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Pistachio Pesto Crusted Chicken – Gluten Free and Dairy Free

Gluten Free Dairy Free Pesto Chicken

This post is linked to Simply Sugar and Gluten Free’s Slightly Indulgent Tuesdays , The Gluten-Free Homemaker’s Gluten Free Wednesdays and The W.H.O.L.E. Gang’s Friday Foodie Fix.

We have all been saying it lately.  The basil runneth over right now.  I have it coming out of my ears and am adding it to everything – chopped in salads, sprinkled on chicken, added to pastas, and, of course, PESTO, PESTO, PESTO!! My boys (who are normally great lovers of all things basil) have officially informed me that they are tired of anything with “green sauce or green flecks”.

I promised them I would go on a little basil hiatus if they humored me with one more meal involving it.  I decided to change up my pesto recipe a bit and added pistachios (which are a favorite with my boys) and a quick squeeze of lemon.  I spread it under the skin of some chicken, spooned a little more on top, and tossed in the oven for a bit and, viola! Dinner. Done. Even better, was that the boys thought it was great!  The pistachios lent a very rich and luxurious taste to this dish.  I even pulled off making it again when Heidi (of The Adventures of a Gluten Free Mom) and her family stopped over on their way to California.

So although I am officially on a basil break, I wanted to share this recipe with you in case you have not quite maxed out on your basil intake!  And for the record, I did just freeze a dozen mason jars filled with this pesto recipe so that I will have some on hand when the basil is not so plentiful and my kids are again itching for some “green sauce”.

Pistachio Pesto Crusted Chicken – Gluten Free and Dairy Free

(Note: this recipe is NOT Nut Free but see notes next to the Pistachio ingredient for a Nut-Free option)


1/3 cup shelled roasted pistachios –  unsalted are best so that you can add your own salt for seasoning (Note: for a Nut-Free version use equal amounts sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds)

3 cloves garlic – I roughly chopped mine first before putting in in the food processor, but I love Amy’s idea (of  Simply Sugar and Gluten Free) of grating it with a microplane instead

4 cups basil leaves, tightly packed

1/2 teaspoon celtic se salt, or more to taste

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tsp fresh lemon juice

1 cup cherry tomatoes

2 pounds organic bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces – I used thighs here


1. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

2.  While oven is heating, place shelled pistachios in a food processor fitted with a metal blade.  Pulse until they are coarsely ground.  Then add chopped garlic and pulse again a couple more times.

3. Add basil leaves and salt and turn the processor back on. While it is running, remove the food chute and pour the olive oil in a steady stream.  Add the lemon juice and run the processor until your pesto has reached your desired consistency.  Note: I like mine really smooth, so sometimes I have to add some additional olive oil.

4. Place chicken pieces in a large baking dish.  Season it with some addition sea salt.

5. Loosen skin away from the meat of each of the chicken pieces.  Place about a teaspoon of the pesto under the skin of each piece of chicken, taking care to not tear the skin.  You can kind of squish the pesto under the skin from the outside using your fingers so that it is evenly under the skin, if you want (although not my favorite thing to do since I have had an aversion to feeling raw chicken in my hands ever since I was pregnant – will leave out details). You can spread a little bit more of the pesto on top of each piece of chicken, if you want.

5. Place pan in the oven and bake for twenty (20) minutes.  Then, place the cherry tomatoes in the pan around the chicken, and bake for twenty (20) minutes more, or until the chicken is cooked through.  If you like your skin extra crispy, you can crack the oven open at the very end and turn the broiler on for about 2-3 minutes. Watch this carefully though since the chicken will brown FAST!

6. Serve with some additional pesto sauce, if desired, and enjoy!

Do you make a variation to the traditional pesto sauce? What are some of the unique ingredients that you have added to your pestos in the past?

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  1. On August 10, 2010 Celiacs in the House said

    Sounds like the perfect dish for GF visitors. Now I’ve gotta try pistachios in my pesto.

    • On August 10, 2010 Kim said

      Thanks Wendy! Makes it really rich tasting (but not in a too-rich way). Just gives it a bit of a flavor twist, especially with that little squeeze of lemon added in.

  2. On August 10, 2010 Katie said

    I take the sqeeze basil and add olive oil and a touch of lemon juice. I can’t add much else because of allergies (all nuts, raw fruits and veggies so no tomatoes).

    Heat it up in a small pan or just add everything to pasta or couscous or whatever you are making.

    • On August 10, 2010 Kim said

      Katie, that is tough. Can you do sunflower or pumpkin seeds? Your version still sounds fresh, healthy, and delicious!

  3. On August 10, 2010 Amy @ SS&GF said

    I’m sure your pistachio pesto is fabulous – pesto is one of those things you can make however you darn well please. I’ve made it dairy free, with and without garlic, with lemon, without lemon…it’s pretty versatile.

