Category Archives: pasta

Flat chicken and green noodles

Well, this just isn’t going to work out at all. Noah called today to tell me he’d found an apartment off-campus. But clearly he’s not ready to live on his own yet. I mean, just look at him. He can barely see over the counter. An apartment is a lot of responsibility. He doesn’t know how to do laundry. He doesn’t know how to cook. I expect he could figure out how to fit the Eggo waffles in a toaster, but I’m not going to let him use a toaster. He’d burn himself. He’s just a little boy. A wee little boy.

Okay. I know. I’m delusional. But that’s what I was thinking this morning when my wee little boy, who

The real Noah: large and able to accomplish simple tasks on his own.

is edging toward six feet tall, told me he’d found an apartment. With Bunny’s help. His grandmother has been my long-distance goon squad for the last month.  We were in total agreement. Nothing that exhibited evidence of roaches or vermin. Nothing where you could see dirt through the floor boards. Nothing icky. For $400 a month. That was his limit. I truly thought I had him at a standstill because there’s no way he could find something for $400 a month.

Dammit. Dammit Boy. He did. “Uh, the only thing, Mom, is that I have to move in in June,” he said over the phone. “They won’t hold the apartment until August. ” … So that means you’re not coming home this summer? “I hate it, Mom, I was really looking forward to coming home for the summer, but I don’t really have a choice.” Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Oh, hell. I remember wanting to live off campus and the place I found would have horrified my parents had they seen it. It was a former funeral home in Murray, Kentucky, and there was a suspiciously long stainless steel sink in my room. I shared it with four other people. I loved it. It was a total dump, but I loved it. It’s just that it’s different when it’s your baby of almost 20 living in an apartment. On his own. Did I tell you I’m going to turn his room into a guest room? Ha! That will fix him.

So, flat chicken and green noodles. Noah’s favorite childhood meal. I think he can accomplish that in his efficiency apartment. In his spacious kitchenette with a 24-inch stove he can probably reach into the refrigerator for the ingredients, cook the meal, clean up and get ready for bed without moving an inch. He called it flat chicken because I pounded the chicken breasts into thin cutlets. And green noodles? Just pesto and pasta.

Flat Chicken and Green Noodles

2 chicken breasts, pounded into 1/4-inch cutlets

Seasoned breadcrumbs

Vegetable oil

Juice of one lemon

1 4-ounce container pesto

1/2 pound thin spaghetti

Put the breadcrumbs on a plate. Rinse each cutlet with cold water and then dredge them in the breadcrumbs. Heat the oil and lemon juice to medium high heat. Saute the cutlets until golden brown.

Cook the pasta starting in warm water in a shallow pan deep enough to submerge the pasta. Keep moving the pasta around with tongs to keep it separated as the water continues to get hotter. The pasta will be cooked al dente before the water reaches a boil. Mix with pesto sauce.

 

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Hugh Acheson’s Southern Carbonara

My instructions to my West Coast friend, about to journey to the South for a convention, must have seemed absurd. It was the early 1990s, we were living in Reno and I needed some country ham.

“When you get to a grocery store go back near the meat department.”

“O.K.”

“Now, look for a wooden stand.”

“A wooden stand?”

“Yes, the country ham is on the stand.”

“Wait, it’s not in the meat case?”

“No, it’s unrefrigerated.”

“Unrefrigerated? Are you sure? Is that safe? That doesn’t sound safe.”

“Trust me, there’s enough salt in country ham to kill a horse. Just get me some.”

In the South, there are two kinds of ham. Country ham and city ham. Country ham is what you want 90 percent of the time. Deliciously salty and chewy, it demands attention and respect. One of the pig’s highest purposes, after bacon. We love it simply fried in a little butter with the addition of black coffee to make red eye gravy. It’s kind of like prosciutto, but cheap.

Hugh Acheson, owner of Five & Ten in Athens, Ga., and author of A New Turn in the South, is a Yankee. (Actually, he’s from Canada and once you cross the border maybe you can’t be a Yankee. I don’t know.) But it takes fresh eyes to pair country ham and collards with spaghetti carbonara, a tremendously successful combination.

One word of caution. This does NOT reheat beautifully. So make just enough to serve. I cut the recipe in half and between Mark and I we polished off every last bite. Also, don’t be squeamish about raw eggs. The hot pasta cooks the egg into a delicious custard.

Hugh Acheson’s Southern Carbonara

2 tablespoons olive oil

¼ cup minced onion

¼ pound thinly sliced country ham or prosciutto

1 cup finely minced collard greens

½ teaspoon salt

1 pound spaghetti

2 large eggs

¾ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Place a large of water over high heat.

