The change of season is clearly upon us and I noticed it as I walked through the farmer’s market this morning. No corn! Squash and pumpkin making their appearance….I bought the last peaches and fresh cranberry beans as a defiant gesture toward the lingering remnants of summer. Lately I have been thinking about my fellow teachers, colleagues and friends, who are toiling to bring normalcy to their work, coping with distant learning, striving to engage their students and keep moving ahead despite the virus and the smokey conditions in our state. Even though I would prefer to cook a feast to celebrate their work, I thought I could propose a meal that they could cook to make their lives a bit more joyful and hopeful. You can make just the pasta and call it a celebration, an occasion to get your mind off correcting papers, calling parents, conferencing with colleagues…or you can keep on going and create a full menu with a “primo” – a pasta dish, a “secondo” – a meat dish with a side, and a “dolce,” a sweet finale! So crank up your favorite tunes and pour yourself a glass of wine and here we go!!!
Primo: Pasta con Funghi e Piselli
Secondo: Petti di Pollo al Latte
Dolce: Pere con gelato
Pasta con Funghi e Piselli
Go out and find yourself a pasta with an unusual shape or texture, maybe an artisanal one that you have never tried before – a little splurge, something fun! Fusilli or even your common penne work well too. I landed on this one, Straccetti, meaning little rags. These looked like fun and gave me a little burst of joy.
1 lb. short pasta
1 lb. sliced white mushrooms or fresh porcini (you can get away with half a pound)
6 oz. dried porcini (optional)
1-2 cups frozen petite peas (depending on how you like peas)
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
2-3 tbls. butter
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup of water
1/2 cup white wine
1 tbl. dried thyme (or fresh if you have it)
1/2 cup whipping cream (optional)
1. If you are using dried porcini, put them in a bowl to soak for at least 20 minutes.
2. Heat a large sauce pan over a medium flame until warm, then add the butter and olive oil. Once it sizzles, add the chopped onions and sauté until slightly golden.
3. Add the fresh mushrooms and stir gently so that it is uniformly covered by the olive oil and butter. Do not salt yet because the salt will draw out too much of the water from the mushrooms and render them limp and lifeless.
4. Once the mushrooms begin the expel their own water naturally, add the dried porcini and 1/2 cup of water. You can use some of the water in which the porcini were soaking, just be careful to decant it slowly so the sand at the bottom does not end up in the mushrooms. Salt and cook at medium high heat for a few minutes until the mushrooms look cooked. Add the peas, the white wine, and thyme, and lower the heat to medium low. Check the amount of liquid in the pan from time to time as you don’t want he mushroom to get too dry or remain too watery. You want enough liquid to form the sauce for the pasta. At this point you are ready to put the water on the stove to cook the pasta.
5. Cook the pasta according to package instructions, drain it a few minutes before “al dente.”Take the drained pasta and add it to the mushroom mixture in the sauce pan to cook a few more minutes at high heat. You can add some whipping cream at the last minute as you give the pasta one last swirl and stir! Serve in a wide bowl and dust with some good parmigiano!
Now you can stop here and enjoy the pasta dish…it is quite ample and will serve 6-8. If you are ready to eat Italian style, you can proceed with this next chicken dish which I find not only delicious, but also I find it a fabulous dish to entertain guests because it can be made ahead and it holds up well.
Petti di Pollo con Latte
I like this method of cooking meat, this time chicken breasts, with milk. I filet the boneless breasts so they are not so thick, then I cut them into strips about an inch wide so they all look like chicken tenders.
1 lb. chicken breasts (prepared as above)
flour for dusting the chicken
2 tbls butter and 2 tbls oilve oil
milk (it doesn’t matter whether it is whole milk – I use 2% reduced)
- Heat a 10 inch sauce pan until warm. Add the butter and olive oil.
- Dust the chicken breasts with flour and add to the pan. Sauté on medium high heat until golden brown on each side. Salt and pepper to taste.
3.Then completely cover the chicken with milk. Lower the heat and allow the meat to simmer.
Make a delicious green salad and you have a feast! Slice a few ripe pears, drizzle them with a bit of honey and chopped walnuts. Bring out your favorite gelato and you will feel your soul restored. My friends and colleagues, I wish I could cook for you at this time, but that not being possible, make one of these dishes soon and let me know how it goes! Best wishes to you all and buon appetito!