Recipe: Seared Chicken and Angel Hair Pasta in a Lemon-Pistachio Cream Sauce

My mom and I spent most of the morning and early afternoon in our pantry, sifting through piles of candies and granola bars, rearranging and fitting new appliances (like my pasta maker and her rice steamer) onto shelves, and organizing just about everything else. Being surrounded by food of course got me thinking about what to make for dinner…we have tons of cans of tomatoes, some nice marinades, and an assortment of pastas, but I was at a loss when it came to deciding what to make. My mom kept pushing lemon-flavored dishes at me—”How about chicken in a nice lemon sauce?…didn’t you make something with lemon once? Some sort of sauce? Maybe we could have something like chicken piccata.” I sat down at the counter, idly flipping through a Betty Crocker best chicken recipes cookbook while she searched for a dinner recipe she could make for an event she’s hosting this Sunday, and I came across a recipe for chicken with pistachios and lemon wedges. I loved the idea of combining salty pistachios (we have two huge bags of them in the pantry) with tart lemon, and I knew I could create my own unique dish to utilize these ingredients. I blended together toasted pistachios, parsley, garlic, and some seasonings to create the flavoring for my cream sauce and used leftover half-and-half to create the sauce base, then tossed the finished sauce with angel hair pasta. Chicken seasoned with dried lemon peel, salt, and pepper, cooked in butter, olive oil, and lemon juice completed the dish. This dish is very easy to make and the ingredients work so well together.

Serves: 4
Prep. time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Special equipment: Food processor

Ingredients

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to approx. 1/2 inch thickness, cut in half
  • 8-12 oz. angel hair pasta, or other long, thin pasta
  • Approx. 1 pint half-and-half or heavy cream (I only had about a 1/2 pint of half-and-half, which was not quite enough)
  • Cornstarch-and-water mixture, as needed (to thicken the sauce, if necessary)
  • 1/3 cup shelled pistachios, toasted*
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2-4 tbsp. Italian flat-leaf parsley (I had about 1/4 of a bunch of parsley left and just threw in all the leaves from that)
  • Approx. 1 tbsp. fresh lemon zest
  • Approx. 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Dried lemon peel, to taste
  • Butter, as needed
  • Olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of a pan)
*To toast the pistachios, preheat the oven to 350*F. Make sure the shells are removed, then place them on a small baking sheet and heat in the oven for 5-10 minutes, until lightly fragrant and lightly golden-brown.


Directions
In a medium pot, bring lightly salted water to a boil, then add the pasta and cook according to package instructions (about 4-7 minutes). Once done, drain the pasta and return it to the pot, then add a little butter to it to keep it from sticking. In the meantime, heat 1 tbsp. butter, 1 tbsp. lemon juice, and a little olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat. Add the chicken, seasoned with salt, pepper, and dried lemon peel (and lemon pepper if you happen to have it), to the pan, and cook until it’s no longer pink in the middle (about 10-15 minutes). Once you get the chicken in the pan, combine the pistachios, garlic, parsley, 1 tbsp. lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, and pepper in the food processor and pulse to blend, doing so until the pistachios are broken into small pieces (don’t pulverize them though!). In a large pan, add 1-2 tbsp. butter and melt over medium heat. Add the pistachio mixture to the pan and cook for a few minutes until lightly fragrant. Slowly pour in the half-and-half, stirring constantly as you add it to the pan. Stir around the mixture and add a little more butter if desired, allowing the ingredients to blend. Continue to cook over medium heat, reducing the heat when the chicken gets close to being done. If the sauce seems thin, add a little cornstarch-and-water mix to the sauce (to be honest, I added a little too much, which made the sauce a little too thick, so only add a little at a time and allow it a few minutes to work before you add more if needed). Toss the cooked pasta with the finished sauce and top with chicken and some coarsely chopped pistachios.
The salty, nutty pistachios blend perfectly with the lemon flavors from both zest and juice, and they add a beautiful pop of green to the dish. Simple seasoning, with a splash of lemon, boosts the flavor of the chicken and completes the dish. 
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