It does sound a bit early for pesto, at least, when we are talking about Southeastern Ohio, and I just planted my big self-watering planter filled with pesto plants on Saturday.
However, my CSA farmers are clever; they have several greenhouses, one with hot water pipes running under the beds, so they started some genovese basil back in March and lo and behold, great bags of it were ready for sale on Saturday. Needless to say, I picked up two bags, along with some thinner than a pencil shoots of asparagus from another farmer, and resolved to pair the two in several different ways through the week.
Several different ways, indeed, though pesto was the very first–it had to be. The last of my frozen pesto was gone–and as good as it is in the deep midwinter, the frozen pesto still is not as wonderful as the stuff is fresh. I bought up bunches of green garlic to go in the pesto, and broke out the Parmesan cheese, olive oil and pinenuts. (From Italy, California and somewhere out west, respectively–not local, but until Ohio producers start making real Parmesan, growing and pressing stupendous olives and growing me some pinenuts–and these things, due to climate, are not going to happen–I am never going to have truly local authentic pesto. That is fine with me, since most of my staple items are coming in from local producers at this point.)
For dinner Saturday night, which was cooked within twenty-seven minutes, we had thinly sliced chicken breast sauteed with onions and green garlic. When the chicken was mostly done, I added about a third of a pound of the tiny asparagus spears, and stirred them about until they deepened in color and became crisp-tender.
I made the sauce, which was not a pure pesto, right in the pan that the chicken and vegetables were cooked in.I deglazed the pan first with sherry, then with a bit of chicken broth, and thickened it with about a quarter of a cup of heavy cream. I allowed it to reduce for about five minutes, and then slowly added the pesto which stood at the ready in the food processor tablespoon by tablespoon, until it all smoothed out and thickened and became a creamy, pale golden-green ambrosia redolent of garlic and basil, with the sweet nuttiness of the sherry bringing out the flavor of the pinenuts.
After the penne was done, I dumped it in the pan and tossed it all together. There was just enough sauce to coat everything and make it all happy. (Yeah, the penne was Italian too–I had meant to pick up some of our local, delicious fresh Rossi Pasta, but got involved planting basil and tomatoes instead. Next time, it will be Rossi. I promise!)
Since I was cooking so quickly and on a deadline, I have no clue of exact amounts to write out a perfect recipe, but I can approximate it in case anyone wants to try and replicate it. (Since I have never written down a basil pesto recipe with amounts–because I go by feel–I am linking to Elise’s at Simply Recipes. Her amounts look close enough to mine to work right, though I will say, I used green garlic in mine instead of the regular mature kind–and it made the recipe a bit different. A little more delicate, and with an interesting paler shade of green.)
If you are really into asparagus, as I am, you should go check out the collection of recipes he is amassing with the help of the food bloggers of the world. It is really an amazing amount of green goodness. And hey–if you really like asparagus, send in your favorite recipes, too.
Penne with Chicken, Asparagus and Creamy Pesto
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, cut into half and sliced thinly
4 stalks green garlic, white and light green parts sliced thinly
1 whole boneless skinless chicken breast, trimmed and cut into 1″ long, 1/4″ wide, and 1/4″ thick slices
1 teaspoon dried red chile flakes
1/3 pound super-thin asparagus spears trimmed and cut into 1″-2″ sticks
about 2 tablespoons dry sherry
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 recipe basil pesto, made in the food processor–it should equal 1 cup or so
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound penne pasta, cooked al dente
Heat olive oil in a deep, wide saute pan. When it is hot, start sauteeing onions, and when they are golden, add the garlic. Stir until the garlic is well-scented, about a minute and add the chicken pieces. Allow chicken pieces to brown on one side, then turn over. Sprinkle with the chile pepper, and stir well.
Add the asparagus spears and stir until they deepen in color.
Deglaze pan with sherry, and allow alcohol to boil off.
Add chicken broth and stir, allow it to reduce slightly.
Add cream, and stir, allowing it to reduce slightly.
Add the pesto by tablespoons, stirring to incorporate between each addition. When all pesto is added, give the sauce a taste, and correct seasoning with salt and black pepper to taste.
Dump in the drained penne, and stir and toss to coat everything with the sauce evenly. Divide between four warmed bowls.
Serves four with light seconds for one or two people.
Note: If you want to be fancy (I didn’t have time for fancy Saturday night, unfortunately), you could make a chiffonade of basil leaves (stack basil leaves together, then roll up like a cigar, and slice thinly–the slices will unfurl into tiny green ribbons) and sprinkle the top of each serving with a shower of it. It would look awesome, and taste nice, too.
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