Lemon Chicken Linguine

I love lemons.
And I want a lemon tree.

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I’m trying to find out exactly how small a dwarf lemon tree is. So far, everyone (friends, websites, etc) tells me that a dwarf lemon tree will reach about six feet tall, and if I wanted one in my house, I’d need to dedicate a room solely for the tree. I’m starting to wonder if I really even need a living room…

I use lemons all the time… pretty much on a daily basis…well…almost on a daily basis. Frequently. So, a lemon tree would be so wonderful to have growing in my yard..or in my lemon room (a.k.a. living room)..

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What I wanted to hear was that the tree would reach about four feet tall. And that I could keep it in a little pot, bring it outside in the summer, and then bring it back inside during the winter months. Unfortunately, it’s not meant to be.

Unless I move someplace warm…there are no lemon trees in my future.
I don’t like those words.
I don’t like those words at all.

While that’s a real bummer, it’s not the end of the world, because there are lemons always readily available to me whenever I need them. A lemon tree just would have been fun, you know?

I’m not going to give up, and will continue my search for that perfect little lemon tree.

But in the meantime, I’ll continue to use the lemons that I can buy at the store, and that’s ok, because they do exactly what a fresh lemon would do for me… like this Lemon Chicken Linguine.

Despite my fame for posting heavy creamy dishes ( I really don’t eat that way all the time), this dish is definitely on the lighter side…not laden with sauce, but the lemon truly makes up for that! A squeeze of lemon over the chicken at the end gives this such a refreshing taste! And the asparagus? Well, it’s asparagus…it just belongs in this recipe.

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This is actually one of the meals that I make often, but I felt like it wasn’t worthy of the blog…maybe “not worthy” is being a little too harsh…maybe I thought it was too easy, a no brainer… because it is a common meal that I make. But just like the Embarrassingly Simple BLT Wedge Salad I posted the other day, I started to think that it’s ok to post ordinary meals that I make for my family. After all, my promise to you was simple, rustic and delish, right from the very beginning. This dish truly fits that bill.

It’s quick. It’s easy. It’s delicious. And everyone loves it. Well, maybe not your pickiest eater, but that’s why you have chicken nuggets stashed away in the freezer, right?

Life is good.. it’s a “Not giving up on the lemon tree, and thinking that I really don’t need a couch…” kind of good…

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Lemon Chicken Linguine
Serves Four

For the Chicken:
8 chicken breast tenders
1 cup flour
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp white pepper
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp cayenne
Olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon

The Pasta:
½ pound linguine

For the Sauce:
½ cup butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 lb fresh asparagus tips (save the stalks! Use them for another meal…chop them up in eggs! Make soup! Just don’t toss them!)
2 cups chicken stock
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup Romano cheese
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Garnish:
Fresh lemon zest for garnish
Fresh parsley for garnish
Fresh ground black pepper
Lemon wedges for garnish

Mix the flour, black pepper, white pepper, garlic powder, salt, and cayenne in a medium size shallow bowl. Dredge the chicken breast in the flour mixture until well coated.

(While the chicken is cooking, bring a pot of water to boil. Cook the linguine per the instructions on the box. )

Pour enough olive oil in a large frying pan to coat the bottom. Sauté the chicken about four minutes on each side, or until fully cooked and golden brown. Right before removing the chicken from the pan, drizzle with the lemon juice (1/2 to 1 full lemon, depending on your lemon preference) Remove the chicken from the pan, and set aside. Save the pan with the oil, you’ll use that for the sauce.

Immediately after taking the chicken from the pan, add the butter, garlic, and shallots. Sauté for about two to three minutes, or until golden. Add the asparagus, and sauté until tender (not mushy, but tender), about three to five minutes. Remove the asparagus from the pan, and set aside. Add the chicken stock and the lemon, and simmer for about 5-10 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

As soon as the pasta is cooked, transfer it from the water to the pan of sauce with tongs or a wire strainer. Mix the pasta around in the sauce until it is fully coated, and then add the asparagus back to the pan. Add the Romano cheese and parsley, stirring until the pasta is fully coated.

Serve with the chicken and lemon wedge. Garnish with a little more parsley, fresh lemon zest, black pepper.

Enjoy!

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Gnudi: What’s the Hub-Bub, Bub?

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Have you ever heard of something for the very first time one day…. And then all of a sudden, you’re hearing about it all the time as if it’s become an overnight sensation? Well, that’s what happened to me with gnudi.

The very first time I heard of them was about three weeks ago, as I was watching “The Best Thing I Ever Made” on the Food Network, while working in my kitchen. Scott Conant was sharing his recipe for gnudi.

Gnudi? Now that’s a word that I’ve never heard before. I know…I don’t know how that could possibly be, but it’s true. They’re new to me.  They kind of looked like big balls of gnocchi. I made a mental note to Google them later on, so that I could see what they were all about.