    About the microplane – sometimes a chunk of garlic somehow escapes my food processor blade. It’s never pleasant biting into raw garlic; grating it first avoids the problem all together. Thanks for linking up to SIT!!

    • On August 10, 2010 Kim said

      Amy, yes! I love how versatile pesto is. On my Facebook page, I asked what some other ideas were and people came up with all types of fun additions! Makes me want to experiment some more. But, as I promised those boys of mine, we are going to steer away from the “green sauce” for a bit. lol But i will definitely be using my microplane for the garlic next time. Love that idea (even though I actually like hunks of raw garlic, hehehe).
      Thanks for another great round-up, by the way!

  4. On August 10, 2010 Katie said

    Kim, no seeds for me but I just about the garlic and they have squeeze garlic for those who don’t like the chunks. Plus it’s faster than anything else.

  5. On August 10, 2010 Maggie said

    Your picture is amazing Kim! Gorgeous. I adore pesto and can’t imagine why on earth anyone would ever buy it 🙂 It’s so easy to make. We always use walnuts (never pine nuts) but I will definitely try pistachios. I’d also love to try cashews just to see what happens. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • On August 10, 2010 Kim said

      Thanks, Maggie! I agree on the fact that pesto is really the easiest thing to make – cannot tell you the last time I bought some pre-made. I love walnuts in my pesto too! And for a nut-free version, I also like the pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Cashews would be yummy too…oh, the possibilities.

  6. On August 10, 2010 gluten free easily said

    Gosh, that looks fabulous, but to get 4 cups of basil, I’d have to live next door to you. 😉 I bought a basil plant after my first one died during heat while we were on vacation, but still I might get a cup of leaves off of it. And, I was going to reserve those for lemon basil ice cream. I thing everyone’s basil is suffering around here, so I might have to hold off on this one for a while. I soo love the sound and looks of it though. The pistachio touch is especially wonderful. 🙂


    • On August 10, 2010 Kim said

      Shirley, we have had an unusually cooler summer than normal (sounds strange when it has still been in the 90’s, but that is a break from our summer heat). Basil has never done this well at this time of year. When we were in California, my mother-in-law’s basil was going crazy too!! She gave me a bunch more so that I could stock my freezer with pesto.
      Although, four cups is not as much as you would think, especially when the leaves are pretty large.
      By the way, I recently made lemon basil ice cream too from Nancy’s (Sensitive Pantry) recipe. It was the most refreshing dessert! Even the kids enjoyed it, which surprised me!
      Thanks for the kind words! ;0)

  7. On August 10, 2010 Alisa said

    This looks amazing! This new pistachio pesto flavor combo is popping up everywhere.

    • On August 10, 2010 Kim said

      Thanks, Alisa! I know! I thought it was a great idea, on my part, and then I realize everyone else loves this combination too! lol

  8. On August 11, 2010 Chaya said

    I am admiring your blog. It is attractive and neat. I think, that is what a blog should look like. Don’t look at mine.

    I usually don’t make pesto because, I never have many cups of the spice. I only had one basil plant and it was fine for a little seasoning in dishes but not for pesto.

    Despite this, what a great chicken dish, this is. Maybe, in the future, I will have more of any spice.

    • On August 11, 2010 Kim said

      Haha! Thanks Chaya for the nice words about my blog layout. My blog gal is afraid to let me do anything in terms of what I add to my side-bar, so she usually does it all for me. I think that it why it still is neat and not too cluttered yet. ;0)

  9. On August 11, 2010 Linda said

    Using pistachios is a great idea! I’m glad the boys liked it. Mine have gotten tired of zucchini in everything, but my zucchini has slowed down. I’m so glad you participated in the pesto challenge. The chicken looks delicious!

    • On August 11, 2010 Kim said

      Thanks Linda for the pesto idea! A fun theme for August! Zucchini has been a staple lately here too. The kids are ready for anything but green! lol

  10. On August 12, 2010 Jenn said

    Wow this looks gorgeous! I have not made a pistachio pesto yet and I don’t know why, this looks so lovely! What great bright flavors for summer 🙂

    • On August 13, 2010 Kim-Cook It Allergy Free said

      Thanks Jenn! The pistachios make it very rich (in a good way)! And yes. Great flavors for summer. 😉

  11. On August 17, 2010 laura said

    I’ve used walnuts and/or pecans and sun dried tomatoes to change the pesto up but use mostly green and/or basil basil which abundant in my garden during the summer

  12. On September 26, 2010 environmental health said

    Excellent blog! I genuinely love how it’ s easy on my eyes as well as the info are well written. I am wondering how I may be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your rss feed which should do the trick! Have a nice day!

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