Boneless chicken breast is topped with pesto sauce, tomatoes, and mozzarella, then baked in the oven until the chicken is cooked through and the cheese is melted. Yes, it's as flavorful as it sounds!
A few weeks ago, staring at the chicken breasts in my fridge and trying to decide what to do with them, it occurred to me that I could use my basic recipe for juicy baked chicken breast and adjust it to include the homemade pesto sauce which also needed using up.
The dish was delicious. As it turns out, pesto goes incredibly well with chicken! I also love how easy this recipe is. It’s just perfect for a weeknight dinner. I have made it a couple more times for some fine-tuning before posting it here, and it was a big success both times.
You'll only need a few simple ingredients to make a pesto chicken bake. The exact measurements are listed in the recipe card below. Here's an overview of what you'll need:
Fresh chicken: I use boneless skinless chicken breasts in this recipe.
Avocado oil spray: This oil has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point, making it an ideal cooking oil. You can also use olive oil.
Kosher salt and black pepper: If using fine salt, you should reduce the amount you use, or the dish could end up too salty.
Pesto sauce: Homemade or store-bought. See the discussion below.
Sliced tomatoes: Use large, firm, red tomatoes.
Shredded mozzarella: Provolone is also very good in this recipe.
How to make a pesto chicken bake? It's a truly easy recipe! The detailed instructions are included in the recipe card below. Here are the basic steps:
Your first step is to bake the chicken breasts. It's always a good idea to bake chicken for a short time at a high temperature - this helps keep it juicy. So bake it for 20 minutes in a 450F oven.
Next, you carefully remove the pan from the oven and top the partially cooked chicken pieces with pesto, tomatoes, and mozzarella.
Return the pan to the oven for 5 minutes or so, to finish cooking the chicken and melt the cheese. That's it!
Expert tip: make sure it's done
The best way to ensure that the chicken is cooked through is to use an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part. Aim for an internal temperature of 165 ºF.
Frequently asked questions
You can use homemade pesto sauce as I do. Store-bought pesto sauce is fine, but make sure it's made with olive oil. I find it puzzling that so many brands use soybean oil instead of olive oil.
Yes. if you opt for store-bought pesto sauce, you can use it straight from the jar. There's no need to cook it first.
You can make it with boneless skinless chicken thighs. They'll cook faster than chicken breasts, so at the first stage of cooking, try just 15 minutes instead of 20 minutes. But after the dish is done, do use a thermometer to make sure the chicken is fully cooked.
Variations and substitutions
I love this recipe as is and almost always make it as written. But in case you'd like to vary the basic recipe, here are a few ideas for you:
- Use boneless skinless chicken thighs instead of chicken breast.
- Use another melty cheese, such as provolone, instead of mozzarella.
- Scatter a few pitted halved black olives on top of the tomato slices, then add the cheese.
Recommended side dishes
This dish goes really well with roasted cherry tomatoes. You can roast them in the same 450°F oven for about 15 minutes.
Leftovers keep okay in the fridge, in a sealed container, for 3-4 days. Although as with most chicken recipes, leftovers are not as good as when served fresh.
I prefer not to reheat them, so as not to dry the chicken out. So I slice them and use them to top a salad for my lunch the next day.
If you'd like to reheat the leftovers, I suggest you do so gently, covered, in the microwave on 50% power.
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Pesto Chicken Bake with Tomatoes and Mozzarella
- 4 (8 oz) boneless skinless chicken breasts
- Avocado oil spray
- ½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ cup pesto sauce homemade or store-bought
- 8 thin tomato slices (from 2 medium tomatoes)
- ½ cup shredded mozzarella
- Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Grease a rimmed baking dish or line it with parchment paper.
- Place the chicken breasts in the prepared baking dish. Spray them with oil and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes.
- Carefully remove the baking dish from the oven. Spread 2 tablespoons of pesto sauce on the top of each chicken breast. Arrange 2 tomato slices on top, and sprinkle them with 2 tablespoons of shredded mozzarella.
- Return the chicken to the oven. Bake until cooked through and the cheese is melted, about 5 more minutes. If your baking dish is broiler-safe, you can finish by broiling for 1-2 minutes to brown the cheese.