Pasta with pea pesto and simple salt and pepper chicken

Super simple, and doable even without a food processor, this pesto comes together with ingredients you're likely to have on-hand. Pair it with a quick chicken dish or tiny meatballs.

Laura Edwins/The Christian Science Monitor
Use fresh or frozen peas for this pesto, and a pasta of your choice.

So, if you're into food blogs you've probably come across Smitten Kitchen. I am a huge fan. I follow the blog religiously, read every post, and even own the Smitten Kitchen cookbook

I've made Smitten Kitchen recipes for birthdays, potlucks, picnics, parties, and every day dinners. And what I've learned is not every Smitten Kitchen recipe is created equally. While author Deb Perelman strives to make the cooking process simple, using as few dishes as possible and streamlined ingredients, every so often she jumps the tracks and veers into really complicated territory. Hand-made ravioli? Homemade bagels? Sorry, not happening.

Now, a simple pasta topped with a pea pesto when I already have a huge bag of frozen peas in my freezer? That I can do! The one downside? I don't own a food processor (highly recommended when making pesto) or even a blender. Much like the kitchen Smitten Kitchen I was inspired by (a tiny New York number) my kitchen has zero counter space and little storage.

So what to do without a food processor? I used my favorite go-to kitchen tool, my good old hand mixer. Yes, took a little longer, and yes, my "pesto" was not as smooth as it would have been with a food processor, but it was definitely doable, and still delicious. And I'm betting there are others out there like me, cooking in tiny ill-stocked kitchens, sighing in frustration whenever an amazing recipe comes along that requires an expensive appliance they don't own. It may give your arm a workout, but this particular pesto is within reach.

I paired my pasta with an easy salt-and-pepper chicken, thrown together with ingredients I had on-hand. I have a feeling tiny meatballs would really make this dish pop, and if you want to keep it 100 percent Smitten Kitchen-themed, try the meatballs from this dish

Pasta with pea pesto
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Serves 4 

 2 cups fresh or frozen peas

1 small garlic clove, minced (or if using hand mixer 1 tablespoon garlic powder)

2 tablespoons unsalted nuts (original recipe calls for pine nuts, I used cashews) 

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more for pasta water

1/3 cup olive oil

One package dried linguine, spaghetti, or fettuccine (I used linguine)

Garnish (optional): thinly slivered basil or mint leaves

1. Fill large pot half full of water, salt well, and bring to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Reserve about two cups of pasta water to use later with pesto. Drain pasta, set aside. Keep your pasta pot on the stove for later.

2. While pasta cooks, cook peas either on stovetop or in microwave for about 2 to 3 minutes, until tender. Drain, and let cool slightly. If using food processor set aside 1/2 cup peas. 

3. Whirl 1-1/2 cups peas in food processor or blender with garlic cloves, nuts, 1/3 cup Parmesan, and pinch of salt. Drizzle in olive oil and blend until smooth. (If using hander mixer beat all the peas, garlic powder, and pinch of salt on high speed, adding olive oil a bit at a time until mostly smooth, with only a few peas left whole. This will take about 5 minutes. Stir in Parmesan and nuts.)

NOTE: If adding a meat component to your dinner now's the time to prepare it. See below for my simple salt and pepper chicken.

4. With heat on medium-low, return pesto and reserved peas to pasta pot, add pasta, and mix to combine. Add splashes of pasta water as needed until pesto is smooth and coats all noodles. Add salt, black pepper, basil, mint, and extra Parmesan to taste. If finishing up a meat component turn heat to low while waiting. 

Simple salt and pepper chicken
Serves 3-4 

1 package boneless skinless chicken tenderloins, or breasts cut into thirds

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon pepper

2 garlic cloves finely diced

1 small shallot finely diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

handful of cherry tomatoes halved or quartered

1. About two hours before dinner, salt and pepper your chicken, rubbing the spices into the meat, cover and refrigerate. (You can do this even earlier if you like.)

2. About 15 or 20 minutes before dinner is ready, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Heat olive oil over medium heat on stove in oven-proof pan (I used my trusty cast-iron skillet). Brown garlic and shallot for about 3 minutes, then add cherry tomatoes and stir until they've released a lot of juices. Add pat of butter and stir to mix.

3. Brown chicken on both sides. For tenderloins, this goes quickly, about 3 minutes on each side. When chicken is brown, place whole pan in oven, and bake about 8 to 10 minutes, until chicken is no longer pink in the middle. Note: Your browning and baking times will vary depending on how thick and large your chicken pieces are.

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