Sunday, July 26, 2009

Basil Inspired...

With the abundance of beautiful produce now available, not only in our neighborhood supermarkets but local Farmers' Markets, it's hard to resist the pull to overindulge. As a result, I ended up with a bushel of basil this weekend. 

My first order of business was pesto. Not only is this the "spread" of choice for our sandwich makings, it's great for marinades and quick pastas. (A little pasta, a dollop of pesto, and some Parmigiano-Reggiano...and you are good to go for a quick, delicious dinner.)

After perusing my cookbooks, I was inspired by a recipe I ran across in Mario Batali's Italian Grill cookbook for Guinea Hen Breasts with Rosemary and Pesto. While he was not entirely supportive of substituting chicken breasts, THAT is what I had and intended to grill.  Besides, his recipe calls for pesto and that was, as mentioned, my first order of business. In addition to the great tasting pesto (once you've made your own, you won't want to go "store-bought"), the chicken was very can you go wrong with anything that includes garlic, basil and rosemary!

Simple Pesto
adapted from Mario Batali's Italian Grill
(makes about 1 cup)

4 garlic cloves
2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh arugula leaves or italian parsley leaves, as preferred
4 tablespoons pine nuts
Generous pinch of salt
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
4 tablespoons freshly grated percorino romano

1. In a food processor, with the motor running, drop garlic to chop.  Add the basil, parsley, pine nuts, and salt and pulse until the the basil and nuts are finely chopped.

2. With motor running, drizzle in the oil.

3. Transfer mixture to a small bowl and stir in both Parmigiano-Reggiano and pecorino.

Note: The pesto will last several weeks in the refrigerator if topped with a thin layer of extra-virgin olive oil and stored in a tightly sealed jar.

With pesto made, I was ready to prep our chicken. As per Batali's recipe instructions, it's advisable to get your marinading chicken into the fridge for at least 4 hours, if not overnight. The longer it has to mix and mingle, the better. Ours had about 8 hours to get "happy" and that seemed to work well.

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Rosemary and Pesto
adapted from Mario Batali's Italian Grill
(serves 6)

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
7 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/3 cup chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup Pesto (Simple Pesto, from above recipe)
1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
6 single skinless, boneless chicken breasts (pounded lightly with a meat mallet to unify thickness)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, garlic, rosemary, pesto, and red pepper flakes and mix well.

2. Put chicken breasts in a shallow dish and pour marinade over them, turning each piece and rubbing in marinade to coat. Cover and refrigerate (at least 4 hours or overnight).

3. 15 minutes before you want to begin grilling, remove chicken from fridge and let sit.

4. Season chicken with salt and pepper and then place on medium-high heat grill. Cook unmoved (and uncovered) for 3-5 minutes.  Turn breasts over and cook for another 5-8 minutes, covered for remaining grill time. Continue grilling and turning until cooked through (approximately 20 to 25 minutes tops, depending on thickness). The internal temperature should read 160 degrees Fahrenheit...if you're unsure.

As pictured, we had this grilled chicken with roasted baby red potatoes (just tossed with some extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and some dried rosemary and dried basil, then roasted in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes until browned and beautiful), and a saute' of fresh asparagus and sugar snap peas (just sauteed lightly in extra-virgin olive oil with salt and pepper...easy and good).

Though I doubled the pesto recipe, I still had a bit of basil left over so I made a simple caprese salad to accompany our dinner, using fresh, locally grown vine-ripened tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Once assembled, just drizzle the tomatoes and cheese with extra-virgin olive oil and a good balsamic vinegar, season it with kosher salt and pepper, and top it off with ribbons of fresh basil. I know this one is super easy but it's just so good. Simple is often the best!

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