Well, this recipe was kind of a disappointment in my life. I love to cook, but I am not the best at just making up new dishes; everything I make is at least inspired by someone else's recipe, then tailored to fit our family's tastes. I am not like Rachel Ray, who draws brilliant recipes from thin air--"I love pizza and I love chicken parmesan, so I combined them to make my Pizz-O Parmesan! Yum-O!!!" (I jest, but I may really try that sometime...)
So when I created this dish, I thought I really had something. Visions of The Next Food Network Star danced through my head. I pictured myself with a TV show, showing home cooks everywhere how to take a pinch of this and that and turn it into a feast. I don't remember exactly how my balloon of hopes was deflated, but I was searching for another recipe online--which recipe escapes me--snooped around a bit more, and discovered that I had unwittingly concocted a dish that already existed. Sure, it tasted wonderful, but it wasn't mine. And it was such an established dish that it had its own name, and it was Italian, for pete's sake.
I had already posted it on my Monday Menu Plan as "Chicken Pasta Toss with garlic, olive oil, parmesan, and fresh basil" (a cumbersome name, indeed), but that was before I knew it already had a title, Aglio e Olio (Garlic and Oil). Despite my disappointment, I made the dish, adding a few elements that don't appear in the original recipe--basil and chicken and parmesan cheese--and omitting one ingredient--red pepper flakes--that I didn't think the kiddies would go for. In the end, I suppose that it is different enough to perhaps merit its own name, but it is, at its essence, Aglio e Olio. With chicken.
It's so easy, it's ridiculous, and Abe thought it was the best thing ever. I wrote a lot of instructions for you, but at the core, it's amazingly simple, so don't be scared off by the fact that there are lots and lots of words following the list of ingredients. And hey, I put the really side-note kind of stuff in parentheses, so you can skip those altogether, if you'd like.
Take that, Rachel Ray. And Giada--I'm coming for you next.
"Kind Of" Aglio e Olio
1 lb. spaghetti, uncooked
1/4 c. olive oil plus 1 Tbsp.
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced (increase if you LOVE garlic)
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. basil, cut finely
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to uniform thickness
First, bring a giant pot of water to a boil--this will happen much faster if you cover the pot with a lid. When the water has come to a boil, add a generous handful of salt to the water, then add the pasta. Cook to your preference--I like it really al dente, but do whatever floats your boat.
While the pasta water is heating, heat 1 Tbsp. of the oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Allow this to warm up for about 30 seconds, then add the chicken to the skillet. When the white creeps up the side of the chicken breasts, it's time to flip--this should take just a few minutes. After flipping, let the chicken cook for another 2 or 3 minutes or so, then remove chicken to a plate or cutting board to allow it to rest. (Salt and pepper it at this point; salt has a tendency to draw moisture out of the meat, releasing this moisture into the pan and causing the chicken to steam instead of fry--thus preventing the chicken from getting a nice color to it. Also, pepper can scorch, too, so, you know, just hold off, and your chicken will be beautifully golden and juicy, and the residual heat will allow the chicken to absorb the flavors of the salt and pepper.)
In the same skillet, add the remaining olive oil and the garlic. Bump the heat down to medium or medium low (scorched garlic is ruined garlic, and turns bitter and awful. All you want to do is take some of the rawness out of the garlic and infuse the oil with its flavor.) Stirring frequently, wait for the garlic to get just a little bit golden. This will only take a few minutes.
Add the basil, and stir the whole shebang over that medium heat for just a minute or so, then turn off the heat.
Drain the pasta. Do not rinse. Dump the pasta into a large bowl and dump the olive oil mixture over top. Using tongs, turn to coat. Then sprinkle on the parmesan, and turn to coat again, until all of the pasta is covered with the cheese and the basil is evenly distributed.
As for that chicken: that's up to you. I sliced it up and added it right into the pasta mix, but you could also just slice it on top or serve it alongside. If you anticipate serving it alongside, you may want to marinate it in a little Italian dressing beforehand to boost the flavor a bit, since it won't be necessarily mingling with the essences of basil and garlic.