A long-remembered meal, with pesto at its luscious heart

E. JASON WAMBSGANS / Chicago Tribune
E. JASON WAMBSGANS / Chicago Tribune
Posted: August 23, 2012

I don't know whether this is a tale about the glories of pesto or one of faulty memory.

With summery basil pesto on my mind, and the desire to do something other than dressing pasta, I recalled a favorite dish from the famed Zingerman's Delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Mich.

It was a cold chicken, pesto, and fresh tomato salad, the alchemy achieving greatness beyond the simple ingredients. But I couldn't remember: Did it have walnuts too? Or another something? It was years ago, nearly 20, so memory failed.

A conversation with Rick Strutz, a partner in Zingerman's, confirmed that, yes, they have such a dish (and, yes, with walnuts), but it has always been made with pasta. Did I have it wrong? Did what I ate include pasta?

Either way, it's delicious. Strutz shared the recipe, which revealed that the sauce was bolstered by a little mayonnaise (for creaminess) and lemon juice and vinegar, which impart contrasting acids. We've adapted their deli-size recipe for the home kitchen, leaving out the pasta, just because that's the way I remember it.

The dish here makes a light supper for a hot summer night. But if you want something more substantial, stir in a pound of cooked and cooled penne pasta.

And remember to toast - both the dish and our food memories - with a crisp, cold rosé.

Chicken With Pesto, Tomatoes, and Walnuts

Makes 4 servings

3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup basil pesto, jarred or homemade

1 to 2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Freshly ground pepper

2 pints cherry tomatoes, in

assorted colors, halved

1/2 to 1 cup walnut pieces,

toasted

6 ounces arugula leaves or

other salad greens

1. Place the chicken in a large saucepan; add water to cover. Add salt. Heat to a simmer; cover, cook until just done, 12 minutes. Do not allow to boil.

2. Cool to room temperature. Thinly slice crosswise.

3. Meanwhile, stir the pesto, mayonnaise, lemon juice, vinegar, and pepper to taste together in a small bowl to form a dressing.

4. Combine with the chicken in a large bowl. Stir in the tomatoes and walnuts.

5. Serve on a bed of arugula leaves.

- Adapted from Zingerman's Delicatessen, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Note: Zingerman's uses an imported jarred pesto. Sub with homemade pesto if you're inclined to take advantage of summer's bountiful fresh basil and make it.

Per serving: 333 calories, 21 grams fat, 61 milligrams cholesterol, 12 grams carbohydrates, 27 grams protein, 212 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.

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