Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Artichoke Pasta with Lemon Grilled Chicken

I really shouldn’t go into a lot of detail here.  It is simply unnecessary, but I can’t help myself.  This delicate pasta recipe should sell itself with its classic flavors, imprinted with the latest psycho cooker trend: grill everything.  This light summery pasta is full of flavor.  I started with a simple marinade for chicken breasts, consisting of a few ingredients with big flavors: white wine, fresh lemon zest/juice, extra virgin olive oil, and a few tablespoons of fresh thyme.  I whisked the ingredients together in a wide shallow dish, so my chicken cutlets could take a languid swim in this tart concoction (albeit a brief dip; this marinade is highly acidic, so only let those tender birds hang out in there for 20-30 minutes maximum).
In the meantime, I preheated my grill to medium, put a pot of water on for pasta, drained my artichoke hearts, and chopped up some garlic and herbs.  That’s all the chopping that is requiring assuming you buy quartered artichoke hearts.  Grilling the chicken is simple: when they have a nice char and feel firm, they are done.  And they will smell intoxicatingly delicious.  This can be done at any time, unless you refuse to eat food that is anything but searing hot.  The sauce for the pasta is put together in a single skillet, and I like to take the cooked pasta directly from its pot to the saucepan.  This will allow you to skip washing a strainer and you will get just the right amount of starchy pasta water from the get go. 
The sauce… a little bit of garlic, olive oil, white wine, chicken stock, and lemon juice.  It’s a brilliant combination; I wish I could take credit for it, but instead I will tip my hat to a nameless, faceless Italian grandmother.  When the sauce comes together, the artichoke hearts go in to heat through, and a little bit of butter is nice for an increased luxurious quality.  Other than that, everything else will go in, uncooked, after the pasta has been added (capers, baby spinach, handfuls of fresh herbs, parmesan cheese, copious amounts of black pepper).  Once I reached my desired balance of flavors and textures (a little extra pasta water, another grind of pepper, etc. etc.), I topped the delicate curls of angel hair with the sliced grilled chicken.  The pasta would be delicious on its own: tart, clean, bright, and balanced.  However the smokiness of the chicken adds a powerful extra flavor dimension.  And the chicken’s absence would have made my grill feel left out, and I just can’t have that.
Lemon-Thyme Grilled Chicken

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into 4 cutlets
1/2 cup white wine
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

-       Whisk together the white wine, lemon zest/juice, thyme, and olive oil in a wide, shallow dish
-       Lay chicken cutlets in marinade, and let sit in the refrigerator for about 20-30 minutes, flip occasionally.
-       Preheat a grill to medium heat.  Season marinated chicken cutlets with salt and pepper and grill on each side until cooked through, about 4-5 minutes per side.

Artichoke Pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1/2 cup white wine
3/4 cup chicken stock
Juice of half a lemon
1 can quartered artichoke hearts, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons capers
2-3 big handfuls baby spinach
Fresh herbs to tastes (I used basil and parsley)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 oz. angle hair
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

-       Place a large pot of water on high heat to come to a boil.
-       In the meantime, preheat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic and hot pepper flakes, and sauté for one minute.
-       Add white wine and simmer until reduced by half.
-       Add chicken stock and simmer until reduced by almost half.
-       Add artichokes hearts, lemon juice, and season liberally with salt and pepper.
-       Add butter.
-       While artichokes are heating through in the sauce, cook pasta until just shy of al dente (this will only take a few minutes, and the pasta should be slightly underdone as it will cook more in the sauce).
-       Add the pasta with tongs directly into the sauce (don’t worry if some of the cooking water comes with it).
-       Add spinach and capers.  Toss to combine.  Add more pasta water if it seems dry.
-       Check for seasoning, and add if necessary.  Then toss with herbs and cheese if desired.  Top with sliced grilled chicken.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Grilled Tofu and Vegetables... And Sandwiches

I actually really enjoy tofu.  Truly.  I like it so much that I will eat cubes of it cold, straight from the package when I am cooking.  You may not believe me, but after perusing my other recipes, I think it will become quickly obvious that I am not trying to impress anyone with my healthy eating habits.  Sometimes, it’s nice to marinate some tofu and vegetables (bell peppers, zucchini, and cremini mushrooms), and get them on the grill.  They don’t require much time to marinate or grill, and they make for a virtuous, complete dinner when paired with some brown rice.  I let all grilled items take a 10-minute dip in a flavorful Asian marinade with soy sauce, garlic, sesame oil, and fresh limejuice to avoid any boring vegetable qualities. 
The key is to use a medium low heat, and spray the grill liberally with non-stick cooking spray (this will also lead to a delightful flare-up, which I’m sure is dangerous).  The bell peppers and the mushrooms take the longest to grill, so start there.  However, the tofu poses the greatest danger of sticking.  Grill the stout planks of tofu for about 3 minutes on one side, flip, and repeat.  When flipping them or removing them from the grill, give them a very gentle side-to-side shimmy until they release.  If they stick a little, don’t panic.  Simply proceed as planned, but then remove any pieces that stick and be sure to eat them.  They have sort of a bacony quality.
The best part of this meal was the leftovers.  And, to be honest, I designed this meal with the leftovers in mind.  For anyone out there who claims they dislike leftovers, I say you’re simply not putting enough thought into the use your leftovers.  Not everyone enjoys forkfuls of cold, sauced pasta; I’ll acknowledge that.  However, with a little thought put into your cooking, your leftovers can be a delicious wonder in their own right.  Case in point: grilled tofu and vegetable sandwiches.  I spiked some mayonnaise with limejuice and sriracha.  I then layered the leftover zucchini, grilled peppers, and tofu on some rosemary sourdough bread with some of my spicy, tart sauce, and enjoyed a very flavorful and satisfying sandwich.
Grilled Tofu and Vegetables

Juice of 1 lime
2 teaspoons honey
1 garlic clove, grated
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablepsoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon sriracha
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons canola oil (or other light colored oil)
1-2 zucchini, sliced in long planks
2 red bell peppers, sliced into “cheeks”
8-10 cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed
1 block of extra firm tofu

-       Cut tofu into 6 pieces.  Line a shallow, wide dish with a clean cloth napkin.  Lay tofu pieces in napkin and wrap the napkin over the tofu.  Place a heavy bottomed pot over the napkin and allow tofu to drain for 15-20 minutes.
-       Whisk together the first 9 ingredients for marinade, and prepare vegetable. In one or two wide dishes, lay all ingredients down and pour 3/4 of marinade over them.  Gently flip tofu and vegetables in marinade.
-       Preheat grill to medium, and then reduce heat to medium low just before adding food to the grill.
-       Cook bell peppers and mushrooms for 8-10 minutes total, or until tender.
-       Cook tofu and zucchini for 4-5 minutes total.
-       Serve with brown rice and drizzle with remaining marinade.