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Monday, August 9, 2010

Capellini with Pesto Alla Trapanese

When most Americans think of pesto we tend to think of the green pesto or Pesto Genovese which is made with fresh basil, olive oil, pine nuts and cheese. However, the different regions of Italy (and indeed many towns) have their own pesto recipes and not all are green.

This recipe was adapted from one found in Sicily by the folks at America's Test Kitchen. I further tweaked it just a bit to fit our own taste preferences and used it with angel hair pasta and sauteed chicken.

The result was a lovely pesto sauce coating the pasta which was tossed with chunks of sauteed chicken. The fresh basil and tomato lend a classic Italian flavor to the dish. The pesto is also tossed sparingly with the pasta rather than drenching the pasta with the sauce as tends to occur in most American kitchens.

This entire dish comes together in under 20 minutes and is ready for the table. Pull out that checkered tablecloth and a good Italian wine and you're ready for a quick and (nearly) authentic Italian meal at home!

2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
olive oil to saute chicken
2 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes
1/2 cup basil leaves
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
2 tbs. pine nuts, toasted (optional)
1/4 tsp. plus 2-3 pinches of red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tbs. tomato paste (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup good olive oil
1 lb. Capellini Pasta, cooked

Sauteed Chicken

Cut chicken breasts into 1-inch pieces and saute in olive oil over medium-high heat until chicken is cooked throughout. Keep chicken warm and set aside.

Pesto alla Trapanese

If almonds have skins, remove skins by blanching almonds for 2 minutes in boiling water then plunging immediately into cold water. Skins will come off when rubbed between fingers. Toast almonds and optional pine nuts in a small saute pan over medium heat until they are golden and fragrant.

Place almonds and pine nuts in food processor or blender. Add tomatoes, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes and optional tomato paste. Puree the mixture until large pieces are ground up. Add olive oil while running machine until you get the consistency you desire. (You may not need full amount depending on the water content of your tomatoes.) Set aside finished pesto.

Capellini Pasta

Fill a large pot with 5 to 6 quarts of water, a few pinches of salt and 1-2 tbs. of olive oil. Bring to a boil. Place pasta in boiling water and cook until pasta is al dente (about 2-3 minutes).

Reserve 2 cups of the pasta water. Drain pasta in sieve and return to pot. Pour pesto over pasta and toss to coat. If pasta is too dry, add a bit of the reserved water. Add sauteed chicken and toss together.

Serve hot pasta with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese and oregano. Garnish with fresh basil leaves if desired.

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