It’s October 27 and it is still 28C during the day in Cyprus. I love it. And at the same time I am craving the cold. I can’t wait for a rain storm. The need to wear a sweater. I find myself longing for clouds – something I never thought possible after my 12 years in London. The longer I live in Cyprus, the more I find myself “adjusting” to the months and seasons at my own pace, irrelevant to the actual weather outside. It may still be 28C outside, but in my head it is nearly Halloween, and therefore “it must be cold”.
I find myself beginning to wear winter clothing such as jeans and sweaters despite the fact that I can still get sunburned during the day and tourists (rightly) still suntan on the beach. All of this craving for the cold also makes me want to start cooking hot foods, such as soups, turkey, pies, and hot pastas. Last Thursday I decided to make a pasta. It was a couple days before I was preparing for a 10 person dinner, and I wanted something effortless and tasty since I knew I would be in the kitchen the next couple of days making desserts and the main course. While the trusty souvlaki number is always on stand by for days like these, I just didn’t feel like take out. So I turned to one of my favourite DIY fast-food meals: chicken-basil-lemon pesto.
This is one of the best times of year to make this pasta in Cyprus because basil, lemon and cherry tomatoes are all in season at the same time. Also, if you want to enjoy the vegetarian version of this pasta, it’s simple to do – just don’t add the chicken. You can even prepare the basil pesto itself days ahead and store it in a jam jar with a layer of olive oil on top to prevent any oxygen from getting to the pesto which leads to it browning. The only thing you require to make this recipe is a food processor or a blender. Even if you do not have one of these items, you can still use a good ‘ol mortar and pestle.
And even if you do not have a mortar and pestle, you can finely chop the ingredients and use the back of the spoon, which was my preferred (and only) option during my university halls years. The pasta is something that is easy to make, but it is attractive and tasty enough that you can serve to guests with some garlic bread and/or nice salad. It’s a healthy way to enjoy pasta, and a very tasty one ideal with these Cypriot & in-season ingredients. Enjoy!
80 g (large handful) basil (finely chopped if you do not have a food processor or blender)
1 medium size chopped garlic clove
3 tbs grated parmigiano reggiano
50 g roasted pine nuts
1.5 tbs olive oil
2-3 tbs olive oil to cover the pesto (step 1 below)
6 large cherry tomatoes chopped into quarters
2 sliced chicken schnitzels (you can make your own schnitzel, but because this is my “DIY fast food”, I buy ready-to-cook chicken schnitzel)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried rosemary
350g dried fusilli pasta
juice of 1/2 small lemon
salt and pepper to taste
grated lemon zest, roasted pine nuts and parmigiano reggiano for garnish
1. Prepare the basil pesto. Place basil, garlic, parmigiano reggiano, olive oil, roasted pine nuts (not roasted is fine too) and salt & pepper to taste into a food processor or blender and blend until a smooth paste is formed. If you do not have a food processor or blender, then ensure ingredients are finely chopped, add to a bowl and mash together with the back of a spoon. Spoon the mixture into a jam jar or small bowl and pour a good layer of olive oil on top to cover the pesto.
2. Boil a pot of salted water and add pasta. Once the pasta has been on for five minutes begin to prepare the chicken.
3. Scoop 1.5 tbs of the olive oil covering the pesto into a large saucepan on medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the schnitzel, oregano and rosemary leaving each side to cook for about 2-3 minutes to ensure that each side is nicely browned. Once cooked (not well done, but the meat should be all white), add the tomatoes for 5 minutes on medium heat.
4. The pasta should be al dente by this point. Drain the pasta, rinse with cold water, drain again and then add the pasta to the saucepan with the chicken and tomato on medium heat. Add the pesto to the mixture and toss, ensuring that the ingredients are well covered with pesto. Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.
5. Serve immediately. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 lemon over the pasta and add some grated lemon zest for extra flavour. Add grated parmigiano reggiano to taste.