While I was researching them, I found that gnudi became popular around 2008, because of a restaurant called The Spotted Pig , in New York City. I’ve never heard of that restaurant either, but it looks wonderful, and when I make it back to the city, I’ll be sure to visit there. The photos make it look so quaint and inviting.

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Ok, back to the gnudi…

Pronunciation (so as not to butcher it as we say it…):
Gnudi: Ny-oodee
Gnocchi: Ny-oakey

Gnudi have been around for centuries, according to Oretta Zanini de Vita in “Encyclopedia of Pasta,” they’ve been around since the late 1200’s. Again, overnight sensation, as they’ve become quite popular in the last couple of years.

The difference between gnudi and gnocchi is the amount of starch used in the recipe. Gnocchi are made from potato and flour, while gnudi are made from ricotta and breadcrumbs. Gnocchi tend to be a little bit dense and chewy, whereas gnudi are fluffy and soft.

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My mom (Marsh) called me last week to tell me about an article in the Buffalo News … it was about…well, what do you know… Gnudi. She read the recipe to me over the phone, and then made a copy of the article for me, and sent it to me. This article contained a couple of variations of gnudi: plain, spinach, and butternut squash. Marsh made the spinach version, and was really disappointed. “I didn’t like them at all, but you make them and see what you think” she said.

According to the article, gnudi are much easier to make than gnocchi.

“We’ll see about that…” I said to myself this morning as I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. I decided to make the butternut squash gnudi.

Well, about 20 minutes later… the gnudi were already in the saucepan, boiling. I admit, they are easier to make. Much faster for sure. They’d probably make a great 30 minute meal for after work, with a butter and sage sauce, or a quick pomodoro sauce.

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But the question is, do I like them better than gnocchi? No.

My reason? Texture. They’re just too fluffy for me. I prefer the chewiness of the gnocci.

Don’t get me wrong; you can really pick up the butternut in them, and with the lemon-sage butter sauce, they were really delicious. I will make them again, especially when I’m pressed for time.

I do think that they would make a great beginning, the first course to a meal, or an appetizer of sorts.

Anyway, I’m really glad I tried them… now I can get in on that hub-bub when they come up during a conversation…

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Butternut Squash Gnudi
Makes 16 gnudi

A quick note:
The recipe suggested that the ricotta and squash be drained for a half hour, so that the gnudi didn’t turn out watery.

It called for ½ cup of fresh breadcrumbs, but to add more if they were too mushy. I tried them with just ½ cup, and test boiled two of them… they broke apart in the water (see photo below). I added another cup of breadcrumbs, and that did the trick.

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It also calls for just ½ cup of parmesan. When a recipe calls for cheese, you can be sure that I’ll be adding more than what it calls for, just because I like it.

The recipe also suggested browning the gnudi in butter before serving them. Brown them in butter? You don’t have to ask me twice…

The Gnudi:
¾ cup whole milk ricotta, drained
½ cup frozen butternut squash, thawed and drained
1 cup parmesan (technically ½ cup)
1 egg yolk
1 ½ cups fresh breadcrumbs (technically ½ cup)
½ tsp salt
dash nutmeg (optional, I didn’t use it)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spread a layer of flour over the parchment.

In a large bowl, mix together the ricotta, squash, parmesan, egg yolk, breadcrumbs, salt, and nutmeg until well blended.

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Using either your hands, or a cookie scoop, form balls with the dough, and roll in flour that is on the parchment. Gently shake the flour covered gnudi in your hands so that the flour falls back onto the parchment paper, and the gnudi is left with a thin layer of flour. This will prevent them from sticking. Line them on the baking sheet while you form the remaining gnudi.

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In a large frying pan, melt three tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Remove from heat.

Bring a pot of salted water to boil over high heat, and cook the gnudi in batches. Do not crowd them. Once they float to the surface of the water, boil them for about 2 more minutes. Remove with slotted spoon, and place in the frying pan of butter. Repeat with remaining gnudi.

When all of the gnudi are in the frying pan, turn the heat back on to medium, and fry the gnudi until they’re golden brown.

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Move to a paper towel lined plate.

While the gnudi are browning, begin preparing:

The Lemon-Sage Butter Sauce:
4 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 sage leaves, whole
Juice of ½ lemon
Fresh ground salt and pepper to taste

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Melt the butter in a medium frying pan. Saute the garlic and sage leaves for about two minutes. Add lemon juice, and cook for another minute or so.

Place the gnudi on individual plates, and pour the butter sauce over them. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a sprinkle of grated parmesan.

Enjoy!

