Writing this blog really pushes me at times. It makes me feel that I am failing if I do not do my best at every meal. Once upon a time I could make a regular meal, now I am constantly thinking, “What can I do to make this meal different?”
Last week the basil in our garden was beginning to look sad, so I made some pesto to preserve it. As I was sitting thinking, “What am I going to do for dinner tonight?” I decided that this would be a good start.
Wife, Jan, is limiting her carb intake, so I could not do a standard “pour the pesto over pasta” and call it good. The last time I made a pesto dish I used cauliflower. I have been using a lot of cauliflower lately, so I did not want to repeat myself. What could I put together that would go with pesto, was filling, but not loaded with carbs?
I had one frozen chicken breast. That would add a little protein, but it was not enough to feed three people. Some onion and celery would add a little vegetable bulk, but that would be pretty bland. Then I thought “peppers!” Sweet peppers would go well with the chicken and the pesto.
Eilene and I would still like some pasta. Jan says that one serving is the size of a pack of playing cards. That small amount on the plate does not seem very satisfying. The question is how to make both sides happy? Rotini is has a lot of open space in it when it is cooked. One serving rotini looks like a lot more than one serving of spaghetti would. The feeling of satisfaction may only be in our heads, but better that than on our waist lines.
With my main ingredients set I was ready to add some flourishes. I could marinate and fry the chicken, so that they would not be just bland chunks of meat. Finally, with a bit of fresh garlic and pepper to add a final kick, I was good to go.
Note: Many of my recipes are designed to feed three with enough left over for one or two lunches the next day. They will almost always feed four hungry people.
Karl’s Pepper Chicken Pesto with Rotini
1 chicken breast
1 Tbs. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed finely
1 tsp. Mission Fig Balsamic Vinegar
¼ tsp. black pepper
Punch Kosher salt
¼ lb. rotini
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 sweet onion
2 large stalks celery
Pinch Kosher salt
1 green bell pepper
1 sweet red pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. black pepper
¼ cup Karl’s Pesto
1. Cut the chicken into small bite sized pieces.
Tip: I cut the one large chicken breast into about 25 pieces.
2. Mix the marinade ingredients in a bowl and add the chicken, toss to coat.
Tip: The pinch of sugar speeds up the Maillard reaction and ensures that the chicken will brown during its short time in the pan.
3. Cover and refrigerate for at least half an hour, stirring occasionally.
4. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and cook the rotini for 15 minutes, until al dente. Reserve for later.
5. Cut all the vegetables pole to pole into 3/8 to ½ inch strips. Reserve the onions and celery together and the peppers separately.
Tip: The bell pepper I was using was about 2 ½ inches tall. I cut it into half inch wide planks. The red pepper was very tall, so I cut it in half and then cut it into strips. The celery I split lengthways and then cut it into 2 inch pieces.
6. Add the olive oil to a large sauté pan over medium high heat.
7. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the chicken in a single layer. Shake the span so that the pieces do not stick and then do not touch them for two minutes.
Tip: After about one and a half minutes, lift one piece to check for browning. If they are well browned, flip the pieces.
8. Flip the pieces and let them cook untouched for about one and a half minutes. Remove to a bowl and cover to keep them warm.
Tip: The pieces are so thin that this will completely cook the chicken.
9. Without cleaning the pan, add the onions, celery and a pinch of salt. Sauté the vegetables for three minutes until the onions are translucent. If necessary add a touch more olive oil.
Tip: The salt will help draw the moisture out of the onions. In the hot shallow pan the liquid will quickly evaporate. This lets the onions fry rather than steam in their own liquid.
10. Add the peppers and continue sautéing for three more minutes, until soft.
11. Stir in the chicken, garlic and pepper and sauté one minute more.
12. Add the pesto and rotini and toss to coat. Cook for one minute more until the chicken and pasta has warmed through.
13. Serve warm immediately or cool to serve as pasta and pepper salad.