Pasta with Mushroom and Peas

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!!!

Menù

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.

Ingredients

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)

Directions

1. If you are using dried porcini, put them in a bowl to soak for at least 20 minutes.

As you can see here, these dried porcini are truly magnificent, large and plump. My husband brought these back from Piemonte where they are harvested and dried, then sold in small boutiques that sell to restaurants and avid cooks alike.

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.

Ingredients

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)

Directions

  1. Heat a 10 inch sauce pan until warm. Add the butter and olive oil.
  2. 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.

4. Be careful to watch the milk at first because it has a tendency to boil over. Reduce the heat and cover the pan and cook for about 20 minutes. Keep watching it throughout; you may have to shake the pan a few times and turn the slices over to prevent the chicken from sticking on the bottom. Once the milk has reduced to a creamy finish and the chicken is tender, the dish is done!
This dish is so good with a side of mashed potatoes and some sautéed broccolini.

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!

Chicken with Peppers and Tomatoes

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The first peppers of the season shining brightly in hues of red, orange and pale yellow beckoned to me as I strode through the farmer’s market last Saturday. I think of all the possible delicious dishes that can come of these golden jewels – open flame roasted and marinated, oven roasted with potatoes, sautéed or stir fried quickly, stuffed, grilled on the barbecue, made into a “peperonata” ….the list goes on. But one of my favorite ways reminds me of our glorious days at our beach house in Terracina during the summer and that is braised in a similar way a “chicken cacciatore”is cooked. My mother used to like to make it because it could be paired with spaghetti, polenta, potatoes, rice, or sopped up with lots of crunchy bread. Even though chicken was quite expensive, the dish stretched well and was oh so tasty!

The basic ingredients are simple: chicken, peppers, tomatoes, and garlic.

  • One whole chicken fryer
  • 6 peppers of various colors. Make sure the peppers have some “heft,” not too thin or they will melt away in the cooking process.
  • 2-3 fresh tomatoes or 1 can diced tomatoes (or a combination of both)
  • 3 tbl olive oil + 1/4 cup safflower oil
  • 3-4 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 cup white wine
  • salt and pepper

I prefer cooking this dish with a complete fryer chicken because I don’t really like the way butchers break down the chicken in precut packages. I like the variety of the whole chicken, but this dish can be made with thighs or legs only, whatever you prefer. I separate the thighs from the leg and remove the wings. I take the skin off the thighs and breast pieces to reduce the amount of fat. I use the back and split it in two pieces. Even though they are bony, they provide extra flavor to the dish. I debone the breast (this helps create more portions and reduce bulk). I remove each tenderloin and cut each breast in two pieces. Finally I rub salt on all the pieces and let them rest as I prep the vegetables.

I slice the peppers into strips and set them aside. Chop the garlic and have it ready. If using fresh tomatoes, I sometimes peel them if the skin seems tough. Then cut them in half, take out the seeds, and chop coarsely.

Doesn’t that look like a glorious riot of color?

Once the peppers, tomatoes, and garlic are prepped, we are ready for action!

Procedure:

  • In a pan at medium heat, add a tablespoon or two of safflower oil. Brown the chicken on all sides, first the larger pieces, then the smaller.
  • Remove the chicken from the pan and place in a bowl. Drain the pan of some of the fat without losing the bits of browned meat. Return to the heat and add the olive oil. When it is hot, add the chicken and the garlic. After 5 minutes when you see the chicken and garlic are beginning to turn golden, add the wine.
As you can see, the pieces are all snuggled nicely in the pan. The thicker pieces are browned and I have added the breast pieces later so they won’t dry out.
  • Add the tomatoes once the wine begins to evaporate. Cook these for about five minutes until you see the tomatoes begin to break down. Then add the peppers and season with some salt.
  • Add a cup of water and let the ingredients come to a boil for 5-10 minutes, then cover the pan. Turn down the flame and let the chicken and peppers braise for 45 minutes. Keep an eye on the peppers because you don’t want them to fall apart. If necessary remove the lid and let the liquid evaporate. You want a nice sauce, but not too watery or too dry.

This dish is so good in so many ways as I said earlier…with spaghetti, over polenta or rice. You can even add potatoes in the cooking to make this a one pot dinner. If you make it the day before serving, you will find its flavors mellow and become even more delicious the next day. Enjoy these last days of summer in the warmth of this dish!

Pork Saltimbocca

Are you looking for a meat dish that is quick, easy, and satisfying – even elegant? Pork Saltimbocca literally is a “leap in the mouth” of tender buttery goodness. The advantages of this dish is the cooking does not interfere with other preparations you are making, especially when you are entertaining. You can prep it ahead of time and cook it quickly at the last minute just before serving. Some say the original dish came from Brescia because of the use of veal, but today you can be sure it has taken firm footing in Roman cuisine where it is ubiquitous in the city’s restaurants. I use pork because I have a hard time finding good veal in my area. I start with a whole piece of good quality boneless pork loin and then cut it in 1/8 inch thick slices.

This is a pound and a half. You will probably only use half, reserve the remaining piece for another use or freeze it.

Ingredients

1 lb boneless pork roast

4 oz block of monterey jack cut into logs (about an inch) – the purpose of this is so the cheese won’t melt into nothing when you are cooking it

8 oz prosciutto

several fresh leaves of sage

salt and pepper; onion salt (optional)

flour enough for dusting the meat

butter and olive oil

water, broth, lemon juice or wine – about 1/4 c

You’ll also need toothpicks to secure the meat pouches.

Lay the slices on a cutting board and pound them lightly between two sheets of plastic wrap. Lightly salt (not too much) the meat. Place a slice of prosciutto on the pork, one piece of cheese and a small leaf of sage.

Once you have prepared the meat, you are ready to fold each and fasten with a toothpick.

At this point you can cover the meat with plastic wrap and let it rest in the fridge while you go about fixing the rest of the meal, greet your guests, cook pasta…I would not do this hours before you cook it, but a few won’t hurt the dish.

When you are ready to cook the saltimbooca, heat your pan until it is hot. Add 2-3 tbl of olive oil and 2 tbl of butter (you can reduce the quantity if this is too fat for you. Dust the meat with a flour and place in the pan at moderate heat as you see in the photo above. Salt lightly (I sometimes use onion salt to give the dish and extra boost), flip the pieces and lightly brown on the other side.

At this point, you can cover the pan, turn off the heat, and let the meat rest if you have a large group your are cooking for – or if you are entertaining a dinner party. This is a tip coming from my mother who used to cater and would prep the dish until this point. Then she would resume as explained below.

You will see the cheese begin to melt, add 1/2- 3/4 cup of water, broth, or wine. Shake the pan until a sauce forms, slide it all on a platter (I added a little basil at the end only because it was handy) and voilà the dish is ready to serve.

Pork saltimbocca can be served as a main dish in all seasons of the year. Pair it with lightly sautéed string beans or spinach, mashed potatoes or rice, as a second course following a pasta or risotto. It’s a good all around dish to have in your repertoire!