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Penne with Grilled Chicken in a Garlic Olive Oil Sauce

November 9, 2011

Pasta is something my husband and I love to make for dinner.  It’s quick, simple, easy, and we usually have all the ingredients on hand, so it doesn’t require having to make a trip to the grocery store to make dinner.  After having grown tired of having angel hair pasta with bolognese, we wanted to try something new.

That something new turned out to be penne pasta with grilled chicken and garlic olive oil sauce.  We love it so much we tend to make this more than we make angel hair with bolognese.  Don’t be intimidated with the name of the dish, it’s really quite simple to make.  And if you’re a huge fan of garlic, the way my husband and I are, you’ll fall in love with this dish too.

The stars of the dish are: penne pasta, chicken breast, basil, olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.  You can also spice up the dish with some lemon juice and toasted pine nuts.

Start with the chicken breast.  I usually slice the chicken breast in half lengthwise, just so the pieces are thinner and easier to grill and cook faster.  Once the chicken is cut, season it with salt and pepper.

Then, it’s all about creating a marinade for the chicken.  Since this is an Italian dish, I try stick to a balsamic vinaigrette.  This means mixing together balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil together with a little bit of dijon mustard to help bind the vinaigrette.  If I’m going to be using lemon juice in the pasta, then I’ll mirror that same flavor with some lemon juice in the vinaigrette.  Let the chicken chill in the marinade for at least 20-30 minutes.  Longer would be better, but really, who’s that organized?

While the chicken is chilling, start boiling water for the penne.  Once the water is boiled, remember to add salt to the water before dropping the penne in.

Next, it’s all about the sauce.  A garlic olive oil sauce is exactly what its name implies, garlic and olive oil.  You create a sauce for your pasta to swim in with just those 2 simple ingredients.  The amount of garlic you add is entirely up to you.  As I said, my husband and I love garlic, so we add a lot of garlic to our sauce.  Just take a handful of cloves and mince them really well, or put the garlic through a garlic press to preserve all the garlic juices.

Take a good amount of olive oil, about a cup or so.  You’ll need to judge by how saucy you want your dish to be.  Drop the olive oil into a deep skillet over medium-high heat.  When the olive oil begins to heat up, drop your minced garlic right into the oil.  If need be, turn down the temperature.  Basically, you want to cook the oil and garlic together gently.  You want the garlic flavor and garlic oils to infuse their flavor into the olive oil to make an intense and fragrant sauce for your pasta.  But you need to be careful not to burn or brown the garlic.  We’re not making garlic chips here.

While you’re trying to infuse garlic flavor into your olive oil, grill your chicken on a different burner.  Take your chicken out of its marinade and throw it on the grill.  Cook the chicken thoroughly.  Once cooked, cut your chicken up into bite-sized pieces.

When you’re ready with the garlic and olive oil sauce, its time to drop your grilled chicken pieces directly into the sauce.  Remember, you’re not cooking the chicken here.  It should already be fully cooked.  You’re just tossing it, or coating it in your garlic olive oil sauce.

Next comes the penne pasta.  Drop your penne directly into the skillet with the garlic olive oil sauce and chicken.  Make sure to mix it thoroughly so that the penne soaks up all the wonderful flavors.  If you’re going to use toasted pine nuts in your dish, now would be the time to add them as well.

The next to last ingredient to add is to fresh tomato chunks.  Take one large tomato, or two Roma tomatoes, and cut them into bite sized cubes.  For me, the more fresh tomatoes, the better.  For my husband, not so much; if he could, he would do without the tomatoes.  When you cut the tomatoes, keep them about the same size as the grilled chicken pieces.  Again, we’re just coating the tomatoes in sauce.  Don’t let the fresh tomatoes cook too long or else they will cook down to nothing.

At this point, turn off the heat to the skillet.  Finely chop up some fresh basil.  If it were my husband, he would say chop up LOTS of fresh basil.  Add half the basil directly into the pasta and mix it will.  The remainder of the fresh basil should be reserved for garnishing your dish once you’re about to eat.  At this point, taste your dish.  Make sure you have the right amount of flavor, or add more salt and pepper if you need to.  If you’re going to add a bright splash of fresh flavor to your pasta, add some lemon juice now.

Plate up individual servings of your pasta dish.  Garnish the dish with fresh chopped basil.  And then top it with shredded parmesan cheese as desired.

You now have an absolutely delicious, fresh, pasta dish with grilled chicken mixed in a garlic olive oil sauce.  This dish is bursting with flavor and easy to make.  You’ll be hooked on this.  My husband and I have become hooked on it.

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