A few clever additions boost the health factor of this pasta dinner without sacrificing flavor. If you’d rather not make your own pesto, feel free to substitute about ¾-cup of the prepared kind.
Regan Burns Cafiso
|1/4 cup blanched, slivered almonds||1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil|
|1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus extra for garnish||1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs|
|1 clove small garlic, chopped||2 tablespoons milk|
|1 teaspoon salt||3/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces|
|Freshly ground black pepper||2 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped|
|2 packed cups spinach leaves, washed well and spun dry||1 pint cherry tomatoes|
|1 packed cup basil leaves, washed well and spun dry||12 ounces whole-wheat penne|
In a food processor, pulse almonds, cheese, garlic, salt (1/2 teaspoon), and a pinch of pepper until uniform. Add spinach and basil and continue pulsing until chopped. With machine running, slowly add ½ cup olive oil, scraping down sides of machine if necessary. Transfer pesto to a small covered container and refrigerate while you prepare the meatballs.
Wash and dry food processor bowl. Place panko in a large mixing bowl and cover with milk. Place chicken and basil in food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped (do not overprocess -- mixture will not be uniform.) Transfer chicken to bowl containing panko. Add ½ teaspoon salt and a pinch of black pepper; mix well. Roll mixture into 1-inch balls.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a large nonstick or cast-iron skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium. Add meatballs and cook, turning to brown all sides, until they are no longer pink in the center, about 8 to 10 minutes total. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate.
If necessary, pour off all but 1 tablespoon excess oil from pan and add cherry tomatoes. Cook until they are blistered and soft, about 4 minutes. Cook pasta according to package directions, reserving about 1 cup of pasta water. Drain pasta and return to pot over low heat. Add reserved pesto, meatballs, and cherry tomatoes, mixing well. Add enough reserved pasta water to reach desired sauce consistency. Serve immediately with a few parmesan cheese shavings.
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