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Thursday, April 14, 2011

dinner a go-go

I can't lie. When I learned that a friend, who happens to have four small kids, a full-time job, and a husband who will be unable to walk for the next few weeks, could use some help, I thought to myself, "Now there is a somewhere I can offload some of my veggies!"

Okay, that is only a teeny bit true. I really wanted to make dinner for the family, and I wanted to make it something healthy, easy to transport, and kid-friendly. Getting rid of some of the veggies was an added bonus.

I ended up researching a few different pasta recipes, using parts of all of them, and all of none of them. Here, instead, is what I came up with:

This pasta dish is creamy but not heavy. It has a lightness from the lemon, and the asparagus is cooked just enough to let the flavor shine through without taking on that dull overly mushy vegetable blah-ness that you remember from your youth. Enjoy!

Pasta with chicken and lemon-asparagus cream sauce

2 chicken breasts
salt and pepper
1 pound asparagus spears
1 pound penne pasta
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

First, wash and pat dry your chicken. Season it with salt and pepper, and bake it in the oven at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, uncovered (until it is cooked through). When the chicken is done, set it aside.

Boil about 6-8 cups of salted water. Trim the tough ends off of the asparagus (bend each stalk, and allow it to naturally snap off. That will just get rid of the bit at the end that is too tough). Cut each stalk into 1-inch pieces, keeping the tips separate.

Put the asparagus pieces into the boiling water for 6-7 minutes, until they are tender. Once they have cooked, scoop them out with a slotted spoon or handled sieve, so the water in the pot stays boiling. Run the asparagus under cold water to stop the cooking, and let it drain.

Place the tips into the boiling water for 3-4 minutes, and then take them out with the slotted spoon, rinse with cold water, and drain. Keep the water boiling.

Add your pasta to the boiling water (where it will absorb some of the nutrients left behind by the asparagus). Boil the pasta for about 2-3 minutes less than the package directions. You will be continuing to cook it later, and you don't want it to get too soft.

Place the lemon zest, the asparagus pieces (but not the tips), 1/4 cup olive oil, and about a half cup of the boiling asparagus water into a food processor. Pulse it until is has pureed into a bright green sauce.

When the past is done, reserve a couple of cups of cooking water, drain the pasta, and add the sauce. Stir in the half-and-half, season with salt and pepper, and let it all cook for a few minutes. If the sauce is too thick, add the reserved cooking water a bit at a time.

Place the pasta into a serving bowl, top with asparagus tips, sliced chicken breast, and parmesan cheese.

Serve immediately.

 .... Or...

Place the pasta in a disposable pan so your friend has nothing to try and remember to return to you.

Take it, along with a salad, a load of bread, and some chocolate chip cookies, over to her house. Stick a few paper plates, plastic forks, and a bunch of juice boxes in there too, and she's got a complete night off.

Remember how she has four kids and a husband who can't move? Don't forget a bottle of dry white wine.