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Summer is the season that screams for light dishes, light sauces, and fresh healthy ingredients. My Walnut Avocado Pesto Chicken Pasta meets all of the above criteria and is low sodium as well. As the weather heats up, I don’t know about you, but I need dishes that are lighter in flavors and ingredients so we don’t get weighed down. A pesto is a flavorful way to pull off pasta and a sauce without having to use a red sauce (although I do make a killer Low Sodium Marinara).
In Minnesota, as the temperature climbs, we tend to eat more and more out of doors. Typically our patio on the deck is where we gather. It overlooks the backyard garden where we grow many fresh herbs and vegetables which are used in this flavorful dish. Another big thing that happens here in the summer is that everything is so green! So this pesto sauce with basil, spinach, and avocado makes the perfect green pesto to flavor this dish.
In addition to the healthy greens, the other star of this pesto is walnuts from California. California Walnuts are a great heart healthy ingredient that you can add to many of your dishes. Unsalted walnuts have 0 mg. of sodium. An ounce of walnuts has 2.5 grams of the essential plant-based omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and 4 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber to keep you feeling full. I grow red and yellow bell peppers and Basil in my garden at home, so these ingredients are perfect for a summer pasta dish.
Walnut Avocado Pesto Chicken Pasta
Pesto is a sauce of crushed basil leaves, coarse salt, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil, typically served with pasta. It’s history can be traced back to ancient Roman times from the town of Genoa in Italy. We have made some swaps to hack the salt and deliver a heart healthy dish. For instance: we add olive oil and not salt to the pasta water, we select low sodium pasta options, omit the coarse salt, we have the unsalted California walnuts instead of the pine nuts, and use a low sodium parmesan-reggiano blend in the pesto. We also love to add extra layers of flavor, so that you miss none of the salt.
To get those layers, we grill the chicken seasoned with garlic and herbs to get that smoky flavor from the grill. We are adding fresh spinach to bolster our greens and the avocado adds a rich creamy depth to the sauce. I also will cut the lemons in half and grill them as well. The caramelization that occurs sweetens the juice slightly, and the heat draws out more of the juice. The lemon juice is squirted over the chicken and added into the pesto, lending flavors and aromas that also signify summer.
I have used this pesto just for the chicken, and served it over a salad, over rice or in a risotto, but here we are doing it over pasta. Both fresh tuna and salmon would work instead of chicken for your protein. If you really want to be transported to Italy, you can use fresh grilled calamari. You can also do this pesto with cold pasta to make more of an appetizer cold salad like an antipasto. So let’s get into our recipe:
- 1 lb of Short Shaped Pasta shapes with ridges or shells work perfect for the pesto to cling to them. Choose a low sodium option
- 4 in Large Chicken Breasts - fresh cut half (or 8 chicken Tenderloins)
- 1 Lg Avocado - pitted and cut into quarters
- 1 cup Walnuts unsalted
- 2 Lemons
- 2 cups Spinach - tightly packed
- 2 Cloves Garlic
- 1/2 cup Basil - fresh tightly packed
- 6 small Red Yellow, or Orange Bell Peppers - sliced into small rings
- 1 tsp Garlic Powder Salt free or another salt free Garlic & Herb blend
- 1 tsp Black Pepper
- 1/2 tsp Red Pepper ground
- 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 Tbsp Grated Parmesan Cheese (look for the lowest sodium you can find less than 100 mg per tablespoon, such as the 4C brand).
Fire up your grill to medium-high heat (400 degrees F)
Cut your lemons in half and place cut side down on the grill & grill for 5 minutes remove one half to squeeze over the chicken and move the other 3 to a cooler part of the grill to continue to cook while the chicken grills
Coat the chicken with a drizzle of oil each side, season with the Garlic & Herb, and squeeze half the juice of the grilled half lemon over each side.
Cook the chicken over medium high heat for 4 minutes a side, or until the internal temp reaches 165 degrees F
Remove the chicken and lemons from the grill
Keep the chicken warm while you cook the rest of the dish
In a large lidded pot, cook the pasta in water with a Tbsp of the Olive Oil added.
Once the water achieves a boil, bring down the heat to a simmer
Add the pasta and cook for 6-8 minutes, testing the pasta every 4 minutes for the texture you like (I like mine more al dente, or slightly undercooked as it will cook some more with the chicken and pesto.
Remove the pasta from the pot and drain.
In a food processor, add the remaining ingredients except the bell peppers.
Pulse the pesto until you get a creamy green sauce.
Add the pasta and chicken to the pasta pot, pour over the pesto sauce and stir together over low heat.
Add seasonings to adjust the flavor to your taste - basil, garlic, black pepper, red pepper, or lemon juice.
I have been asked to join the Recipe Redux Community. The fantastic dishes below are primarily from Dieticians, yet I cannot vouch for them qualifying as low sodium. As always, when looking at a new recipe, see where we can Hack the Salt and not lose Taste, and turn the recipe into a dish the low sodium community can enjoy!