Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pappardelle with Chicken, Broccoli & Pesto Sauce

This is one of those great pasta dishes, that with a little bit of before-hand preparation (some of which can even be done the day before) comes together in just a few minutes at the end. This works really well for me with teaching in the evenings, as I can have everything prepped well in advance and then completion takes only as long as it takes to boil water and cook pasta - about 15 minutes max! It's also another one of those "everything in one bowl" dinners that I love.

Let's begin with the pesto. I have to be honest and say that for years I have always bought ready-made pesto and never bothered to make my own. That was until recently when I tried a store bought pesto that I hadn't used before - horror of horrors, it was so awful, it actually rendered the dinner I made inedible - it tasted incredibly sweet! Yes, sweet. "But how could this be?" I thought - there's no sugar in pesto. Imagine my horror when I then went and looked at the contents label on the pottle, and sure enough there was sugar in it. Determining, not to ever make that mistake again, I began to examine the contents labels of other pestos and that is when I discovered that many of them contain a whole lot of stuff (including often sugar) that in my opinion has no place being in pesto. I don't really know why I've never looked at that before, as I normally look at ingredients labels quite carefully on most things, but somehow pesto had slipped under my radar. Since then I have been making my own, and have been astounded to discover just how much better it tastes. What's more pesto can be frozen, so you can enjoy home-made pesto long after basil season has finished. I have been using this recipe by Lidia Bastianich and to begin with I was just using the "bung everything in the food processor" method - not that there's anything wrong with that. However, more recently I have begun using the mortar and pestle and doing it by hand and the results are just outstanding - the texture is far superior and every ingredient seems to retain its individual characteristics. Additional advantages of this method are, firstly, much less cleaning up, and secondly, the triceps get a good work-out - say goodbye to those "flappy" upper arms!

So this can easily be made the day before, or even several days before for that matter. If you have made it in advance, I recommend that you take it out of the fridge an hour or two before you want to use it to return to room temperature. Also if you are making it in advance, I suggest that you don't put all of the oil that is asked for into the pesto while you are mixing it up - just reserve a teaspoon or two. Then put your finished pesto into a small dish or bowl, and try to level out the top as much as possible. Then pour the reserved oil in a thin layer over the top, completely covering it - this helps to stop the pesto from turning brown on exposure to the air, and that oil can just be mixed into the pesto before you use it.

Now for the chicken. You could use chicken thighs or breasts for this, cut into pieces, tossed in a little bit of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary, and then sauteed. Personally, I always use free-range, organic chicken, but have found that buying individual pieces seems to be hellishly expensive. Solution - I buy a whole chicken, roast it, use half for this recipe, then use the other half for something else (often a chicken and seafood paella) the next night. I often also use this same method and make this Chicken Carbonara recipe by Giada de Laurentiis - certainly not a very traditional "carbonara" recipe, but a great dish nonetheless.

I like to butterfly my chicken and remove the backbone. (The backbone then goes into a large snaplock bag in the freezer - ditto any leftover chicken from a roast chicken dinner - and once the bag is full the whole lot gets made into chicken stock.) The chicken is then laid out flat, drizzled with a little olive oil and seasoned on the inside. Then flipped over, drizzled again with a little olive oil, and more salt and pepper. Then I might further season one half of the chicken with perhaps lemon juice and rosemary (for this recipe) and the other half with perhaps paprika and oregano for the paella, or some other seasoning that would be appropriate for its intended end purpose. So this is the beauty of butterflying - it is really easy to treat each half of the chicken separately. The chicken then gets roasted at 180 degrees for about 45 minutes to an hour depending on the size of the bird.

Once roasted and cooled enough to handle, I remove all the flesh from the chicken, putting each half into a separate container and into the fridge. This can be done several hours before you need it or even the day before. Once all the flesh has been removed from the carcass, and the carcass is completely cold, it then joins the backbone in the freezer bag for stock.

Not much to the broccoli really - this just gets cut into florets, and of course this could also be done well in advance. Actually, I often use broad beans (fresh or frozen) instead of broccoli in this recipe, and they too can be blanched and shelled well ahead of time.

My preferred pasta for this recipe is this gorgeous egg pappardelle that I get from the Mediterranean Food Warehouse but you could use any pasta that you like.

Pappardelle with Chicken, Broccoli & Pesto Sauce Recipe
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

For pesto:
approximately 2 cups of basil leaves
pinch of salt
2 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons pecorino cheese, grated finely
2 tablespoons parmesan, grated finely
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
(Note: if you don't have pecorino cheese, substitute with extra parmesan)

Put a few of the basil leaves in a mortar with the salt and begin to crush. Continue adding leaves, a few at a time. Once all the leaves have been added, add the garlic to the mortar, and continue to pound with the pestle until a paste forms.

Add the pine nuts, and crush them into the paste. Then add the cheese, work that in a little, and then add the olive oil one tablespoon at a time. Keep working until you have a creamy paste.

This will make about 1 cup of pesto.

For the pasta:
1 cup of pesto
100-125ml cream
2 cups of cooked chicken, shredded
2 cups of broccoli florets
250g pappardelle (or other pasta)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
generous handful pine nuts, lightly toasted
freshly grated parmesan to serve

Mix pesto with cream, until you have a pourable, sauce-like consistency. Set aside.

Drop pasta into boiling salted water. About 4 minutes before the pasta has finished cooking, add the broccoli to the pan and allow it to cook with the pasta.

