I just happened to run across an article on the web this week on the state of affairs in breathtaking Cinque Terre located in Italy’s northwestern Liguria region. I had read the reports last October as the region was deluged by torrential rain and mudslides that ultimately severely damaged two of the five picturesque hillside villages, Vernazza and Monterosso. Vernazza was buried under 13 feet of mud and remains under a state of emergency. Many of the hiking paths offering incredible views have been destroyed. My heart breaks for the people of this region. The Save Vernazza facebook page has called Vernazza the ‘little village that could’. I couldn’t agree more. Please head over to Facebook and ‘Like’ this page https://www.facebook.com/SaveVernazza if you are interested in updates on the region.
I first visited these breathtaking villages in one of my very first trips not only to Italy but abroad. I remember driving with my best travel buddy Joan down from Switzerland. It was the first time I had driven in Italy. Once through the long tunnel connecting Switzerland and Italy, we drove towards Genoa at speeds I had not previously traveled trying to keep pace with the cars flying by our little car. We quickly learned to stay out of the left lane unless we could match the dizzying speeds and we certainly had a blast trying. As we neared Cinque Terre, the hillsides became sharp hairpin turns and I, a manual transmission neophyte at the time, had to turn the reins over to Joan the expert who had been navigating the hills of Colorado all her life. She expertly guided us down into the town of Vernazza. This region is widely known for its Genoese basil grown throughout the terraced hillsides. How I vividly remember the sublime aroma of fresh basil wafting through the car as we made our way down into the village. We parked high above the main piazza and walked down the narrow main street. There is a favorite quote of mine – ‘Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away…..’ This was one of those moments – as the narrow street emerged onto the piazza, it became an idyllic array of homes painted in warm pastels snuggled along the hillside and tucked against the dazzling topaz sea. Our days were filled with hiking the hills and evenings sitting ‘a fuori’ in the piazza dining on homemade trofie, a local pasta dressed in the freshest pesto and drinking the crisp local white wine. Travel memories for a lifetime.
So last evening I made a Ligurian dish for dinner in honor of my little village – Sautéed Chicken with Pesto Linguini. This simple dish highlights the amazing fresh pesto of the region. I made my pesto from scratch last evening but given the current price of pine nuts (they have skyrocketed), you can substitute a good quality store bought pesto if you can find one. It will cut down on both cost and time. Enjoy!
Sautéed Chicken with Pesto Linguini
4 chicken breasts
Flour for dredging
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup low sodium chicken stock
1 pound of linguini
Homemade pesto (recipe below) or about 1 cup of good quality prepared pesto
Salt and freshly ground pepper
For the pesto:
2 cups basil leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 cloves of garlic
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese (or increase Parmigiano to 3/4 cup if you’d prefer)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 large saute pan for the chicken, 1 large pot for the pasta
1. Make the pesto: Put the basil, pine nuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until the mixture is coarsely chopped. With a spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add in the oil slowly and pulse until incorporated. Transfer to a bowl. Blend in the cheese. If too dry, feel free to add in additional oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
2. Trim the chicken breasts. If very thick, slice in half lengthwise to create two thin cutlets. Dredge the chicken in the flour.
3. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium high heat until melted. Add in the chicken and sauté until browned on each side and almost cooked through – about 3 – 5 minutes per side. (And leave them alone until you flip them – let them develop a nice caramelization. If you keep playing with them, they won’t brown.) Place chicken on a plate and set aside.
4. Add the white wine to the pan and simmer for a few minutes to deglaze. Lower the heat. Add in the stock and simmer for a few minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Return the chicken and any juices to the pan and allow to simmer until cooked through.
5. Meanwhile, bring salted water to boil in a large pasta pot. Add pasta and cook according to package directions until ‘al dente’. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain pasta.
6. Return pasta to the pot in which it was cooked. Remove chicken from the sauté pan to a plate. Pour the sauce from the sautéed chicken over the pasta. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pesto and add the remaining to the pasta. Stir to incorporate. If dry, add in as much pasta water as needed.
7. Arrange the pasta on a warmed serving plate. Arrange the chicken over the pasta and top with the reserved pesto.
8. Serve and enjoy!