Christmas is just three days away, and the anticipation is building for me this year in a way that hasn’t happened since I was a child. Eowyn is 20 months old right now, so this is really the first Christmas that she is even aware of what’s going on.

Every morning, we have a routine of coming into the living room to watch cartoons for a few minutes give her some time to wake up before I feed her breakfast, change her diaper, etc. Arriving at our cozy space on the couch requires walking past the Christmas tree, and without fail, each day she ensures the lights have been turned on. With her index finger pointing toward its branches, Eowyn asks, “Tee? Tee?”, until they are illuminated. And then, just as predictably, she says, “Wooow. Wooow.”, with a look of innocent wonder on her face. The amount of cuteness in these moments is enough to make the work of putting up the tree completely worth it.

To my surprise, she hasn’t tried tampering with the presents under the tree, and not a single ornament has been damaged or misplaced. I, on the other hand, don’t have nearly as much self control and may or may not have broken down and given her one of her presents early the other day. The amount of pleasure that I’ve gotten out of selecting, gathering, and preparing her gifts has taken me totally by surprise. It’s such a joy to be a blessing to her, and I am eagerly looking forward to watching her to open the rest of her gifts on Christmas day!

In the spirit of the holiday, I’d like to share with you a colorful and festive recipe that will have everyone in your home coming back for seconds. I mentioned in my last post that I’m keeping it simple this week when it comes to our nightly dinners, and this all-in-one meal fits the bill perfectly. It takes all of 15 minutes to make, but the taste is so divine, I don’t think anyone around here has suspected how little work actually went into it.

This “pesto pasta” as I sometimes call it has a foundation of nutritious whole wheat rotini to which precooked chicken sausage and quick cooking tomatoes are added. Basil pesto and Parmesan cheese provide a strong nutty flavor that is balanced by the addition of heavy cream. The acidity of the tomatoes and lemon helps cut through the richness of the cream, allowing the dish to be indulgent yet light.

Pesto Rotini with Chicken Sausage and Tomatoes

Makes: about 5 servings

Pesto Rotini with Chicken Sausage and Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces whole wheat rotini pasta
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
  • 12 ounces precooked chicken sausage, sliced
  • 1 10-ounce package grape tomatoes (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup prepared basil pesto
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Bring about 3 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Pour in the pasta and a dash of salt and cook for 8 minutes or until the pasta is al dente. Drain the pasta but do not rinse it.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, heat a skillet over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil and add the sausage. Cook until the sausage is golden brown and heated through, about 5 minutes.
  3. Remove the sausage from the pan and set aside. Add the grape tomatoes to the skillet, drizzling additional olive oil if needed to prevent sticking, and cook for about 3 minutes. You want the tomatoes to get a little bit of color on them, but the goal isn’t to cook them all the way through. Cooking them only partially gives them warmth and depth of flavor, but it also allows them to add a burst of freshness to the dish.
  4. Return the drained pasta to the pot in which it was originally cooked. Add the chicken sausage, pesto, heavy cream, Parmesan cheese, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Give it a good stir to combine all the ingredients, and then gently fold in the tomatoes. Cook over medium low heat just until heated through.
http://www.pepperlynn.com/2011/12/pesto-rotini-with-chicken-sausage-and-tomatoes/

Tips and Tidbits

  • In this recipe, I use rotini because it is convenient for me, but nearly any other type of pasta can be substituted in. Use whatever floats your boat.
  • Chicken sausage seems to come in about a million different varieties these days. Choose whatever flavor sounds good to you. Sundried Tomato, Italian, and Spinach and Feta varieties would all be a delicious complement to the pesto.
  • Tomatoes are a fun way to make this dish reflect the colors of the season, but sautéed mushrooms or zucchini would work just as well.
  • Nothing beats the bright acidity of freshly squeezed lemon juice, so I urge you to resist the temptation to use the bottled stuff. It used to be that I rarely purchased lemons, but in recent months, they have started to become a standard item on my shopping list, much like onions and garlic. It’s been so convenient to have them on hand!
  • Premade, jarred pesto works beautifully in this dish, but since it tends to be pricey, making my own has turned out to be a good alternative. Food Network has a tasty version that freezes well. And I’ll share with you an extra moneysaving tip I learned from my friend, Lauren: substitute almonds for the pine nuts. They are much cheaper but the taste is still excellent.

ENJOY!

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