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.

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