To give this scrumptious Italian number it’s full name….Peppered Chicken Fettuccine Tossed with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Wild Mushrooms & Spinach. It may very well be known by another name but I’m afraid I have no have no idea what it might be. The original recipe was passed to me by a talented young chef in Bendigo named Adam and so the credit, and thanks, go to him.
You will notice, perhaps with some panic, that I have omitted the proportions. The reason for this is that after making it a few times, I discarded the recipe and made it to taste. For instance, I love mushrooms but the kids balk at their texture and so the amount and the variety will vary. We all adore pesto but it can make the dish a little rich and heavy, so if you have plenty of chicken to go around, cut down on the pesto and vice versa. Experiment by adding and tasting as you go. Add more of what you like and less of what you don’t but don’t go mad otherwise it will become too salty or overly rich.
Referring back to the long-winded title, if you are partial to it, you might like to add more pepper and reduce the amount of pesto. Heck! Leave out the pesto, sun-dried tomatoes and substitute cream and you have yourself a completely different meal!
Fettuccine or Tagliatelle
Chicken Breast Fillets
Cracked black pepper
Start by cooking the pasta in well salted water.This should take between 8 and 10 minutes once the water is boiling, just long enough to let you prepare the rest of the dish.
Slice the chicken into equal pieces and marinate in olive oil and black pepper while you get on with the other stuff.
Slice the mushrooms and cook in an equal butter oil mix. Season and add a little garlic.Personally, I prefer to just heat them through so they remain quite firm but not still crunchy. You can experiment with wild mushrooms and I would suggest Crimini (Cremini, baby bellas, Italian Brown and Portabellini)for their richer, more earthy flavour or for the more adventurous (and if you can get them), Pied de Mouton or Porcini (Penny Buns) but any mushroom imparting earthy or nutty flavours such as Portabello, would be great in this dish. If you manage to get your hands on some good ‘uns, reduce the impact of the other ingredients and make it more about the mushrooms.
Fry the chicken in olive oil, add mushrooms and the sun-dried tomatoes. Add the pesto and garlic. Season to taste.Other than the pasta, the chicken is the only other ingredient you actually cook, everything else simply requires warming through!
Add more olive oil for the sauce.You may leave this step out if you’re not a fan of olive oil but you don’t want it to be too dry.
Drain and add the cooked pasta, toss and add shaved Parmesan.Potato peelers are great for shaving but a standard grater will probably have the necessary grating slot.
Add the spinach, toss and add a knob of butter.If you’re not a big fan of spinach, try it anyway because it’s the marriage of flavours that make this dish so bloody lovely. If you really must, leave out the spinach, it won’t lessen the dish noticeably. You might also like to add lightly toasted pine nuts or even almond slivers.
Serve with shaved Parmesan on top and accompany with a chilly crisp white of your choice.
Perhaps I’ll add a few black olives when I do this next and I must remember to take photos. Here’s one I borrowed but it doesn’t have sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, Parmesan or any chicken for that matter!!
One of the first things I do every morning is think about what I might prepare for dinner that evening. Today I have been offered a suggestion in the form of a ready disected and roasted pumpkin and a packet of red lentils, strategically displayed where I wouldn’t miss them.
In a scene reminiscent of Ready, Steady, Cook I lean on the counter staring at the two ingredients in an effort to draw inspiration. It wasn’t too difficult to come up with a few ideas but given the frosty morning and the hope of little improvement for the remainder of the day, I opted for an Indian themed soup.
This simple recipe requires no culinary prowess and I am not even going to proffer precise quantities for all ingredients as it’s mostly created by taste and in quantities you desire.
Lentils are bloody marvelous, so versatile and help lower cholestral too. I use them in a multitude of dishes from soups to stews because they are so quick and easy to use. Rinse and chuck them into your favourite stock or plain old H2O. For this dish, I’m using 500gms of red lentils but then I currently have nine mouths to feed! Don’t fret about making too much as it freezes very well.
Firstly, rinse the lentils in cold water. I’m using the Nature’s Selection brand which require no pre-soaking, so follow the instructions you have.
Finely chop a large onion and gently fry in a few tablespoons of vegetable oil. As the onion begins to very lightly brown, add a couple of cloves of minced garlic. After a further minute or so, combine a heaped teaspoon of turmeric, cumin and coriander but you can reduce or increase any combination depending on your own taste. Gently frying at this stage helps to release the flavours and aromas of the spices better than adding to the soup later. Having said that, keep tasting periodically and adding more until the moment you serve.
Add your shiny clean lentils to a suitably sized pot and drown in chicken or vegetable stock. I’m starting with a litre and a half but can easily add more later if required and probably will.
Now scrape the flesh away from the hard pumpkin skin if soft, else cut the skin away and chop roughly.
Throw everything into your pot, bring to the boil and simmer for approximately 45 minutes. If you prefer, you can liquidise the soup for smooth finish but this just adds to the washing up and I consider it excessive faffing about and in any case, I quite like the non-liquidised texture.
If you have any fresh coriander leaves, roughly chop and use as garnish. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or natural yoghurt and accompany with mini papadums or fresh crusty bread.
Several people have asked for my pizza recipe and while I often jot it onto a piece of paper for them, posting the ‘official’ version here might reassure them that ‘it really is that simple’. It certainly can be simple if you want it to be but there is a whole Interwebthingy strewn with debate, research, long versions, short versions, hints, tips and recipes from the pure and simple to the cluttered, chaotic and downright unnecessary. If you’re looking for a tomato sauce recipe, you won’t find it in this post but I will certainly cover it soon…
This is my version of a simple dough which is identical to so many out there. It was a starting point for experimentation, trial and error and my own search for great tasting pizza. I’m not saying it’s great by any high gluten stretch of the imagination and I’m not saying there aren’t better recipes out there but it’s a quick and simple version that could whet your appetite and launch you on your own quest for the Holy Grail of pizza.
