This pasta salad contains all the best things in the world. It was also utterly emotionally exhausting. During the making of it, I:
1) confronted the possibility that my cat is sick
2) lost my cat in my (300-sq-ft) apartment and was convinced he had gone somewhere to die.
He’s not dead, but a visit to the vet is definitely in the cards. (And he won’t take medicine—he’s aggressive and only eats one kind of dry food, so there’s no way to trick him—so I don’t really know what I’ll do if he’s sick. FREAKING OUT. SOMEONE HELP.)
I started out by preparing my one pound of chicken thighs—skin-in, bone-in. I did this because the happy chicken was too expensive unless I bought the most labor-intensive kind. I still have no idea how I made this edible; I tried to watch videos about how to remove the bone from chicken, but it just freaked me out more and wasn’t helpful. It was all, find the joint, and then put your knife in, and do something magical, and all of a sudden your chicken is perfect and cooked and already eaten.
I removed the skin, absolutely massacred the chicken trying to remove the bone, and scraped off whatever fat I could. (I can’t stand the texture of fat—like, CAN’T STAND, it makes me feel sick; it’s just a weird visceral thing—so it needed to go.) I was planning to cook it in some olive oil, but then my mom sent me another suggestion and I was so frazzled and upset, and the chicken looked so gross, that I just went with that one because it overwrote the other suggestion in my brain.
Also, I hadn’t eaten lunch. This might be related to all the freaking-out. I just kind of didn’t get around to it. I think I hear people telling me that this is not healthy. REALLY? NO SHIT.
So. The chicken—some larger pieces, some smaller pieces that had resulted from the de-fatting process—went into my biggish saucepan. I added a bunch of salt, pepper, and garlic powder—no measurements; just swish the bottles over the chicken for a while—and water to cover. I cooked it for probably about ten minutes, until it looked cooked and didn’t seem raw on the inside. (Sorry. I am so bad at chicken. Plus all the non-vegetarians who read this blog, namely my sisters and parents, already know how to cook chicken, so whatever.) I put it on a cutting board to cool, reserving the cooking liquid.
While this had all been going on, I was making my pesto. I had some in the freezer, but I didn’t think it would be enough. I had bought a bundle of basil from the supermarket; I plucked the leaves from the stems and salad-spun them. They were super gritty, so be careful. I don’t even know how that happens. I think they were dragged through sand at some point, for no clear reason. Like… they don’t grow in the ground. They shouldn’t have been that dirty. But whatever.
I added them—it was about two cups, packed, give or take a bit—to the food processor along with two cloves of garlic, aka one teaspoon of preminced garlic, and about half a cup of walnuts. (Pinenuts are traditional, and also crazy expensive.) I processed until my food processor began to get angry and refuse to process; then I started adding oil in through the holes at the top. I just added oil until I was more or less happy with the texture. See this recipe for a guideline, but I have no idea how much I added, honestly. Then I added about a quarter-cup of grated parmesan cheese and processed more.
So. Pesto was made; chicken was cooked. I shredded the now-cooled (sort of) chicken with my fingers and a fork, removing extra fat and nasty bits, and put them in a bowl to relax. I added water to the pot of chicken water and put it to a boil, for pasta.
I began to deal with the cherry tomatoes. I’ve found a trick that you should just put your cherry tomatoes between two Chinese food container lids and cut through the whole thing horizontally with a serrated knife, but that always results in (for me, at least) one tiny half and one enormous half. Like you’re just scalping your tomatoes. And these were weirdly shaped, so even after I did that I had to cut them again. But you can try it if you want.
Then I cubed a half-pound of mozzarella cheese (grocery store, not fresh, because that’s how I roll and because I always need to have a stockpile of that exact cheese for Emergency Baked Ziti) into very small, cute cubes.
Eventually the pasta water boiled. I cooked the pasta. (Too long, because that was around the time I lost Fitzpatrick and started to full-on panic. You may think this is funny, but it was fucking terrifying. I thought he was dead under a pile of plastic bags in my closet. It turned out he was in the cabinet under the sink.)
I mixed everything together once the pasta was done. I don’t know how much the chicken water contributed, but it’s really good. I just finished a giant bowl and I am probably going to have another giant bowl.
Pasta salad with awesome things in it
Adapted from The Parsley Thief
(I had the vague idea in my brain, but then I got nervous and needed validation in the form of a recipe. The Parsley Thief reassured me and provided some measurements. And also, her blog is very beautiful.)
1 lb. bone-in chicken thighs
Pesto (but I didn’t use all of what I made, so scale down if you want):
- ~ 2 cups basil leaves, packed
- 2 cloves garlic, or 1 tsp pre-minced garlic
- 1/2 c walnuts, pine nuts, or whatever you want (tip: store walnuts in the freezer, otherwise they will go rancid because of all the oil)
- 1/4 c parmesan (or more; I didn’t do more because I knew I would have more cheese in the pasta salad)
- Oil as needed
1 pint cherry/grape tomatoes
1/2 lb mozzarella cheese
~ 4 oz arugula (I added a lot more than she did; I love arugula and hate making a separate vegetable course)
1 lb pasta (I used whole-wheat rotini. Rotini rules)
Deal with your chicken in a way more appropriate than I did. Or just buy boneless chicken, but then the weight will be different and I won’t know what to say to you. Put in a pot with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Poach chicken for about ten minutes, or until it appears done. Cool, then shred or chop as desired. Don’t throw away the chickeny water!
Make your pesto: Put the basil, garlic, and walnuts in the food processor first. Process until it forms a thick paste, then add the parmesan cheese. Process again. Pour in oil while processing until it forms something you feel able to incorporate into your pasta.
Chop your tomatoes and cheese while the pasta is cooking in the chickeny water (plus extra water, probably).
Mix everything together (including the arugula). Yum.