Day 1: Almond-pea pesto tagliatelle and lemon chicken

It occurred to me recently that food is a very important part of my life; and as such, I like sharing it with other people. Food in modern America has become simply a way to maintain nutrition or stave off boredom; but for some people and cultures in the world, it is a social necessity and ritual. I happen to be one of those people; food is integral. It both creates and prevents mental instability (the irony of cooking a good meal), and it can be an utterly euphoric experience.

I’ll be honest, this is my first blog, ever; and it was born out of a desire to share my recipes and my opinions about the food I’m surrounded by. I will post recipes, discuss my triumphs and failures, critique the recipes of others, and critique restaurants in the DC area (on the rare occasion I go out). This may seem like a splotchy grouping of food related ideas; but I promise you, dear reader, it will come together as a journey towards finding that bliss, that perfect bite, in a world riddled with bland disappointments.

My recipe for today is an odd hodgepodge of other recipes blended into something relatively authentic. The Almond-pea pesto is a doctored version of the Martha Stewart recipe. The lemon chicken is a simpler version of the Lemon Turkey with Spinach recipe from “A Year Full of Recipes” produced by Love Food – a book I rescued from the Bargain bin at Barnes and Nobles one year. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. 🙂

Almond-pea pesto tagliatelle and lemon chicken

Ingredients:

1 lb. Tagliatelle or Linguine

2 cups frozen peas

1/2 cup almonds

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup mozzarella cheese

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 chicken breasts (or 6-8 chicken thighs)

1 lemon

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Lay the almonds flat on a cookie sheet. You will roast these for 5 minutes when the oven reaches 400.

While the oven is heating, bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Once it’s boiling, add the peas and boil for 15 minutes.

Next, cut your chicken into small, bite-sized pieces and put into a bowl for marinading. I like mine to be sliced into flat, 1/4-inch strips diagonal to the meat’s grain, so they saute easily. Cut the lemon in half lengthwise and set one half aside. Slice the other half of the lemon into 1/4 inch pieces and add to the chicken. Finally, squeeze the juice from the remaining lemon over the chicken and lemon slices. Add salt and pepper to taste, then toss well and let marinade for 30 minutes.

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At this point, your peas and almonds should be done. Combine them along with the olive oil, mozzarella, and garlic in a food processor and blend until smooth. Set aside.

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Boil a pot of water seasoned with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt.This will season your pasta and make sure it doesn’t stick. Personally, I like well-seasoned water, so I eyeball about 2 tsp of olive oil and 1 tsp salt. Follow the pasta cooking instructions on the box (I use fresh pasta, so it takes 2-3 minutes. However, dry pasta usually takes 11 minutes to be al dente).

Heat a pan with 1 TBSP of olive oil. When it’s hot, add the chicken and saute for about 10 minutes. The pasta and chicken should be ready at about the same time if you use dry pasta.

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When everything is cooked to your preference, drain the pasta, saving 1/4 cup of pasta water. Then add the pasta, chicken, pasta water, and pea mixture all into a single bowl and mix until well-coated. Serve! Yummm

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So a few tips on this recipe:

  1. If you love cheese, feel free to up the mozzarella to 1 cup. This would also be delicious with Parmesan cheese or a combination of the two.
  2. Chicken thighs will be juicier and, in my opinion, taste better. However, the chicken breast is less fatty and healthier.
  3. If you love to cook, home-made pasta is the way to go. In this recipe I used the 3 egg pasta dough from “Making Artisan Pasta” by Aliza Green. I like my pasta thick, like asian noodles, so I usually only roll it out to the 6th setting of my Atlas 150. If you go this route, don’t try and roll out your own pasta. It takes a lot of practice and a lot of patience. My Atlas pasta machine was the best Christmas gift ever.
  4. The flavors of this recipe are very light and subtle. A little citrus here, some nutty almond there. If you want to spice it up, try adding 1TBSP of smoked paprika, 1 TSP red pepper flakes, OR a pinch of cayenne pepper (how much depends on your ability to handle spiciness). This will add some heat and a new dimension of flavor. Be careful not to overpower the almonds and peas; it may take a few tries before you get the ratio just right for you.

— UPDATE 8/12/14 —

A reader, i.e. my Oma because there still aren’t that many of you yet, lol, sent me a picture of their version of this dish and some comments. Here is the image:

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Yummm, doesn’t that look delicious? The tomatoes definitely add some much needed color!

Her one comment was that the pea pesto seemed to come out overly thick. It’s actually supposed to be a thick paste because the recipe has so many almonds in it to bring out the almond flavor (other pea pesto recipes are more pea-olive oil heavy). I’d like to make a few notes about this based on our discussion.

First, only add as much pea pesto to the dish as you want. You don’t need to use the entire recipe for the 1 LB of pasta. In fact, I usually don’t use all of it the first time.

Next, to thin it, the recipe calls for adding 1/4 cup pasta water. You can easily substitute plain water for this if salt is a particular concern of yours. The reason I recommend pasta water is because it is already seasoned, so it brings out the flavors better. However, it’s salted, so if you are sensitive to salt, plain tap water is another option.

Finally, instead of water, you can also thin this pesto out with plain yogurt. I actually really like the yogurt as a thinning agent because it keeps the creaminess of the texture while thinning the paste a bit. Yogurt also adds another dimension of flavor; just a touch of sourness, to the pesto.

Anyways, if you experience the same issue, please feel free to try any of these solutions. And please post pictures or recommendations in the comments!

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