Garden pasta with balsamic garlic chicken
Have you ever felt trapped…by weather, I mean? I feel like that, and have for the past month or so. Ever since our return from India in late January, the snow has been unabating, and the deep freeze relentless in pounding our spirits. The only thing this prolonged and severe bout of winter has done is increase my need, and I mean an intense, essential to survival kind of need for warmer weather, bright days and anything but white outside my window.
Until such a day arrives and spring blooms, you and I can liven up our kitchens with some colour. The garden pasta does just that. Inspired by Ina Garten’s recipe, this one has a few touches of my own. The garden pasta is really simple and doesn’t have a typical sauce, instead it uses cherry tomatoes sweated in olive oil with fresh basil. A colourful mix of ingredients that is light and refreshing on the palette. Pair this with grilled chicken or fish and you have a complete meal for anytime of the day. I went with chicken thighs that were marinated briefly and then cooked in a cast iron skillet.
Prep time: 2 h 30 mins. Active: 30 mins.
Serves: 3-4 persons.
For the tomato base;
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes,
1 cup chopped fresh basil,
1/4 cup olive oil (4 tbsp, extra virgin or extra light)
Salt to taste,
Crushed black pepper to taste,
1/2 tsp red chilli flakes,
2 tbsp fresh lime juice (approximately 1 lime),
2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped,
1 zucchini, sliced (optional),
1 small cucumber, sliced (optional),
1/2 onion, sliced (optional).
1 pack whole wheat linguine (450 gm/16 oz),
2 quart/8 cups water to cook pasta.
To begin we need to sweat the tomatoes in a marinade of olive oil and lime juice. Take a large mixing bowl and mix all the ingredients: oil, lime juice, salt, pepper, chilli flakes and garlic. Then chop the cherry tomatoes, if they are larger than you’d like, go ahead and quarter them. Similarly, chop up basil. Toss both of them in the marinade and cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for about 2 hours. Ina recommends 4 hours at room temperature. But there are times when you might not have that much room. Do whatever is possible and doesn’t throw you off your schedule.
The cheat is, yes there is a way to cheat on this, to give the tomatoes a quick saute in a skillet. This is where your choice of oil becomes important. Extra virgin olive oil is typically the one that graces salads, so its great to use when you have time to let the tomatoes and basil sweat. On the other hand, extra light olive oil has a high smoking point and makes for a good substitute for other cooking fats. Use this to saute tomatoes with the garlic add salt, pepper and chilli flakes, finishing off with basil after the heat is turned off. Then, just toss the pasta.
** To make the pasta more summery you can add fresh sliced cucumber once the pasta is assembled. No need to sweat these because the moment they touch salt the water is going to exit! The other vegetable that can be added is zucchini. But the zucchini will need a toss in the pan along with some onion. Do this when you cook the tomatoes.
For the pasta, typically the box advises using over 4 quarts of water, bringing it to a rolling boil and then adding the linguine. You can do that or conserve water by using only 1 1/2 to 2 quarts and moving the noodles every few minutes so that they don’t stick together. Here is a neat explanation of how this can be done! You can salt the water if you prefer to, it only adds more salt to the pasta. Without salt the water will cook the pasta just as well. Strain the linguine once its done to your liking. Check by taking some in a fork and mashing it or biting it. Run cold water through it to stop the cooking process.
For the chicken;
4 bone in chicken thighs,
2 tbsp olive oil (extra light),
4-5 tbsp balsamic vinegar,
3-4 garlic cloves, sliced,
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (roughly 1/2 bunch),
Salt to taste,
Ground black pepper to taste,
Pinch of red chilli powder,
Ground cumin powder. (optional)
For the chicken the first thing again is to mix together the marinade. In a large mixing bowl, mine was blue 🙂 whisk together oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, chili powder, cilantro leaves, garlic and in case you like a little more kick, some ground cumin. The cumin and cilantro, also known as coriander, come from my love of Indian spices and flavours.
Next clean the chicken thighs, give it a gentle rinse. I did not remove the skin, but you can do that and pat the chicken dry before putting it in the marinade. Let it sit for at least an hour, if possible, at room temperature. So, the chicken and tomatoes can sit in their bowls while you do something else.
To cook the chicken, fire up a skillet. I am in love with my cast iron skillet because after repeated use and seasoning it works almost like a non stick pan. Heat up about a tablespoon or two of olive oil and swirl to coat the base of the pan. Once the pan is almost smoking hot, add the chicken. Cook one side for about 5-6 minutes. You want to sear it well. Flip over and cook for another 5-6 minutes. Flip again, the initial side pan side down, cover and cook for 10 minutes on medium heat. If you find the chicken is sticking to the base, reduce the heat to medium low. With a fork check the center of one piece. If it is still pink, let the meat cook for some more time. If white and loose around the bones, it is done. The best measure of well cooked meat is its tenderness and how easily it peels away from the bone.
The balsamic vinegar and moisture from the chicken will bubble up. When cooked covered this is what will help the meat retain its flavour and moisture.
The beauty of this meal is that once the chicken is done, all you need to do is toss the pasta in the tomato base and plate it! We had it with toasted bread on the side, but the pasta and chicken with a full-bodied red wine, is a wholesome meal.