Once the pasta is cooked, set a colander over the serving bowl that you intend to use, and begin to drain the pasta into the colander - take care not to "overflow" the bowl - once the bowl is full, move the colander to the sink and continue to drain. This does two things - firstly, you now have a really nice hot bowl in which to serve your finished dish, and secondly, you have some reserved pasta water if you need it to "loosen" the sauce. Drizzle a little olive oil over the pasta, and shake gently to distribute.

Return the empty pasta pot to the heat, along with about 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the chicken to the pan and heat through - about 1 minute. Then return the pasta and broccoli to the pan. Pour over the pesto and cream, and toss everything gently together over the heat, until the sauce is warmed through and coats everything well. Add some of that reserved pasta water if you need to. Taste and add some salt and pepper if necessary.

Drain water out of the warmed bowl. Add pasta to the bowl, sprinkle toasted pine nuts and grated parmesan over the top. Serve with extra parmesan.

This makes 3 very generous portions, or could easily feed 4 with some bread and salad on the side.

Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Chargrilled Calamari, Asparagus & Rice Noodle Salad Recipe

Once summer comes I whole-heartedly embrace "salad season". By this I mean a substantial salad which on its own constitutes a meal - such is my idea of the perfect summer meal!

Such a salad should, in my opinion, contain firstly some protein - this could come in the form of:

  • Cheese - grilled haloumi, feta, blue cheese, brie, soft goats-milk cheeses, bocconcini or mozzarella are all great in salads
  • Poultry - try chicken, duck or quail
  • Fish and seafood - salmon, smoked white fish, prawns, lobster, crab, squid, mussels are all wonderful additions to any salad
  • Meat - personally I don't use much meat in my salads other than perhaps some chorizo sausage or some crispy prosciutto or pancetta, but you could certainly experiment with the inclusion of some rare lamb or beef
  • Nuts and seeds - I like cashews, pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, peanuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds
  • Pulses - try chickpeas, lentils, cannellini beans, lima beans, borlotti beans
  • And yes, if you must, tofu - I have to say it definitely wouldn't find its way into any salad of mine, but it would certainly be a good inclusion for those whose gastronomic ethos doesn't extend to the consumption of various other forms of protein and, apparently, some people even like it.

Secondly, I like a grain of some sort - noodles, pasta, rice, quinoa, couscous, croutons are a few suggestions. It is useful to know, if your diet doesn't include any animal products, that pulses combined with grains form a complete protein.

Thirdly, a great meal in a salad should have great texture and colour - consider the inclusion of some fruit (fresh or dried) and fresh herbs (mint, coriander, flat-leaf parsley, basil, tarragon are all wonderful in salads).

And lastly, your salad should have a great dressing which pulls the whole meal together - it's the dressing which really balances out all the ingredients you have chosen for your salad and creates beautiful layers of flavour.

Above all, don't be afraid to experiment and come up with your own wonderful creations. Like all experimenting in the kitchen, not everything will be a success, but along the way you will learn a great deal about flavours and textures that work well together, and you will without doubt get many pleasant surprises.

This particular salad was an exceptionally happy marriage of several things in my fridge and pantry that needed to be used up: a bag of calamari rings in the freezer, remains of a packet of Thai rice sticks in the pantry, a red chilli, half a bag of spinach, a bunch of asparagus, a handful of cashew nuts, an orange (in actual fact, if I'd been "planning" this salad I would have used a pink grapefruit, but an orange is what I had), and the remains of the Wagamama dressing from my last post. I didn't have any on hand at the time, but some fresh herbs would have made this perfect - coriander, mint, Thai basil or Vietnamese mint would have been ideal.

A word of caution: although this salad was a wonderful assemblage of some leftovers that I happened to have on hand, you do still need to think a little carefully about what you're putting into your salad - it shouldn't just become a "dumping ground" for everything you need to use up. That said, give this salad a try and go ahead and create some great salads of your own, and if you come up with a favourite of your own I would love to hear about it - leave me a comment or contact me by email - I really love to hear what's happening in your kitchen.

Chargrilled Calamari, Asparagus & Rice Noodle Salad Recipe
Click here for printable copy of this recipe
Gluten free
Makes 2 generous servings

300g calamari rings
100g Thai rice sticks (or other rice noodles)
1x red chilli, de-seeded and sliced
6-8 asparagus stalks
1x pink grapefruit (or orange)
handful of cashew nuts (roasted, unsalted)
2x generous handfuls of baby spinach
olive oil
salt and pepper
fresh coriander or mint, approx 2T
Wagamama dressing from last post

Cook noodles in boiling water until soft, around 6-8 minutes. Drain and rinse well in cold water. Place in a bowl or spread on a serving platter.

Snap woody ends off asparagus stalks, toss with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt, then cook on a hot grill pan until lightly charred and just tender (but still with some bite). Alternatively, feel free to simply steam your asparagus if you prefer. Cut spears into 2-3 pieces.

Similarly, toss calamari rings with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and cook on a hot grill pan - this will take barely a couple of minutes.

Strew spinach leaves over the noodles.

Remove all skin and pith from the grapefruit. Then remove the segments of flesh from in between the membranes - do this holding the fruit over the spinach so that as you go the juice goes into the salad. Once all the fruit has been removed, squeeze the membrane over the salad to extract any remaining juice.

Distribute asparagus and grilled calamari evenly over the top of the noodles, spinach and grapefruit. Pour the dressing over everything, then sprinkle cashew nuts, chilli and chopped herbs over the top.