Ciao'd with handfuls of white cheddar popcorn.

Friday is my day to write an essay for the blog but for the last few Fridays, I have found myself at a loss for words. Perhaps it's all the noise reverberating out there and around us. How can I get a word in edgewise? Perhaps it's the time of year, a new season and therefore, a reset for my thoughts. The winter birds are flying away and the spring birds, golden finches among them, are alighting on our feeders. I like to think that the cold weather birds have pecked my negative thoughts to carry with them as they head to points north. As for the spring birds, I hope they bring sunny optimism.

My kitchen has been a respite of late, more than usual. I am a slave to television news and talk radio. Neither is serving me well these days. I need the simple tasks of the kitchen. Chopping and dicing onions and carrots. Stirring and mixing breadcrumbs, basil, and parsley. Washing dishes and wiping counters. These actions draw a baseline of calm. 

When I cook, my brain (and ire) rests and my senses sing. The aroma of fresh garlic and basil. The song of sauteeing onions. The loveliness of glowing lemons in a white bowl. The push of the knead and the pull of shaping pizza dough. The taste, oh, the taste of so many miraculous things! Fresh-picked lettuce, grassy, green artichokes, the first asparagus. And sweet, red, ripe strawberries! 

The earth gives in equal measure. It does not judge if we're flying on the right or on the left. It does not care if we're the 1% or the 99%. It bestows its bounty on any level of cook and invites, "Do what you will with me." And anything we do is just fine.

This week, I planted my garden with warm weather deliciousness, including Swiss chard. This recipe is a harbinger of what's to come. I think you'll enjoy its simple preparation and fresh, uncomplicated flavor. 



Succulent chicken thighs (yes, you can use chicken breasts, if you wish), Swiss chard, and tubetti pasta cook together in one pan (easy cleanup!) for a light and bright springtime meal. If you can't find tubetti (I use De Cecco), substitute orzo or Israeli couscous.

Serves 4

2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves (or 3 small cloves), finely chopped
1 cup tubetti pasta or other small pasta such as orzo
1 bunch Swiss chard, thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Combine basil and thyme in a small bowl, crumbling between your fingers to release the flavor. Add the salt and pepper. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with half the spice mixture.

In a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the chicken and cook until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion, carrot, and celery to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Stir in the garlic and pasta and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add the Swiss chard, lemon zest, and remaining spice mixture; cook, stirring, until the chard just begins to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes.

Return the chicken to the pan along with any accumulated juice from the plate. Pour in the broth and lemon juice and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook until the chicken is cooked through and the pasta is al dente (firm to the bite), 10 to 12 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Serve, passing Parmesan at the table.