Fleur de Lis

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Monday, September 21, 2015

Baked Cavatappi with Chicken in a Pesto Cream Sauce

This is comfort food at its finest.  I justified eating seconds in that it has SPINACH as a main ingredient along with boneless/skinless chicken breasts.  You can make the pesto beforehand or even use store bought if you're pressed for time.  Feel free to substitute penne or any other tubular pasta for the cavatappi.

1 lb. cavatappi pasta
Salt and black pepper
¾ cup extra virgin oil oil
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, thinly sliced
1 cup diced onion
2 t. minced garlic
9 oz. spinach, tough stems removed, roughly chopped
½ cup toasted pine nuts
¼ t. crushed red pepper flakes
1 ¼ t. lemon zest
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
3 T. unsalted butter
3 T.  all purpose flour
3 ½ cups whole milk
8 oz. grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water according to package directions, but undercook it by about 2 minutes. Drain, drizzle with 1 T. olive oil, toss to coat, and set aside.

Grease a 3 quart baking dish and set aside.

Heat 1 T. olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the chicken, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until the chicken is opaque, about 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and add the onion. Cook until tender, about 4 minutes, then add 1 tsp garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Now add the spinach and season again with salt and pepper. Cook for a couple minutes, until the spinach begins to wilt. Turn off the heat and add the chicken back in. Set aside.

Make the pesto: combine the pine nuts, crushed red pepper, ¼  t. lemon zest, and remaining 1 tsp garlic in your food processor. Pulse until blended. Use a rubber spatula and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the basil leaves, salt and pepper and turn the processor on. Stream in ½  cup olive oil through the feed tube until it’s well blended. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to broil.

In a medium stock pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add in the flour and whisk for a minute. Don’t burn it. Whisk in the milk, a little at a time, and cook until thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the pesto, 3/4 of the Parmesan, and season with salt and pepper.

In a large mixing bowl, or in your saute pan, combine the pasta, chicken-spinach mixture, pesto cream sauce, and remaining 1 tsp lemon zest. Toss to mix well. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese and broil until the top is bubbly and browned.

From Sizzling Skillets by Emeril Lagasse

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