Sunday, March 27, 2011

March 26: Bel Aria Chicken and Pasta

   Coarse salt
1 pound rigatoni pasta
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/3 to 1 1/2 pounds chicken tenders, cut into large bite-size pieces
   Coarse black pepper
1/2 pound cremini mushroom caps, thinly sliced, or 4 portobello caps, gills scraped out, halved and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
4 Italian hot red cherry peppers, drained and chopped, plus a splash of the pickling juices from the jar
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more to pass at the table
   A handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
   Crusty bread, to pass at the table

Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. When it comes to a boil, salt it and add the rigatoni. Heads up! Two ladles of the cooking water will be added to the sauce just before the pasta is drained.

While the pasta is working, heat a big, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of the EVOO  and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the butter. When the butter melts into the oil, add the chicken to the skillet, season with salt and pepper, and brown for 2 to 3 minutes on each side.

Transfer the chicken to a plate. It will finish cooking through when added back to the sauce later.

Return the pan to the heat and add another tablespoon of EVOO, the remaining butter, then the mushrooms and garlic. Cook until the mushrooms are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Salt and pepper the mushrooms after they brown. (If you salt them when they are first added to the skillet, the salt will draw out the liquids and slow the browning process.)

Next, add the hot peppers and a splash of the pickling liquid to the pan. Add the white wine and scrape up the pan drippings with a wooden spoon.

Cook the wine down for a minute, then slide the chicken back into the pan. Cook together for another couple of minutes to finish cooking the chicken through.

Just before you drain the pasta, add 2 ladles of starchy water to the skillet. The starchy water will help the sauce form and adhere to the pasta.

Drain the pasta while it still has a strong bite to it, a little shy of al dente. It will continue to cook a little once it is combined with the sauce. Drain the rigatoni well and add it to the skillet. Turn off the heat and toss the chicken, mushrooms, and pasta together for a minute or two, sprinkling in 2 or 3 handfuls of grated Parmesan cheese as you go, to allow the pasta to soak up the sauce and flavors.

Garnish the pasta with lots of chopped parsley and pass extra cheese and crusty bread at the table.


This pasta had a very interesting, sort of sour flavor (from the pickled peppers) but it was actually very good. I halved the recipe, because I had loaned out my big pot, so I couldn't cook a whole pound of noodles. We ate it all up, and it was plenty for the 4 of us. I changed the recipe from Parmigiano-Reggiano to say Parmesan cheese. That's the only thing I changed. I skipped 2 variations of the Francese, so there is a story pertaining to one of them that relates to what Rachael Ray says at the beginning of this recipe. I may tell it later in the week. Here is what she says: "Related to my Chicken Mamacello story, this dish is all about singing for your supper. It is my at-home version of a chicken dish prepared at a fabulous opera cafe in New York City called Caffe Taci - the same cafe where Mama earned her nickname. The flavors in this dish are as big as Pavarotti's voice and it will have you, too, singing for an encore plateful!" Here is a tidbit she gives as well: "If you want to add a salad, try insalata tre colore (three-color salad), a combination of chopped radicchio, endive, and romaine lettuce, dressed simply with balsamic vinegar or lemon juice, EVOO, salt, and pepper."

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