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Lemony Brussels Sprouts, Potatoes, and Chestnuts over Gnocchi

Don’t you love it when you’re watching a movie…and you think you have it all figured out until some crazy twist at the end, that you did not see coming, just knocks you right out of your seat?  Yeah, me too…

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I’m still trying to play catch up on the sauces that I made for the gnocchi from last weekend, and this one I have to say is a definite “make again”. I think I may have gone a little starch crazy, but honestly? It worked.

My plan was just to make some roasted Brussels sprouts with baby red potatoes, and bacon. I had just roasted some chestnuts, and was snacking on them while I was cooking the Brussels sprouts and potatoes, when I started in on my last minute ideas… it hit me that the chestnuts might taste good with the Brussels sprouts and potatoes…and…what if I added just enough butter and chicken stock to make it a touch saucy? …and…what if I served it over the gnocchi that I had just made?

I did add some butter and chicken stock, and cooked it on low flame until it thickened. I didn’t add the chestnuts until the last minute; I didn’t want them to lose their texture. I wanted to be able to taste them in the sauce. I quickly cooked up some gnocchi, so that I could do a quick taste test.

Of course, I decided it needed cheese, so I sprinkled ricotta salata (a heavy sprinkle, because I love it) over the Brussels sprouts and gnocchi. I took a taste, and I liked it, but I didn’t get that first “mmmm” factor. The creamy, soft nutty flavor of the cheese really worked well with the Brussels sprouts, potatoes, bacon, and chestnuts, but I wasn’t in love. It’s funny, because I thought I was so creative when I added the chestnuts to the mix.  I truly thought that they were going to be the star of the show…but in all honesty…they really weren’t. They were good. They belonged. But they weren’t the star.

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After another bite or two, it hit me…fresh lemon….and I thought, “Why not?”… I’m so glad I’m open to my own ideas, and not one to reject them immediately…and I’m so glad that I always keep a lemon or two in the fridge… because I have to tell you…

A squeeze of fresh lemon over the entire dish made it shine.
Like the heavens opened up with beams of light and a choir of angels singing…
Ok, maybe I exaggerate. A lot.
But the lemon… I totally did not see that coming. It knocked me right out of my seat.

Don’t forget, I love a million levels of flavor going on in my mouth…and this…what seemed to be a boring little dish…suddenly became exciting!

I can’t even begin to tell you what the lemon did for the potatoes.  They were a little lost in the crowd until the lemon showed up…and then wow, did they show up. Those little starchy chunks of goodness just popped!

The Brussels sprouts with the lemon brought an unbelievable fresh, citrusy, excellence to the dish…the chestnuts with the lemon…so…SO crazy good…and of course the gnocchi with the lemon.. I mean, who doesn’t like lemon with their gnocchi? Not this girl.

Just like the movies… a surprise ending.  You gotta love it..

Life is Good.  Life is Lemony Good.

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Lemony Brussels Sprouts, Potatoes, and Chestnuts over Gnocchi
(Serves 4)

The Sauce
20-25 Brussels sprouts, cleaned and quartered
10-15 baby red potatoes, cleaned and quartered
15 to 20 chestnuts (more than you need, but just in case a couple are no good to eat)
½ pound bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken stock
¼ cup butter
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 lemon, cut into sixths

Prepare the chestnuts per the instructions below.  Eat a couple to make sure they’re properly cooked.  Eat one more…yum….Then roughly chop the rest.  Set aside.

In a large frying pan, cook the bacon until it’s crisp over medium heat.  Drain on a paper towel lined plate, and set aside.  Remove all but two tablespoons of the bacon grease from the pan, and add the onions. Sauté them until they’re golden. Add the garlic and sauté for a couple minutes more. Add the potatoes and Brussels sprouts, and cook them until they’re browned and tender, stirring occasionally.

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Add the chicken stock and butter to the Brussels sprouts and potato mixture, simmer on low heat until it has reduced, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir the chestnuts into the Brussels sprouts sauce, and cook until they’re just heated through. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper.

Serve over cooked gnocchi.  Sprinkle with bacon and freshly grated ricotta salata.  Generously squeeze a lemon slice over the whole dish…and Enjoy!

Chestnuts
Preheat oven to 450 degrees

I think the hardest part of roasting a chestnut is slicing into it.  You should really use a sharp knife to slice one side of the chestnut, just deep enough to cut the shell. Make sure you’re cutting it on a board, and not holding the chestnut in your hand!!

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Place the chestnuts on a cookie sheet, and place in the oven.  Bake for about 45 minutes.  Right before you remove them from the oven, dampen a towel under hot water.  Remove the chestnuts from the oven, and immediately wrap in the damp towel for about 15 minutes.  Most of your chestnuts will peel easily.  Don’t get too discouraged if they all don’t peel easily…some of them will take a little bit more work than others, but they’re totally worth it! You will definitely want to eat a few before they go into the sauce…

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