Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Cashew and Peanut Chicken Pasta with Basil Cream Sauce

This tasty little pasta dish was a hit! This was my first experience cooking with nuts, and I was very pleased with the results. It took a little tweaking, but I managed to figure out how to get just the right tender crunch. The sauce was slightly creamy, but light. The nuts were perfectly cooked, and added such a wonderful dimension to the dish. The basil and sundried tomatoes added flavor and color. The whole wheat pasta added a bit of nuttiness as well, which complemented the real nuts perfectly. 
Yum, yum!

Heart Health:
Nuts-Nuts are rich in Vitamin E. This antioxidant vitamin is thought to help prevent heart disease. They also contain amino acids and B vitamins, which are cardio-protective.

Cashews specifically have the same type of fatty acid (oleic acid) that is found in olive oil and is considered very heart healthy.

Garlic-Garlic has anticlotting properties, possibly due to the ajoenes present. Also, the sulfur phytochemicals may help protect against heart disease.

Olive Oil-This healthy oil contains disease-fighting phytochemicals, vitamin E, and monounsaturated fat. All these help keep arteries clear of cholesterol. The monousaturated fat may also help raise good cholesterol, and a diet rich in this fat may help lower your chance of heart disease.

Chicken- Poultry is a rich source of selenium, vitamin B12, and vitamin B6, which may help protect against heart disease. It also contains vitamin B12, which helps lower homocysteine levels.
Tomatoes-Tomatoes are abundant in lycopene, a strong antioxident that may help prevent cell damage that leads to heart attacks. They are also rich in vitamin C, which may help protect against heart disease. Oil helps you absorb lycopene, so toss in some olive oil. 

Mushrooms- These have vitamin B6, riboflavin, and niacin- all helpful in preventing heart disease. Shiitakes are even more enriched with heart helpful nutrients, such as eritadenine (lowers cholesterol) and lentinula edodes mycelium.

Whole Wheat Pasta- The complex carbohydrates in whole grains contain indigestible oligosaccharide carbohydrates, which are linked to helping prevent cardiovascular disease. They also contain flavonoids, which are antioxidants also linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and help bolster blood vessels. Lignans and plant sterols may help lower cholesterol, and vitamin E is an antioxidant that may also help prevent heart disease.

Source: Fight Back with Food: Use Nutrition to Heal What Ails You,  The Reader's Digest Association

Cashew and Peanut Chicken Pasta with Basil Cream Sauce

1/2 lb whole wheat pasta
3 Tbs olive oil
5-6 white or baby bella mushrooms
1/4 cup unsalted, roasted peanuts
1/4 cup cashews
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup reserved pasta cooking water
3 Tbs basil pesto
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes
1 cup cooked chicken
1/4-1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish

Start by boiling your pasta (make sure to reserve 1/2 cup of cooking liquid when it's done.) While that cooks, heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Saute mushrooms to desired doneness. Scoop out into a bowl and set aside. Add peanuts and cashews to skillet. Saute for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and continue sauteing. Once the garlic begins to turn golden brown, add 1/2 cup of the hot pasta water to the skillet. Let the nuts continue to simmer for five minutes. You should be able to pierce the nuts with a fork, but they should still have a bit of crunch. Add the basil pesto and sundried tomatoes. Allow the flavors to meld for a moment, then add in your chicken and mushrooms. Make sure everything is nice and coated, then stir in the yogurt. Add parmesan cheese. Stir in your drained pasta, coating well with sauce. Serve warm, with freshly grated parmesan.

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