Sunday, April 3

Pesto Pasta with Chicken

Remember how my mother ruined me and condemned me to a life centered on an insatiable need to experience only the best food?  How about my grandmother for that matter?  A major factor for this is my mother's recipe for homemade pesto sauce.  My roommate, who doesn't like pine nuts and who wasn't hungry in the first place, had three bowls of pesto pasta:

"Blender Pesto"
(a food processor is better, but a blender works as well)
from The Classic Italian Cookbook: the Art of Italian Cooking and the Italian Art of Eating

2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tbs pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed with a knife handle and peeled
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbs freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
3 tbs of butter softened to room temperature
1 tbs pasta water

Put the basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic cloves, and salt in a blender and mix at high speed.  Stop from time to time to scrape the ingredients down toward the bottom of the blender.

Blenderful of ingredients in my floor's charming kitchen

When the ingredients are evenly blended, pour into a bowl and beat in the two grated cheeses by hand.
When the cheese is evenly incorporated, beat in the softened butter.  (Use a wire whisk if you have one.)
Before using the pesto, add one tablespoon of warm water to the mixture.  If you are making the pesto for a pasta dish, use the water used to boil the pasta.  This amount of pesto is enough for about 1 lbs. of pasta cooked al dente (fusili are my favorite).

The pesto sauce

The pasta!  Notice the use of the same bowl.

I like to combine the pesto pasta with some chicken, just so it's almost a balanced meal:

Quick and Dirty Chicken
In order to make quick and easy and delicious chicken, I thinly slice chicken into pieces that are about 3/4 in. thick and season them with herb de provence and salt.  Heat about 2 tbs of oil in a pan on medium-high heat until the oil is starting to smoke a little bit.  Another good way to test the heat is to (carefully) flick a drop of water on the pan; if it sizzles, the pan is hot enough.
The seared chicken.  Yum.
Place the chicken in the pan making sure to place it away from you so you won't splash oil in your direction.  The pieces of chicken should be close to each other (something about their mutual sizzling makes it more delicious) but they shouldn't be touching or overlapping.  Sear the suckers (these are the words my mother used when she taught me) for a couple minutes (3-4) on each side in order to achieve that gorgeous and slightly-burned quality.  Because the pieces are so thin, the chicken should be cooked through but still juicy and browned on the surface.

This meal was a lot of fun to prepare and the blender was loud (which really didn't affect my music choice but it did intrude a bit), so I played the soundtrack from (500) Days of Summer, which I just checked out at my local library.  It's a great soundtrack and I encourage you to look into it if you have a chance.  Here's the first song, "Us" by Regina Spektor:

I made this pesto for the first time about a week ago.  A couple of things to note:
  • Put the pesto into a large bowl, drain the pasta and then dump it onto the pesto and mix.  Now you have only one bowl to clean!
  • Most ingredients can be bought inexpensively at Trader Joe's.
    • They sell basil containers for a little less than $3.  Gently wash the whole basil branch and pick off the leaves and put them onto a dish towel (possibly the blue William-Sonoma towel you stole from home).  Pat them dry and then dump into the blender.
    • Pine nuts are expensive but totally necessary for any pesto sauce.  At Trader Joe's it was $8 or $9 for an 8 oz. bag of "Dry Toasted Pignolias" but I'm sure you could find them for a cheaper price if you persevered.  Still, the nuts don't expire for a year and I'm hoarding them for pesto purposes only so I'm choosing to view this as an investment.
    • Pecorino Romano is also a little expensive especially if you only need 2 tablespoons of the stuff.  But it's cheese.  It will get eaten eventually.  Especially if Susan or I are in the vicinity.
  • Leftovers are amazing.

Next time I make this combination of pasta and chicken, I might make just enough pasta for one serving each time until I use all the pesto sauce.  Alas, this means that I will inevitably dirty more than one bowl, but then the pasta will be fresh.  (Meaning I won't have to use the wretched microwave plus maybe all the dish-washing will build character.)

Susan and I like to play a game.  Each week I resolutely declare that this week will be different because I will resist the urge to buy bread.  And a few hours later, when I return with bread from the Farmers' Market (Thursdays & Sundays on Broadway between 114th St. and 116th St... Check it out) or from Westside Market, she doesn't laugh at me too much.  With these glorious bundles of carbs, I make chicken sandwiches.  Usually I buy a couple rolls at Westside.  Combined with a slice of chicken and a thin slice of Pecorino Romano, the sandwich is a perfect blend of protein and flavor.  Maybe if you're feeling crazy you can drizzle a little pesto on it.

Hazan, Marcella. "Blender Pesto." The Classic Italian Cookbook: the Art of Italian Cooking and the Italian Art of Eating. New York: Ballantine, 1984. Print.

1 comment:

  1. Best/most Isabelle quote: "Now you have only one bowl to clean!"

    Some people call it laziness, we call it efficiency...