1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons butter
4 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups heavy cream
3 bay leaves
1 ½ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
8 large leaves fresh basil*
¼ teaspoon fresh nutmeg
½ teaspoon dry mustard
Large pinch red pepper flakes
1 pound penne pasta
Additional chopped fresh basil for garnish
Additional grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
Fill a large pot of salted water and heat to a boil but do not cook the pasta yet.
Butterfly the chicken breasts so they are the same thickness. (See How to Butterfly a Chicken Breast)
Coat both sides with the salt and pepper.
Heat a deep wide saute pan with the olive oil over medium high heat.
Once hot, add the chicken breasts and count 30 seconds, then cover, lower heat to the lowest flame and continue to cook chicken, flipping once the first side is cooked, until no longer pink inside. Depending on the thickness of the chicken, this should take 5-10 minutes to cook on low.
Remove cover and place the chicken breasts on a cutting board. Pour off but save liquid in the pan.
Over medium heat add the butter and once melted, add flour and cook for three minutes, stirring often.
Slowly add the cream whisking as you add.
Add bay leaves, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, whole basil leaves, nutmeg, mustard and pepper flakes. Bring to a bubble then lower to a simmer and simmer ten minutes, stirring often.
While cream sauce cooks, add Penne pasta to the hot water and cook to just short of al dente. Still should be a little bit chewy.
Strain the cream sauce through a fine sieve and discard the solids. Taste and salt if needed. Pour the sauce back into the pan, reserving one cup that will be drizzled over each portion when serving.
Slice the cooked chicken breast into strips and add to the sauce. Add the liquid that you saved after you cooked the chicken.
Use a spider or strainer and scoop out and add the pasta to the sauce, but do not discard the pasta water yet.
Stir the mixture over low to medium heat until the pasta is fully cooked. Add a little pasta water if it starts to dry out a little.
Serve with the reserved sauce, chopped basil and grated Parmesan cheese.
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A good alternative to fresh basil if it is unavailable is fresh basil paste found in squeeze tubes in the produce section of most supermarkets.