So in Sunday's paper there's a huge ad for Macaroni Grill, and they're promoting this Pollo Limone Rustica for only $9.99. Sounds lovely, but there's now way I'm waiting 40 mintues and dropping an eventual $40 to eat mediocre bread and overpriced pasta. As I read the description, I realize that I have almost everthing in the house to make this myself. Here's the description:
"Tender grilled chicken and imported penne pasta sauteed in a lemon basil sauce with fresh spinach and roasted red peppers. Finished with fresh lemon zest and baked until golden."
Oh dear. I have a few problems with this dish.
First of all, Macaroni Grill people, what is so "rustic" about boneless, skinless chicken breasts? I know, a lot of people get really freaked out with meat that actually has the bones in it, but get over it people. It's meat! Alright, alright, I'll use boneless chicken thighs, which are cheaper and more flavorful than breasts.
In addition, I'll bet these boneless, skinless breasts are pre-grilled with generic seasonings and then added to the sauce with the pasta. I'm going to brown the thighs and finish cooking them right in the sauce.
Second, "imported penne"? Yawn. Name one person that could tell the difference in a side-by-side taste test. Imported cheese? Lovely. Imported pasta? I just can't get excited about it.
The lemon basil sauce sounds good. I wonder if it's a cream-based sauce. Well, I have some cream, so it is now!
Third, "finished with lemon zest and baked until golden". Why would you want to bake a topping of lemon zest? Isn't the whole point of lemon zest to impart some fresh flavors at the last minute? Don't bake the zest, for heavens sake! For that matter, don't bake it at all. It'll make the pasta dry and chewy, and I hate that.
I even have a jar of roasted red peppers. I didn't roast them myself, but something tells me neither did the fine folks at Macaroni Grill. I also have a bag of rapidly-blackening basil, so time is of the essence. Now that I've used up my yearly allotment of exclamation points I realize it's time to get down to business.
The recipe is based roughly on Emeril's Lemon Garlic Chicken Thighs but altered to accommodate my tastes and the restaurant's ingredients. In short, it turned out great, it was not that expensive to make, and it served 7-8 people. The sauce was tangy and creamy without being too rich, and the chicken was tender and flavorful. Eat that, Macaroni Grill!
Chicken Thighs with Lemon Basil Cream Sauce and Linguine
5-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
salt and pepper to season chicken
2/3 c. flour (for dredging)
1/4 c. olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
pinch of red pepper flakes (or more if you like it spicy)
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 to 2 c. chicken broth (good quality, low sodium)
2 lemons, zested and juiced (you should have about 1/2 c. lemon juice)
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
1 roasted red pepper, diced
1/2 c. (or so) cream
1 c. fresh chopped basil
handful fresh baby spinach (I'm going to say this is optional, because I forgot to put it in and it was still good.)
1 lb pasta (I used linguine but you could use whatever you have) Note: I cooked all of the pasta but only used about 2/3 of the noodles in the dish. You would be safe cooking only 10 oz. of pasta.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat the 1/4 c. olive oil in a large saute pan. Season the chicken thighs and dredge in flour. When oil is hot (but before it starts smoking), brown thighs for a few minutes on each side. While thighs are browning, prepare onions and garlic.
Remove thighs to a plate and saute onions, garlic, pinch of red pepper flakes and 1/2 t. salt until tender, about 3-4 minutes. While onions are cooking, zest and juice lemons. Set zest aside. Add the lemon juice and broth and stir to combine. Return thighs to the pan, cover with lid, and place in oven for about 20 minutes. (Alternatively, cook at a light simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.)
Remove pan from oven, uncover, and simmer lightly an additional 15 minutes. The flour from the chicken thighs should slightly thicken the sauce.
While chicken is cooking, prepare pasta according to package instructions.
Remove thighs to a cutting board. Add cream, chopped basil, spinach, and red peppers to sauce whisking to incorporate. Taste for seasoning and add water, cream, or broth as necessary.
Cut thighs into strips and return to pan. Add cooked pasta, turning to coat in sauce. (You will likely not use the entire 1 lb of pasta.) If the sauce had thickened too much, add some pasta water. Toss in lemon zest and fresh basil, and serve.