A number of years ago I worked in a cafe in Surry Hills, called Lumiere. The kitchen was smaller than my bathroom, yet we churned out great food and made almost everything from scratch. This chicken and asparagus rocket pasta always featured during the months of spring, when asparagus was in season, and rocket was plentiful. The rocket adds it’s signature peppery taste to the pasta and the parmesan and lemon juice join together to balance that peppery taste and give the dish a sharp edge.
Making the rocket oil is simple. It’s similar to a pesto but cheaper to make as you leave out the pine-nuts, which can prove pricy. Lemon juice is essential in the oil as is salt. And as the lemon juice will oxidise the vibrant green colour of the rocket, it’s best to make it as close to serving time as possible. Or if you want to prepare the rocket oil ahead of time, leave the lemon juice out, and add it to the oil just before tossing through the hot pasta.
As asparagus is a spring time vegetable, only buy it when it’s in season to make sure you’re not buying a vegetable that’s been shipped from the other side of the world.
And two of the most important tips to live by when cooking pasta are: use a quality pasta – the cheapest is often the worst, and only ever cook it to al dente – this might mean standing over the pot and continually checking the done ness, but it will be worth it in the end as over-cooked pasta is horrible and must be avoided at all costs.
I often make this pasta dish without the chicken – frozen peas are good, use half a cup- these can be added with the asparagus and boiled for one minute,
or: half a punnet of cherry tomatoes – halved and lightly sautéed in extra virgin oil for 2 minutes before adding the white wine. Yum,yum!
Asparagus and rocket pasta with chicken and lemon
250g free range chicken breast, diced
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup white wine
1 bunch of asparagus, cut into 2cm lengths
1 bunch rocket, washed, picked and chopped
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated parmesan, plus extra for garnishing
1 1/2 cups wholemeal penne, or any other quality pasta
Place a medium pot of water on to boil. Place the chicken in a small bowl, add the zest of 1 lemon, 1 tsp olive oil, 1 grated clove of garlic, salt and pepper, set aside for 10 minutes. Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a large fry pan, add chicken, cook on a low-medium heat so as to not burn the garlic. Once chicken is almost cooked add white wine and simmer for 1 minute. Turn off the heat.
Meanwhile, cook pasta to al dente. One minute before draining pasta, add asparagus and boil for 1 minute then drain.
To make the rocket pesto (do this whilst pasta is cooking- it’s all about timing), place rocket, 1 grated clove garlic, juice of one lemon,parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, and extra virgin olive oil in a food processor, blitz till smooth.
Add the drained pasta and asparagus to the fry pan with chicken (off the heat), add rocket pesto, salt and pepper, toss or stir till well coated, divide between two bowls, garnish with extra parmesan cheese and eat immediately.