Wednesday, June 29, 2011

True Believer: Chicken Pesto Sandwiches and a Picnic on a Hill

In Boone Creek, North Carolina (which isn't actually a real place, although the other day when I was browsing Nicholas Sparks' website I found out that it's modeled after Pamlico County), journalist Jeremy Marsh has been invited to investigate some mysterious lights that appear from time to time in an old cemetery. (Click here for more about the mystery of the ghost lights.) The town has a rich history, including a Civil War skirmish that took place on Riker's Hill (also fictional). Jeremy asks Lexie Darnell, the librarian, to show him Riker's Hill, because from the top one has a good view of Boone Creek, including the cemetery, a railroad trestle, and a paper mill across the river--which Jeremy suspects may have something to do with the graveyard lights. At lunchtime one day, taking a break from his research at the library, Jeremy accompanies Lexie to Riker's Hill, where they share a snack of cheese and crackers, fruit, and Snapple. They don't stay too long--it's January after all.

Boone Creek is also the home of Herb's Restaurant, the most popular eatery in town. It's owned by Lexie's grandmother, Doris, and she is known for her famous chicken pesto sandwich, one she has named The Albemarle. When Jeremy visits Herb's to have a chat with Doris--the person who invited Jeremy to Boone Creek in the first place--she serves him her signature sandwich, on homemade bread complete with fresh tomato and sprouts.

Not far from here there are real hills and valleys that were sites of actual Civil War skirmishes and battles. One of these, Lee's Hill, was the command post of Gen. Robert E. Lee during the battle of Fredericksburg in December of 1862. From the top, Lee had a sweeping view of the town below, and he watched as the Union army crossed the Rappahannock River, occupied the town, and advanced on the Confederates, who were entrenched just below him on Marye's Heights (now the site of the cemetery where many of the Union soldiers who were killed are now buried). Even though the Confederates were greatly outnumbered, their strategic position behind a stone wall was a perfect defense, and nearly 13,000 Federal troops were killed or wounded that day.

Later, in May of 1863, Marye's Heights and Lee's Hill were overrun by Union troops during the Chancellorsville campaign.

(Here are some links if you want to read more about Lee's Hill and the Battle of Fredericksburg. It's fascinating stuff; now you know why it's taken me so long to get this post published.)

Read the National Park Service description of Lee's Hill here and here.

Battle of Fredericksburg links:

National Park Service

Civil War Trust


Now for the food:


Every single pesto recipe I found had three ingredients in common: basil, garlic, and pine nuts. Since Moe is allergic to nuts I wanted to make a pesto that he could eat. I didn't find a nut-free recipe, but I did find some suggestions for people who wanted to leave them out; namely, sun dried tomatoes and lemon zest. I didn't have a whole lot of basil--I didn't want to cut too much off the one on my deck because the plant is still kind of small, and I didn't want to buy it in the grocery store--but I did have a nice big bunch of cilantro that I had bought the previous weekend at the farmer's market and still hadn't used.


One large bunch of cilantro

one small bunch of basil

one small bunch of parsley, optional

About a third of a cup of sun dried tomatoes

Zest of one large or two small lemons

Four or five cloves of garlic

Olive oil, about two tablespoons

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put all ingredients into a food processor and chop until it's the consistency you like.

For the sandwiches, I found this recipe for chicken pesto sandwiches with Havarti and carmelized onions, and adapted it slightly. Here's my version:

Four to six boneless chicken breasts, sliced through the middle to make thin cutlets

Cilantro-basil pesto

sliced tomato

Alfalfa sprouts

Bread of Your Choice

Place the chicken cutlets in a gallon-sized ziploc bag and add about half the pesto. Seal the bag and use your hands to cover all the chicken pieces. Refrigerate for at least two hours.

Grill the chicken until done. Spread reserved pesto on bread; top chicken with a tomato slice and sprouts. Add cheese or mayo if you wish. Enjoy!

(adapted from For the Love of Cooking: Pesto Chicken Sandwich with Carmelized Onions and Havarti. I think next time I'll try it with the onions and cheese--it looks and sounds delicious.)

The chicken and the bread. I made our favorite homemade buns for the sandwiches. I've posted the recipe here and here.

We packed it all up and took a little trip to Lee's Hill where we spread out our blanket and took in the view, the history, and a yummy picnic.

I had mine on gluten-free bread with a nice thick slice of locally grown tomato (the first of the season--delicious!) and some alfalfa sprouts. The rest of the family skipped the sprouts. I don't mind because that means more for me--I love them.

We brought Brie and apple-smoked cheddar cheese, apples, fresh local cantaloupe, and crackers (gluten-free for me of course). The Limited Edition Amazing Race Payapa Mango Snapple was a big hit!

General Lee had a much different view without all these tall trees.

During the battle, a cannon exploded and nearly killed Lee and Longstreet. Later an artillery shell that was sent their way from Stafford Heights across the river landed nearby; fortunately it failed to detonate.

Stay tuned for what I like to call "Lexies' Super-Easy Lighthouse Linguine" !

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