Chicken Thighs with Peppery Pesto

Charles and I recently spent a few days with the bambino up at Watts Bar Lake in Tennessee (for those of you familiar with the area, you know it’s a gorgeous setting). Especially with the milder weather we’d been having, it was a perfect getaway. As it was the baby’s first lake trip, we had a blast letting him play in the grass, pushing him in the swing, and playing in the water. Needless to say, it was a very restful few days and a perfect way to recharge our batteries.  

One of the things I love about getting up to Tennessee is going through all the cooking/lifestyle magazines my mother-in-law has in her possession. Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, Southern Living, Cooking Light, Bon Appetit, Gourmet…you get the idea. Oh, and these aren’t just the recent ones either! Some of these date back 10+ years, so it’s really fun to see what the culinary trends were back then. Magazines are always my vacation guilty pleasure–yep, even ones like People, US Weekly, etc.

One recipe I stumbled upon was in Southern Living–a simple crispy skinned chicken with pesto pasta. Obviously the pasta had to go to make this Paleo-friendly, so I wondered if I could create something similar using something else as my “pasta,” and omitting the cheese that is most frequently called for in pestos. The result? A dairy-free, peppery pesto (thanks to the arugula) over zucchini noodles that I didn’t have to pre-cook, and some crispy, juicy chicken thighs. Even better was the fact that this was a one-pot supper (minus the use of the food processor) and very easy to prepare!

I know lots of you have asked how to make zucchini (or sweet potato, or squash, or whatever noodles!). For these zucchini noodles, I just used this simple Zyliss julienne peeler (under $10). Of course you could get the spiral slicer that is all the rage and that we love (will periodically pop up on sale for around $22). Here’s a video of how we make sweet potato noodles using our spiral slicer.

And now for the recipe…

Chicken Thighs with Peppery Pesto

Chicken Thighs with Peppery Pesto


  • 3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons spice seasoning of your choice (I used Penzey's Berbere could just use paprika or anything else that appeals to you)
  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil, lard, tallow or ghee
  • 1 cup arugula, firmly packed
  • 1/4 cup Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
  • 1/4 cup cilantro
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • 2 teaspoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup walnuts (optional)
  • 3 zucchini, julienned into pasta-like noodles (or you can use a spiral slicer)


  1. Dry the chicken thighs. Sprinkle the skin side with salt, pepper and seasoning.
  2. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and heat a large stainless steel or cast-iron skillet over high heat. Once hot, add your oil and then add the chicken thighs, skin side down. Reduce the heat on your stove to medium-high, and cook the thighs for about 10 minutes (note: the chicken pieces will give off a lot of juices, causing quite a lot of splatter. Now is a perfect time to use a splatter screen!). Turn over and allow to cook for about 5 minutes on the skinless side. Remove the chicken pieces to a plate, discarding all the chicken juices.
  3. While the chicken is cooking, make your pesto. To do so, place the arugula, parsley, cilantro, garlic, lemon juice, salt and olive oil in a food processor and mix until well combined.
  4. Into the pan your chicken was cooked in, add the zucchini noodles, and toss with about 1/4 cup of the pesto - adding more to your taste preference.
  5. Place the chicken pieces on top of the zucchini, skin side up, and place the entire pan in the oven.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until chicken pieces are cooked through.

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