You can vary the ingredients for the pasta to suit your tastes. We've tried a number of combinations. Sometimes we use artichoke hearts, olives and fresh tomatoes. We have also used roasted red peppers, olives and feta, You can use any combo of ingredients that suit your tastes, or ingredients that you have on hand. Remember, it is the smoked chicken that is the BIG STAR here.
It's easy to smoke your own chicken. I use a Cameron's Stovetop Smoker, available through their website www.cameronscookware.com or through Amazon.com. You can choose your own favorite wood chips to use and it's been fun trying different ones. I used hickory chips for this recipe. We have also tried alder, oak and sometimes we add a bit of mesquite. I find that mesquite is often too intense to use alone, it can taste somewhat bitter, but it's nice to add a few mesquite chips along with another wood chip flavor.
So, as you read this recipe you may think that this is a lot of work. True,... this is not a quick recipe to make, but the chicken makes it SO worth the time it takes. I usually make a double batch of the smoked chicken and have the leftovers cold on a salad for lunch. Delicious!
Smoked Chicken, Bacon and Spinach Pasta - Serves Four
1 package fresh chicken tenderloins
1/2 cup bottled Italian dressing
3 or 4 cloves garlic
1/2 pound linguine pasta (farfalle is also good)
1/2 pound fresh baby spinach
5 or 6 slices of bacon
3 slices white onion
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 tbs. olive oil
1 tbs. grated parmesan
a little chicken broth
a little white wine
fresh grated parmesan for garnish
chopped green onion for garnish
4 lime wedges
OK, here we go. I prepare the chicken early in the day. I wash and pat dry the tenderloins.
And cut out the tendon, or whatever that thing is...
The next step is to marinate the tenderloins in a zip-lock bag with one of the garlic cloves, minced or pressed, and 1/2 cup bottled Italian dressing. Refrigerate for about 4 hours.
When ready to cook the chicken, I turn on the grill to high heat. While the grill heats, prepare the smoker by lining the pan with foil. I also cover the tray with foil. Clean-up is much easier if you do this step. Add about 1 cup of wood chips and 1/2 cup of water to the bottom of the pan.
Then place the tray and rack on top of the chips.
Place the smoker on the heat source. Our grill has a burner on the side and I find that this works perfectly for me. I know, the smoker is called a stovetop smoker, but trust me, you do not want to use this thing indoors. I have also used an inexpensive hotplate outdoors when I did not have a burner on the grill. Turn the heat on high in order to get the wood chips smoking. Once that happens, turn the heat down to low.
Now, grill the chicken at high heat, just long enough to make nice grill lines on the meat, usually about two minutes on my grill. Turn and grill the other side until the meat no longer looks pink. Don't worry about grill lines here, you just want to make sure that it's not pink. You want your tenderloins to be a smidge underdone.
Next, place the grilled chicken on the tray of the smoker, taking care to leave a bit of space between each piece. Then close the lid and smoke for about four minutes. The temptation is to open the lid to see just how much smoke you have going, but try to resist. After the four minutes are up, turn off the burner and let the meat sit in the smoke without heat for an additional six minutes. It's still smoking in there, I guarantee it, but by turning off the heat earlier you are less likely to have dry chicken. But really, folks, smoked chicken is good even when it's on the dry side.
Remove the chicken from the smoker to a plate. Cover with foil and set aside.
Now, I get my ingredients together for the pasta part of this recipe. Boil water for the linguine, add a bit of salt if that's how you like it. Slice the bacon into small pieces and cook in a large saute pan until lightly browned.
Drain on paper towels and set aside. I pour off nearly all of the bacon grease, leaving just a tiny bit in the pan for sauteing the spinach.
I take the stems off of the spinach leaves and cut the onion into pieces. My photo does not show it so well, but you need a MOUNTAIN of spinach. It cooks down to nearly nothing so you need lots. When you think that you have enough, add more.
Add 1 tbs. olive oil to the pan and saute the onion for about 1 minute, then add two or three cloves of garlic, pressed. Next, add the spinach and stir gently while it cooks down.
Add bacon bits, reserving a few for topping, oregano, thyme and cayenne. I add a little chicken broth and a little white wine at this point and stir for a minute to reduce. Sprinkle on the parmesan, stir it in, then remove from heat. Do not overcook.
Drain the pasta. I add a few drops of olive oil, then stir it so that the pasta does not stick together. Put a serving of the linguini on a plate and top with the spinach mixture. Garnish with a little fresh grated parmesan, chopped green onions and the remaining bacon pieces. I gently warm the smoked chicken in the microwave, heating at 30 second intervals. Two chicken strips are usually enough for a serving. We like to squeeze a wedge of fresh lime over the top or of it all.