Place a large frying pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil gets hot, add the onion and sweat down until golden, about 3 minutes, then add the country ham and the collard greens. Cook or 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, then turn off the heat.

When the water is rapidly boiling, add the salt and the spaghetti. Stir well and cook the pasta until al dente, usually 9 or 10 minutes. While the pasta is cooking, in a small bowl whisk together the eggs, ½ cup of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, pepper to taste and the parsley.

Drain the spaghetti in a colander, reserving about ½ cup of the cooking water just to moisten the pasta later if needed. Place the pasta back in the warm pot and add the onion, country ham, and collards. Working quickly, add the egg mixture to the pasta. Stir well with tongs by picking p the pasta and turning and then letting go. O are trying to coat all the pasta with the egg and also tempering the heat by stirring, which will create a custard rather than a scramble. Place in a large bowl to serve at the table and finish with the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Serves 4.

(Note: As you all now know, the way to cook pasta is not in a big pot and does not require boiling water. Please click here for the easier way. I’m sure Hugh would thank me for this.)

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Shrimp scampi

My friend, Mary Ann, goes on a mission from time to time to empty her entire freezer, refrigerator and pantry of all food objects – finding a way to make them into some kind of meal. I admire this. When you look in the freezer and there are unidentifiable objects that you cannot remember putting in the freezer, that is a bad sign.

I have a few. I have bags of Thomas Keller’s beef stock that I made, oh, more than a year ago. It was a torturous process making that damn stock so I value those bags far more than I should. Perhaps I can sell them on E-Bay. I have cornmeal that I got at a BBQ contest in 2009. Does cornmeal go bad in the freezer? I don’t think so, but I don’t really know. I have meatloaf mix that is tinged with those telltale frost crystals that mean it has frost burn. But I am too cheap to throw it out. Plus it would mean thawing the meatloaf out so that I, being extremely cheap, could wash the disposable plastic container it is housed in.

So for the past week or so I’ve been trying to honor Mary Ann and just cook from the ingredients I already have. To be completely honest, I have more ingredients than most. Do you have miso sitting in the refrigerator? Do you even know what it is? How about fish sauce, sumac and za’atar? Oh, I could put some links in here, but I think you need to look them up. The exotic stuff, plus the usual such as pizza dough, an array of vegetables, canned everything, a gross of rice, barley and pasta, frozen chicken, pork tenderloin, ground beef and sausages from West Wind Farms (I will give them a plug because they are the best sausages on the planet and you need to give Ralph and Kimberlie Cole some love and order some) would feed Mark and I for at least a month.

Which led me to shrimp scampi (scampi is really a name for a type of small lobster but, of course, we’ve screwed this up in the United States and what it means here is shrimp in a butter and lemon sauce – we’re so uncivilized). My poor shrimp had been frozen so long that ice crystals were forming on them. So that’s what Mark got tonight. Shrimp scampi with thin spaghetti, of which I have at least 10 boxes because I cannot pass up the “buy one, get one free” sales at the Publix.

If you can find wild American shrimp, please spend the extra few pennies to get them. They’re better for the environment, they’re caught off Southern waters and they sustain our precious fishermen.

Shrimp scampi

1 pound shrimp, preferably wild-caught American

1/3 cup butter

Juice of one lemon

¼ cup dry white wine

3 cloves garlic, chopped

¼ cup minced parsley

Shell and devein shrimp. Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the lemon juice, white wine and garlic. Saute garlic for about one minute. Add the shrimp. Salt and pepper to taste. Saute the shrimp for about one minute on each side until they turn pink but are still plump. Sprinkle with parsley.

Serve over buttered pasta.

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A new way to cook pasta

I have mentioned this procedure once before, but I realized last night that Harold McGee’s new method of cooking pasta has changed my life. So I wanted to devote an entire blog post to it.

Old way: Get out the big pot, fill it with 4-6 quarts of water, add a liberal amount of salt to the water, bring it to a rolling boil (which can take ages), and cook the pasta. Drain and, unless you’re using some of the pasta water as part of a sauce, throw the whole 4-6 gallons of water away.

Harold McGee’s way: Fill up a shallow pan with water. The pan should be big enough so the pasta can lie flat.

Here the water is hot, but it has not come to the boil and it never does before the pasta is perfectly cooked

And the water should cover the pasta. Again, add salt so the water tastes of the ocean, but you don’t have to add nearly as much as you would in a deep pot. Put the pan on the stove and turn on the heat. Add the pasta. It doesn’t matter if the water is room temperature, warm or hot. I know, you are beginning to be amazed. With a pair of tongs move the pasta to and fro so that it doesn’t stick together. Once the pasta softens, you will only have to do this occasionally. Continue cooking until the pasta is al dente, which happens at least as fast as it does using the old method.

