YMCA Recipe: Oven Roasted Cornish Game Hens with Pumpkin Seed Pesto

The YMCA of Central Florida is committed to helping people adopt healthier, more balanced lifestyles in many ways, including its healthy living initiatives. Here, the organization shares a healthy recipe for your holiday spread.

-5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
-1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds (I prefer raw unsalted if you can find them) Kosher salt
-2 teaspoons smoked paprika
-½ cup water
-1 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley
-2 green onions roughly chopped
-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice plus zest
-1 small garlic clove minced
-4 Cornish game hens, gizzards discarded

In a large skillet over medium heat add 3 tablespoons olive oil, the pumpkin seeds, 1/2 teaspoon salt (no salt needed if you are using pre salted seeds) and 1 teaspoon paprika. Cook, shaking the skillet, until the seeds begin popping and some turn brown (be careful not to burn them), about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Transfer the seeds and oil to a food processor, add 1/2 cup water, the parsley, green onion, lemon juice and pulse until pureed. Remove about 3 tablespoons of the pesto for the hens and set aside the rest for serving. Slide your fingers under the breast skin of each hen to loosen. Slide 2 heaping teaspoons of the pesto under the skin of each hen, and rub the pesto all over. In a separate bowl, mix the garlic, tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon paprika and lemon zest, then rub all over the outside of the hens. Refrigerate, uncovered, at least 2 hours or overnight. Preheat to 400 degrees F. Put the hens on a rack in lower half of the oven in a shallow roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet and tie the legs together with kitchen twine. Roast, rotating the pan halfway through, until the skin is golden brown and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees F, about 1 hour. Let rest 15 minutes, then cut each hen in half. Serve with the reserved pesto.


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Written by Lyndsay Fogarty

Lyndsay Fogarty has had many roles at Central Florida Lifestyle, working her way from intern to contributing writer to managing editor. She is a graduate of the University of Central Florida’s Nicholson School of Communication where she earned her degree in journalism. Along the way, she has learned that teamwork and dedication to your craft will get you far, and a positive outlook on the present will get you even farther.

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