I have a favorite go-to pasta recipe that is easy, fast and delicious, but after tasting one bite of this pasta I realized that recipe has some serious competition. Light, lemony and fresh, this penne tastes like something from a restaurant. Honestly. Add in the fact that there is a mere tablespoon of oil and 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese and it becomes a low-fat wonder. I love trying new recipes and making new dishes, so when I tell you that I've made this twice in the past two weeks should say a lot about it. Especially after I ate leftovers of it for days after the first time I made it. And, to be honest, I saw that asparagus was on sale this week at the grocery store and contemplated making it again. It's really that good. (And I'm really that weird about food I like.)
Another bonus of the recipe is that it got me over my fear of using leeks. For those of you who are afraid of using leeks because you don't know how to cut or clean them (aka, me until a couple weeks ago) I've included some pictures and instructions at the end of the post. Leeks have a great mild, sweet flavor and I wouldn't suggest substituting onions instead unless leeks really, really scare you. (Or if your produce section doesn't carry them.)
Penne with Chicken, Asparagus, and Lemon
1 T olive oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (2-3) trimmed and sliced thin
1 leek, white and green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced thin and washed
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp minced fresh thyme
2 tsp all-purpose flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine (I use 1/3 cup grape juice and 2/3 cup water)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp grated lemon zest plus 1/4 cup lemon juice
Salt and pepper
1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound) tough ends trimmed, and sliced on the bias into 1-inch lengths
12 ounces whole wheat penne (I use the enriched pasta, not whole wheat)
2 T shredded fresh basil (don't skip this like I did in the pictures for this post.)
1. Heat 1 1/2 tsp of the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skilled over medium high heat until just smoking. Add the chicken, break up any clumps, and cook until lightly browned but not fully cooked, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. (I like to start a pot of water boiling for step 5 now so that I don't have to wait on it.)
2. Add the remaining 1 1/2 tsp oil to the skillet and turn the heat down to medium. Add the leek and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the broth and wine (or dilute grape juice) and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened, about 15 minutes. (The sauce will still look somewhat watery even after it has thickened.)
4. Return the chicken with any accumulated juice to the skillet. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the Parmesan, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot. Add the asparagus and 1 T salt and cook, stirring often, until the asparagus is crisp-tender, 2-4 minutes. (If you have thick asparagus you will need to increase the cooking time slightly.) Using a slotted spoon, transfer the asparagus to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
6. Return the water to a boil, add the pasta, and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Drain the pasta and return to the pot.
7. Add the chicken-broth mixture, asparagus, and basil to the pasta and toss to combine. Serve.
Yield - 6 servings
Recipe Source: America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook
How to clean a leek:
Cut off the dark green parts and bottom, and slice in half length wise. Slice each half into pieces, and place in a bowl of cold water. Separate the leek layers with your fingers and rub off any dirt you may see. Dirt is easily trapped between the leek layers, which is why washing them is so important. Lift the leeks out of the wash water (if you pour out the water all the dirt from the leeks that has settled to the bottom of the bowl will wash over them as the water is poured out - ick.) and dry on paper towels or use a handy salad spinner.