Pesto Chicken & Vegetable Quinoa Bake

 Hot and bubbly Quinoa that’s baked in the oven, flavored with herby pesto and loaded with tons of veggies. This is the definition of healthy comfort food.

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We have had an insane amount of snow days lately. (So much so that my exams got canceled and they are now optional! Woohoo!) On one of those snow days last week I was feeling very lazy. It was 4:00 p.m., I was still in my pajamas, and I had already volunteered myself to make dinner that night. I was tempted to bag the whole dinner idea, but I was craving some warm comfort food to fight off the frigid temperatures.

So today I bring you comfort food. Not just any comfort food… Healthy comfort food. FIll you up, warm you up, and still feel good after eating it food.

Prepare yourself for the deliciousness that’s about to go in this skillet….

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This dish is loaded with shredded chicken, lots of pesto, and even more vegetables, of course. Pesto and fresh vegetables are two of my very favorite ingredients to cook with. (If you haven’t already noticed) The vegetables add so much color and the pesto adds oodles herby flavor!

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This dish is only in the oven for about 25 minutes, but while it’s in there, magical things happen… the quinoa mixture gets hot and bubbly and the cheesy melts and forms this incredibly gooey layer of cheesy on top. Oh man. You need this dish in your life. Or rather, on your dinner table and in your stomach.

One thing you should not alter about this recipe: The Roasted Garlic. I’m not a huge garlic fan… but sweet, caramelized and infinitely spread-able roasted garlic? Count me in! It totally makes the dish. I tried making this dish without the roasted garlic and it just wasn’t the same. And yes, you read that right. This recipe calls for three whole heads of garlic, not cloves. Don’t be scared… roasting garlic takes away a lot of its pungent qualities and you are left with a garlic head that you can pretty much eat raw or spread on bread as if it was butter. I know that sounds crazy, but trust me. My mom doesn’t even like garlic and the roasted garlic chunks here and there was her favorite part of the dish.

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The beauty of using vegetables is that the combination are endless. You have complete control over what goes in it. Do you like spinach? Add some! Don’t like mushrooms? Leave them out. Have a green pepper to use up? Use it instead of the red bell pepper. You get the idea.

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It’s so good. It’s simple and easy and so quick. Just what every weeknight needs. One may go as far as saying this Baked Quinoa is better than a hearty serving of my Mom’s Macaroni and Cheese… but that would be pushing it. 😉

Pesto Chicken & Vegetable Quinoa Bake

 Hot and bubbly Quinoa that’s baked in the oven, flavored with herby pesto and loaded with tons of veggies. This is the definition of healthy comfort food.

Ingredients:

For the Quinoa:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water

For the Roasted Garlic:

  • 3 heads garlic, upper quarter removed
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the Quinoa Mixture:

  • 1 1/2 cup thinly sliced baby bella mushrooms
  • 1 Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced Brussels sprouts
  • 2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
  • 1 orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoon capers
  • 3/4 cup Pesto (This was one whole jar for me)
  • 2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
  • 1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup Chicken Broth
  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup shredded Colby Jack cheese
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

For the Quinoa:

  • Bring water to a boil then lower the heat to simmer, cover, and cook until soft, about 15 min.

For the Garlic:

  • Cut off just enough of the top of the garlic heads to expose all of the cloves inside. Next, find your trusty pie pan and drizzle a little olive oil (1 or 2 tablespoons) in the pan and tilt the pan around to coat the bottom thoroughly.
  • Next, place the garlic heads, cut side up, in the pan. If the heads won’t sit flat on the pan, just give the bottom a little slice to even it out. Drizzle the exposed cloves with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. You want them to have a coating of moisture so they won’t burn easily.
  • Cover the pan with aluminum foil, place in the oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. When it has finished roasting, set aside.

For the Vegetable/Quinoa Mixture:

  • Drizzle 1 teaspoon of olive oil into a large skillet over low-medium heat. Add the onion and mushrooms and cook for about 7 minutes, until golden brown, stirring frequently.
  • Add the Brussels sprouts, red bell pepper, and orange bell pepper to the skillet and saute until the veggies begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Lower to medium heat, add the sun-dried tomatoes and capers and saute for another 2 minutes. Stir in the pesto, chicken, chicken broth, and black beans.
  • Fluff the cooked quinoa with a fork and add it to the skillet. Gently squeeze the roasted garlic into the skillet until the cloves pop out. They should be quite mushy. Still until well combined, it’s okay if the garlic doesn’t break up.
  • The quinoa mixture should have some moisture because it still has to bake in the oven. If the mixture looks like it is coming together in one big ball add another 1/4 cup of water. Stir in the basil (reserve about 2 tablespoons for garnish) and salt to taste.
  • Transfer to a 11×7 baking dish and top with shredded cheese. Bake 30 minutes, or until the cheese is hot and bubbly. Top with reserved basil and serve immediately.