Monday, May 07, 2012

Lemon-Herbed Chicken Pasta

Last week a friend from out of town called and said she was coming through Memphis. I immediately invited her to dinner. Looking through the contents of the fridge, I found a couple of grilled chicken breasts. That afternoon I had pinched the tops off my recently planted basil plants to encourage them to bush out so I had a nice little bunch. And as anyone who has a mint patch almost certainly knows, my mint was already hale and hearty, so I snipped a good handful of that as well.

Although we don’t think of mint as typical of Italian cooking, some sources claim it to be the most widely used herb all over the country. If you google “mint in Italian cooking” you’ll come up with a lot of suggestions from almost every region. And it teams very nicely with basil, the herb you probably think of as the most common in Italian cookery.

I cut the grilled chicken into about 1/2-inch chunks, zested and juiced a couple of lemons and pulled a bag of frozen peas from the freezer. With a bit of sautéed shallot, we had a great sauce for pasta in a very short time. With a green salad and crusty bread, it made a lovely dinner.

I think this would also be great with shrimp, sautéed briefly in the olive oil after the shallots have softened, and then finished as in the recipe.

I really liked the grilled flavor of the chicken in this dish, but it would be equally good if you had leftover roast or poached chicken. About half a purchased rotisserie chicken would give you enough for this dish. Either way, you’ll have a great dish for spring guests.

Italian-Inspired Lemon-Herbed Chicken Pasta

¼ cup good fruity olive oil
1 small shallot, finely minced (about three tablespoons)
3 cups cubed or shredded cooked chicken
1 10-oz. bag frozen peas, thawed (see note)
Juice and finely grated zest of two large lemons
3 tbsp. (packed) each slivered fresh basil and fresh mint
12 oz. linguine
Freshly grated pecarino romano or parmesan cheese, to finish

In a heavy pan large enough to hold the pasta after cooking, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent. Add the chicken. peas and lemon juice and zest and cook until just heated through.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in plenty of well salted boiling water until barely al dente. Scoop out a cup of the pasta water and reserve. Drain the pasta and add to the pan with the hot chicken mixture. Sprinkle the fresh herbs over the top and toss to combine. Add enough pasta water to moisten. It will probably take about ½ cup. Divide among four flat soup or pasta bowls and serve immediately. Pass the grated cheese at the table. Serves four.

NOTE: You are likely to find fresh peas at the farmers’ markets this time of year. If you do, shell and blanch them about five minutes in boiling water before adding them to the chicken mixture.

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