—featuring SchoolNutrition Kitchen Wisdom Panel advice—provides readers with suggested ways to menu nuts in school meal offerings.

Servings: 50 (1 8-oz. spoodle)

Per serving: 537 cal., 23 g pro., 30.5 g fat, 43.6 g carb., 7.25 g fiber, 400 mg sod.

Meal Pattern: 2 oz.-eq. meat/meat alternate, 2-oz.-eq. grain


4 lbs., 8 ozs. Chicken thighs, boneless, skinless*
1 Tbsp. Salt
2 Tbsps. Lemon juice
1 Tbsp., plus 3 cups Olive oil
4 qts. Basil, fresh, packed
2 Tbsps. Garlic, fresh, chopped
1 lb., 11 ozs. Walnuts, chopped
1 lb., 7 ozs. Parmesan cheese, grated
3 cups Olive oil
6 lbs., 4 ozs. Whole-wheat penne
31 ozs. Water


  1. In a container with a lid, combine the salt, lemon juice and 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Mix well. Add the chicken thighs and mix again to distribute marinade. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.
  2. To make the pesto, use a blender or food processor to combine the basil, garlic, walnuts and Parmesan cheese, and process until finely chopped.
  3. Once chopped, but while still processing, drizzle in 3 cups of olive oil to make a paste.
  4. Preheat the oven to 375°F
  5. Lay the chicken thighs onto parchment-lined sheet pans in one layer. Bake until the chicken is fully cooked—when the internal temperature of the meat reaches 165°F for 15 seconds.
  6. Remove the chicken from the oven and let cool. When you’re able to handle, cut the pieces into a 1-in. dice.
  7. Cook pasta according to package instructions.
  8. Mix the cooked, drained pasta with the walnut pesto and diced chicken. Hold hot for service. Use one 8-oz. spoodle to portion out individual servings.

*Notes: Instead of using raw chicken, marinating and cooking, operators may choose to use 6 lbs., 4 ozs. of a pre-cooked chicken that credits ounce for ounce. If using a pre-seasoned and/or cooked chicken product, the nutritional analysis may need to be adjusted.

Recipe, Nutritional andMeal Pattern Analysis: Center for Ecoliteracy’s SchoolMeals Featuring California Food,

Kitchen Wisdom says….

  • The time to cook and dice the chicken adds some additional prep time.
  • USDA diced chicken would work well in this recipe, as well as boneless skinless chicken breasts.
  • The recipe has a noted absence of color. Some sautéed fresh red peppers or julienned sundried tomatoes on top would be nice.
  • I would go with a shredded rather than grated parmesan.
  • I think that the junior high and high school students would like this recipe, because it is more like what they see at Italian restaurants like Olive Garden.
  • Make sure everyone know that it has walnuts in the recipe to alert those with allergies.
  • I might use almonds instead of walnuts for both cost and flavor.
  • We have found that a creamy pesto goes over better with our students.
  • Eliminate the extra step of cooling and dicing the cooked chicken by cutting into cubes before marinating.

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