The short way down
1 cup of plain flour
8 tbsp of warm water
1 tsp of salt
1 tsp of sugar
1 tsp of yeast
1 tbsp olive oil
Mix and knead for several minutes. Oil the inside of a bowl with a little olive oil or spray. Drop the ball of dough in and cover with Glad wrap or a damp cloth and leave somewhere warm. Leave to rise for a couple of hours or until it nearly doubles in size.
Punch the dough down in the centre and roll out on to a floured surface while the oven heats up to about 240° C. Add your tomato sauce and favourite toppings and bake for about 10 t0 15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
Once your dough is rolled out to the required size and thickness, transfer to a tray or other flat surface covered with semolina or cornmeal. This will enable the topped and finished pizza to easily slide off when you transfer it to the oven.
The long way ’round
For those partial to the convoluted, the following might satisfy your appetite. It’s the same simple recipe, just long-winded.
Flour – Strong baker’s flour is best but I often use the super-cheap supermarket homebrand. You can also buy specific bread and pizza flour such as the Anchor brand (for those of us in Australia) but generally, a strong, high protein, plain flour is what you’re after. High protein means higher elasticity and a better rise. Get King Arthur Bread flour if you can find it.
Salt – Good old fashioned table salt. A possibly interesting variation might be to use rock salt for an added crunchy suprise but until I find the salt shaker empty, I might just leave the rock for other recipes and emergencies.
Olive oil – I add a tablespoon of olive oil to the warm water and sometimes drizzle lightly over simple pizzas. A drop or two should be used to line the bowl to prevent sticking during the rise. The spray version is quite handy for this.
Water – 8 tablespoons of warm water should be a guide but 9 shouldn’t harm. If the dough isn’t slightly sticky add minute quantities and continue kneading. It should pull away from the bowl but just stick the bottom as you knead. Conversely, if it’s too wet, sticking to both hands and the bowl, simply sprinkle small quantities of flour. Apparently, an acceptable dough should stretch nicely without cracking.
Yeast – A level teaspoon of ordinary bakers yeast is sufficient for this recipe but this is one ingredient that you don’t necessarily double up on when making larger quantities. I believe this equates to a sachet of the common brands found in any supermarket. During your quest for the perfect pizza, yeast becomes very important but we’ll talk about that another time.
Add all dry ingredients to a large bowl. I use a hand whisk to disperse thoroughly. Make a well in the middle and pour in the water and olive oil.
Use a fork and mix until mostly combined. This saves getting all gooed up. Then again, so does using an electric mixer with dough hooks. Now use a floured hand to knead the dough. I find, as many do, that the kneading process is quite relaxing. It’s also a more socially acceptable means of developing a strong right hand but I digress. This should be done for several minutes before covering and leaving in a warm place to rise. I usually use Glad wrap instead of a traditional damp cloth.
There is much debate concerning ingredients, methods and temperatures etc and the length and size of the dough rise is no exception but if I’m in a hurry, I’ll roll it out whenever I damn please.
Many will say that you must wait until it doubles in size and there are arguments for overnight rising but as this is supposed to be a super simple recipe, leave it until it has risen by about 50-75%, usually between 1 and 2 hours. I have even kept dough covered in the fridge for days before using it and if you find regular kneading a chore, or the size of your kneading arm grows to the embarrassing proportions of Popeye, make up a batch, divide into single pizza balls, rub with olive oil, seal in Glad wrap or sandwich bags and throw in the freezer for a rainy day. Once solid, they can be dropped into a sock to manufacture a formidable weapon against burglars, door-to-door salesmen and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Once your dough has risen enough, dump it out onto a clean floured surface and punch the centre to expel the air. You can use your fist to start spreading the dough outwards. Purists will say you should use just your fingers to manipulate and stretch the dough to the required size and shape but this takes time. Personally, I more often than not use a medium sized empty jam jar. Starting from the middle, gently and evenly roll the dough outwards but avoid rolling the edge. Leaving a slightly thicker rim will result in a lovely crunchy hand hold and prevent hot goey ingredients from sliding off.
Once the dough is just about there or your patience runs out, whichever is sooner, wack the oven on at 240° C. If you are using a stone, then aim for a good 20 minutes or more to heat up properly. I have heard conflicting theories on stone placement, whether it be top or bottom of the oven and it may just have been luck but I have slightly better results by placing the stone at the top of my rather crappy fan-assisted oven. You’ll have to experiment. Keep an eye on it but at this temperature, 10 minutes should do but take it out when the cheese has melted and the crust is golden brown.
If, like me, you catch the pizza-making bug, it will not be long before you begin the quest for the ‘perfect pizza’. However, you need not look much further than Jeff Varasano’s web site. Just ask Google for ‘the perfect pizza recipe’ and Jeff’s site sits in the number one spot. I’ve scanned it numerous times to glean tips but it makes my mouth water in a particularly undignified and wholly Homer-like fashion, every time I visit. I shall have to wear a bib should I ever be lucky enough to visit his recently opened pizzeria in New York!
In the end
The key to making great pizza, in my opinion, is to keep it simple and this recipe is certainly that. By all means experiment with every step until you are satisfied. Get yourself a pizza stone, cook quicker at higher temperatures or for longer on lower, try the top of the oven as well as the lower, add grated Parmesan or mixed herbs to the dough or vary the thickness of crust. All this I will endeavor to cover another time.
All said and done, you have to enjoy what you are doing, otherwise call Domino’s!