Giada’s Chicken Penne with Almond Sauce

With shows like Worst Cooks in America and What Would Brian Boitano Make, Food Network has pretty much dropped off the radar for me.  I did, however, happen to catch an episode of Giada at Home last Saturday (episode “Play Date”) and knew I wanted to try her Penne in Almond Sauce.  It took me less than an hour to make this recipe (the majority of this time was spent roasting the chicken breasts), so it would be a great one to try on a weeknight when you don’t have hours to spend making dinner!  There are no strong or overpowering flavors in this dish, so this is sure to be a winner with even the pickiest eaters in your house!   (If you are ambitious like my co-blogger, you can make your own pasta, but I stuck with the store-bought stuff!!)

Penne in Almond Sauce
1 pound penne pasta
2 cups (9 ounces) blanched, slivered almonds
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (**I used homemade chicken stock)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 rotisserie chicken breasts, skinned, boned and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 cups) (**I roasted my own boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the oven)
1 cup frozen peas
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 large lemon, zested (**I used the zest of 2 large lemons)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups grated Parmesan (**I grated my own parmesan – it melts better than the bagged shredded parmesan)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Procedure (adapted from Giada’s directions)

If using rotisserie chicken breasts, cut into cubes and set aside. I roasted 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts in a 375 degree F oven (season with salt, pepper, and drizzle of olive oil) until they reached 165 degrees internally. Dice or cut into strips, and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water.

Meanwhile, in a blender, combine the almonds, chicken stock, olive oil, and garlic. Blend until the mixture is smooth (I let mine blend for about 2-3 minutes). Pour the mixture into a large skillet and turn the heat on to medium.

Bring the mixture to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the peas, cream and lemon zest. Cook, stirring frequently for another 3-4 minutes, then add the chicken (mixture will be thick).

Add the pasta, cheese, and fresh basil leaves (reserving a few for garnish) to the sauce. Toss the ingredients together, adding the reserved pasta water, if desired, to loosen the sauce. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and serve.

I garnished with chiffonade basil leaves (cut into thin strips), some lemon zest, and freshly grated parmesan cheese.

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