This is revolutionary, folks. Why didn’t anyone think of this before? At the end of the day, I believe the pasta is texturally better, you have very starchy pasta water to enhance your sauce, and you throw away a fraction of the water you would have from a pasta pot. And clean-up is a snap.

Since I’ve discovered this technique, I have not pulled out the pasta pot once. For half a pound of pasta, I use a

The pasta is al dente and you don't even dirty a strainer with this method. Just pull the pasta out with tongs and toss with your favorite sauce.

regular skillet. For a pound, I have a slightly larger pan. You want enough room for the pasta to swim around a bit.

So now you’re thinking, “This sounds too weird. I’m afraid to try it.” Man or woman up. If you get a couple boxes of spaghetti at the Publix during the “buy one, get one free” promotions, this will cost you NOTHING.

Since I’ve been consuming cabbage casserole, sausage flatbread and mini-quiches for the last few days, I decided to keep it simple with the pasta. I sauteed 8 ounces of mushrooms in a tablespoon of butter with some salt and pepper. Added the juice of half a lemon, another couple tablespoons of butter, and the 8 ounces

Can I make your life any easier?

of perfectly cooked pasta. Finished with a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

As my daddy would say, “Man, oh man.” He always said that when he particularly enjoyed a meal. What the hell does it mean? I don’t know.

I want you – I implore you – to try this. And if you want to hear the great man himself talk about this, listen to this episode of The Splendid Table (scroll down to find the link). Even Lynne Rossetto Kasper is taken aback. Heretic. Pirate. Revolutionary. Harold McGee is my new favorite boyfriend.

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Turkey tetrazzini

Dang it. The boy left me again. Just when I get accustomed to Noah being at college, he comes home for one holiday or another. And I just start missing him all over again the minute he walks out the door. Boo Hoo. Poor me.

But his cooler is full. Make that my cooler that I hope and pray I will see again one day. It’s a blue Coleman number. Quite stylish as coolers go. It is full of Tupperware containing grilled sausages, green beans with garlic, Little Smokies, rum cake, yeast rolls and turkey tetrazzini, my ode to the last of the turkey from Thanksgiving.

His friend, Jordan, picked him up. Jordan has a similar cooler from his mother. There is a confederacy of mothers, attempting desperately to maintain contact with their vagabond sons through food. We understand each other. Here, sonny boy, have some lasagna. How about some mashed potatoes and gravy? Leftover dressing? Oh, bad mommy. I kept the leftover dressing for moi. There are only so many sacrifices you can make for your child.

So turkey tetrazzini is a wise choice for leftover turkey. Even if your turkey is a little dry, as is its wont, the creamy sauce with reinvigorate it. And it’s just the kind of thing you can imagine your son eating in his small, cramped dorm room as he thinks lovingly of the mother who made it. At least that’s the picture in my mind’s eye. Don’t tell me differently. It’s all I have. Until Christmas.

Turkey tetrazzini

6 tablespoons butter

½ pound mushrooms

Salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon thyme

1 tablespoon Madeira

4 tablespoons flour

1 ½ cups chicken stock

½ cup heavy cream

2-3 cups shredded leftover turkey

½ pound thin spaghetti

½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium skillet and add the mushrooms, salt, pepper, and thyme. Saute until the mushrooms are brown. Add the Madeira and continue cooking until the liquid evaporates. Remove and reserve.

To the same skillet, add the remaining 4 tablespoons butter. Melt and then add the flour, whisking it for a minute. Add the chicken stock and cream. Continue whisking until a thick sauce forms.

Cook the pasta to al dente. In a large bowl mix the mushrooms, sauce, turkey and pasta. Put into a casserole dish. Top with shredded Parmesan cheese and sprinkle with Panko crumbs.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.

 

 

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Chicken tetrazzini

So I have made a startling discovery sitting out here on the deck because the weather is nice and I can’t smoke in the house anymore. Nail polish goes bad.

The last time I bought nail polish was about three years ago. And I noticed, over time, that my toenail painting skills were beginning to slip. I attributed that to advancing age and the inability to bring my toes even halfway within range of the polish. Today I happened to pick up a fetching pink polish called “I’m Indi-A Mood for Love” (wouldn’t you hate that job – naming nail polishes?) at the supermarket and it went on like a charm. I realize this has nothing to do with Chicken Tetrazzini, but if any of you are having the same problem I just figured I’d pass along this piece of new-found wisdom. And if any of you are attending the Women of St. Paul’s Sherry Party this week, please admire my toes. Discreetly.

