My ancestry is about as whitebread as it comes: Welsh, English, etc.; British Isles mutt. However, there lurks within me the spirit of Italia. I've no idea how I got it, but I can say without hesitation that if I was forced to pick an everyday, go-to food, it would be Italian. Fortunately, my Susan shares my passion for god's greatest seasoning: garlic. Otherwise this could have lead to some awkward olfactory moments. As it happens, we operate under the assumption that if a recipe utilizes garlic, the amount listed should be at least doubled. However, to do so with this recipe would be ill advised...
Garlic Pesto with Spicy Chicken
3 cups fresh basil
6 garlic cloves
1/2 cup pinenuts
1 1/2 cups fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
extra virgin olive oil
1 lb dried pasta
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried leaf oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 lb boneless chicken breast
Combine the basil, garlic, pinenuts, and cheese in a food processor (Note: you can reduce the amount of garlic if you wish, even though that's missing the point. I've used as little as 2 cloves and it's still tasted good).
Pulse until mixture becomes grainy, stopping to wipe the sides with a spatula to ensure all ingredients are evenly mixed. Once the mixture is grainy, set processor on high and slowly pour olive oil into the mixture. Continue pouring until the desired consistency is reached. 1/2 cup to 1 cup of oil is usually enough, depending on preference (I prefer my sauce a bit thick, so I tend to use less oil). Using a spatula, empty the pesto sauce into a storage container and set aside.
Pour approximately 2 tbsp of oil into a large skillet and place over medium heat. While the oil is heating, combine the remaining spices in a mixing bowl and whisk together. Once mixed, rub small amounts of the mixture onto your chicken breasts. Think of dry rubbing a steak. Personal preference and experimentation will dictate how much to use, but this stuff is hot, so go easy at first; a thin coating is best.
(Place any remaining spice mixture in a plastic bag for later use. It goes well on just about anything: steak, pork, shrimp. I've even mixed it into mashed potatoes.)
Once the oil is smoking slightly, place the chicken breasts in the skillet and cook for 9 minutes on the first side. Then turn and cook the second side for about 5-8 minutes. Watch for juices to come out the top. Once those juices run clear (not cloudy), it’s done. If you have a meat thermometer, the internal temperature should be at least 170 degrees.
While the chicken is cooking, prepare the pasta as directed. What pasta you choose once again depends on your preference. I've used everything from a combination of spinach and white linguine to large shells to ziti. Regular spaghetti is also a classic for this recipe; anything that will hold the sauce. I’d recommend against smaller pastas, as they’ll be overwhelmed by the heaviness of the sauce.
Time the pasta to finish cooking a couple of minutes after the chicken is finished.
Once the chicken is finished cooking, remove it to a cutting board and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Quickly place the pieces back in the skillet over low heat to baste with the remaining juices.
Place one serving's worth of pasta into a large bowl. Add one serving's worth of chicken to bowl and combine with enough pesto sauce to adequately coat both the pasta and chicken. Again, personal preference rules here. I like my pesto fairly thick. Others may prefer a lighter coating. Transfer to a pasta bowl and garnish with some additional shredded cheese, a leaf or two of basil, and a small handful of pine nuts. Repeat this process for each serving and take it to the table and enjoy!
On a side note, I've found that this dish is best served with a fairly robust/rough red wine that will cut through the thickness of the sauce. Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale has always served me well in the past, regardless of vintage. I've also found that you are guaranteed a homerun if you spend a little extra and get yourself a Brunello di Montalcino. A 2004 would be great, a 2001 or 1999 even better. A 1997 from Biondi-Santi? Pretty damned near perfect. Then again, if you're buying $550 bottles of wine, you don't need my advice.
Living in a gourmand's paradise:
Venetian Snares - Detrimentalist
(buzz bang pow!)
Twine - Violets
(hear the sound a nationwide gap makes)
Prince Paul - Itstrumental
(big ups to the black italiano)
Prince Douglas - Dub Roots
(down dem in de dancehall)
Puzleboy - That Peculiar Gentleman
(another of my all over the place rekkads)