But I digress and I haven’t even started yet. On to Chicken Tetrazzini, which by the way is not even remotely Italian. Chicken or Turkey Tetrazzini has been around the casserole circuit as long as there have been funerals and christenings. But let me tell you something about making casseroles. They’re a hell of a lot of work. Unless you have a refrigerator stocked with perfectly matching leftovers you have to start each component from scratch before combining them into the perfect dish. I am always amused when Mark helps me “clean up” after I make a casserole. What he didn’t see is that I dirtied every damn dish in the kitchen and cleaned as I went before my pristine casserole popped out of the oven.

I have been a chicken cooking fool for the past month since I got my Char-Broil Big Easy. It is an outdoor roaster that requires no clean-up which was given to me at absolutely no cost for writing blog posts for the company. And it works like a charm without any effort on my part, which is fine because I can just sit on the deck, having a glass of wine and playing World of Warcraft (I am Clairet, the night elf priest, blessings upon you) while my chicken roasts away to juicy perfection. So I had a lot of surplus chicken when I made tetrazzini. I will advise you, however, to get a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store unless you just love cooking chicken like I do.

I do not have much else to say about Chicken Tetrazzini. It’s a casserole. If you don’t like any of the ingredients, substitute something you do like. It’s just a casserole.


Chicken Tetrazzini

1 rotisserie chicken

4 tablespoons butter

8 ounces white mushrooms, sliced

¼ cup marsala

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup chicken broth

Juice from ½ lemon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

8 ounces thin spaghetti

1/2 cup frozen peas

½ cup grated Parmesan

1/4 cup dried Italian-style breadcrumbs

Shred chicken and set aside. Melt one tablespoon of the butter and add the mushrooms. Saute with a little salt and pepper until well browned. Add the marsala and reduce any liquid in the pan. Remove the mushrooms and add the onion, sautéing until tender. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Combine the mushrooms, onion, garlic and thyme and set aside.

Melt two tablespoons of butter in a saucepan. Add the flour and whisk for about a minute. Ad the milk, cream, broth, lemon juice and nutmeg. Continue whisking until the sauce thickens slightly. Salt and pepper to taste. Note: This will be thinner than a regular cream gravy but it’s all good. The warm pasta will absorb much of the sauce.

Cook the pasta until it is al dente. Mix the pasta with the chicken, mushroom mixture, peas and sauce. Mix the Parmesan and the breadcrumbs. Put the chicken mixture in a casserole dish and top with the cheese/breadcrumb mixture.

Bake at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the casserole is bubbling.

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Ode to a starving college student

This weekend I participated in the leftover sweepstakes. This is a competitive sport involving the ability to produce mass amounts of leftovers in an extremely tight time span. In this case 48 hours.

Noah is on the unlimited food plan at the University of Tennessee. When I see the word “unlimited” I think of, well, no actual limits to the food. Let’s look it up in the dictionary. Yes, I believe I am correct. Unlimited: Not limited or restricted in terms of number, quantity, or extent. However, the university’s administration apparently frowns upon the removal of mass quantities of food from the cafeteria.

I believe this is so unfair that the next time I’m in Knoxville, I plan to bring a shopping cart into the cafeteria and load up on behalf of my son. And when some pencil-pushing administrator challenges me after being called by campus security, I will merely hold up my massive UT tuition, room and board bill and say: “It says unlimited food plan. I am merely attempting to get what I am paying for.” And they will let me go. Or send me to jail, with a box of Pop Tarts and a club sandwich clutched in my unyielding hands.

But I digress. So an attempt to supplement the “unlimited meal plan,” Noah’s grandmother and I mount a massive two-pronged offensive every semester. The first prong involves Bunny taking Noah to Sam’s Club because every college student requires a 48-bag box of kettle chips, a case of breakfast bars and a 10-gallon container of beef jerky. The second prong involves periodic mass leftovers to provide that home-cooked touch to Noah’s institutional diet. Bunny and I are warriors at this. Total warriors. In two days, we produced or foraged enough leftovers to completely fill this over-sized shopping bag. And not the shabby stuff. Let’s just make a list: chicken in white wine/lemon sauce with angel hair pasta, filet mignon, Thai chicken wraps with a peanut dipping sauce, pulled pork Cuban sandwiches, chicken and pesto pizza, buttermilk spice and molten chocolate cupcakes and, less sophisticated, Little Smokies because Noah craves them. Bunny also contributed two vat-sized jars of peanut butter the purpose of which I cannot imagine.

It has been well documented that when Noah arrives on the UT campus after a successful leftover campaign, students who have only heard of him by word of mouth line up to follow him to his dorm room. I believe Coach Derek Dooley has offered him a season pass to sit on the sidelines at Neyland Stadium if only he will bring his shopping bag of leftovers with him.

Or so I’ve heard.


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