Pollo alla Parmigiana

When I get sick, I get sick with a vengeance.  I mean, *everything* goes wrong at the same time.  I catch the flu, develop an infection, do something to my back, can’t shake a cough, and suffer from everything short of a flesh-eating disease over the span of 2 or 3 successive weeks – and my doctors just shrug and intimate hypochondria.  Whatevs.  My molting period seems to be over finally, and I walked back into Whole Foods this morning with a feeling of purpose.  I asked the husbandman what he wanted, and – true to self – he said “pasta”. I stewed that idea in the brain for a few minutes, until I remembered something friend Steph L said she’d be enjoying for her dinner last night: chicken parm.  There is nothing like a good chicken parmesan, and nothing harder to find IMHO.  So, Lolita that I be, I decided to reinvent it my way.  Witness: a semi-deconstructed chicken parmesan — pounded thin pan-crunchy cutlets, layered with prosciutto and provolone and homemade chunky pasta sauce, served with aglio alio al dente angel hair pasta.  Unctuous, cheesy, vegetal, tender, and rich – just what I needed to re-enrich my healing self.

Pollo alla Parmigiana

1 large can crushed tomatoes
2 tbs tomato paste
1 carrot
1 small onion
2 stalks celery
1 carrot
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter, divided
3/4 lb chicken breast
6 slices prosciutto americano
8 slices provolone cheese
parmigianno reggiano
angel hair pasta
6 cloves garlic
butter
flour, panko breadcrumbs, garlic powder, dried oregano, dried parsley, sea salt, black pepper, EVOO

Start by making a nice mirepoix: diced carrot, celery, onion…

… and chopped garlic.

Saute the veg in EVOO in a large pan until translucent, then add your crushed tomatoes and tomato puree.  Stir well, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer , cover, and cook for at least 45 minutes — but longer is good, too.  I think mine went for almost 90 minutes; I was cooking casually.

I was a little disappointed by Whole Foods’s so-called chicken cutlets.  I paid at least $.50 more a pound based on the sign, assuming I’d get properly thinly sliced chicken breast.  Instead, I received a few sloppily butterflied chicken breasts, which I could have done myself.  Next time, I’ll go to Reliable Market, where they thin slice their poultry and meats partially frozen, into true super-thin cutlets, which require no pounding.  These I had to pound.

And here’s how I do it: after cutting the butterflied portion off the main breast, I tenderized and flattened each piece of chicken  by laying three at a time into a large gallon zipper back, which I then set inside a folded dishcloth.  Using my sharpening steel, and turning the bag 90° every few whacks, I smack the crap out of my protein until it’s as flat as I can get it.  The next three pictures illustrate the trifecta of pan-searing.

Egg, beaten with milk.

Pulverized panko  breadcrumbs.

Panko cut with flour dressed with black pepper, garlic powder, and dried oregano.   Dip each cutlet into eggmilk, and dredge thoroughly until dry with pankoflour.

In a large non-stick skillet, melt 2 tbs  butter and a glug of EVOO over high heat until foaming.

Without crowding the pan, saute all the dredged cutlets in shifts ( I was able to do 2 at a time) for about 3-4 minutes on each side, or until a perfect golden brown.  Set aside on some foil in a single layer and keep warm.

Layer each cutlet with a slice of prosciutto.

Then layer each slice of prosciutto with a slice of provolone cheese.

Then, in an ovenproof casserole dish,  top each chickenporkcheese stack with a spoonful of sauce, and top that with another chickenporkcheese stack and another spoonful of sauce.

Finally, top each stack with a few slices of provolone cheese, then throw under the oven’s broiler for 8 minutes until the chicken is hot and the cheese is brown and bubbling.

Meanwhile, my angel hair pasta has been roiling in salted water and 4 tablespoons of butter has been heated to foaming with a tablespoon of minced garlic.

I strain the pasta of water, strain the butter of toasted garlic solids, and toss the two together in a warm bowl with shaved parmesan cheese and cracked black pepper.

Layers of tender chicken, unctuous prosciutto, thick rich tomato sauce, and stretchy provolone cheese, served alongside a nest of garlicky buttered pasta: perfection on a plate.  The dull edge of my fork effortlessly glides through my tower of poultry parmesan, and I deftly spin a shroud of spaghetti and chunky saucy on its tine before I lift it, licking lips, to my anticipating mouth.  The meal is both filling and light, and in both ways absolutely satisfying.  This may be the best chicken parm I’ve ever made – or ever ate.  And now that I’ve codified the recipe, I can look forward to enjoying — and maybe improving upon it – in the future…

Hand-cut Pappardelle with Garlic Cream and Lobster

This marks my second lobster recipe in a row, although I was surprised it wasn’t more, considering that it’s lobster-season and I’ve been practically swallowing them whole for a few weeks now.  I could Benjamin Buford Blue you (lobster salad, lobster tacos, lobster lasagna, lobster risotto, lobster fritters, lobster cerviche, etc….), but suffice to say I’ve been experimenting with these sea-bugs and have loved every bite.  Today’s offering is a delicious pasta dish, made with hand-crafted and cut spinach noodles, a garlic and parmigiano infused cream, and succulent, tender, juicy, sweet lobster meat.

Hand-cut Pappardelle with Garlic Cream and Lobster

2 1lb fresh, live lobsters
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 cloves crushed garlic
4 tbs butter
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano cheese
3 sheets hand-rolled, fresh spinach pasta
sea salt, cracked black pepper, snipped chives for garnish

Tough lobster is shameful, and adding lobster meat to a pasta can over-cook it lickety split, so one must par-cook fresh lobsters to get properly prepared meat for any dish that requires further cooking it in a sauce or something.  I’ve par-cooked lobsters a few times before, but here’s the skinny: throw your alive and kicking lobsters in a large, empty pot, and bring a gallon or so of water with some vinegar to a heady boil.  Pour the boiled water over the lobsters, comfort them with words of sympathy until they stop moving (read: die), and let them soak for about 5 minutes. (For another, more detailed description, check out one of my past postings.) Remove the lobsters from the water, then cut the meat out of the tail, claws, and knuckles while they’re still hot.

Viola!  Perfectly par-boiled lobster meat.  I leave the knuckle meat and claws whole, and I split the tail right up the middle (removing the vein). I put this in the fridge to chill down and stop cooking.

Living in Boston means shopping for fine groceries in the North End, and I ain’t one to fly in the face of that sort of foodie imperative.  The sheer multitude of fine Italian restaurants and shops is dizzying, although until relatively recently there were no real fresh pasta makers selling to the retail market.  Enter DePasquale’s Handmade Pasta, a perfect little shop right on Congress Street – facing the Haymarket through the Rose Kennedy Parkway – that sells fine cheeses, charcuterie, some imported grocery items and, of course, their own pasta.  I was in the mood for a lasagna the other day, and although the pictures didn’t turn out as good as the meal did (which is why I didn’t post it), I had several sheets of their absolutely delicious spinach pasta left, which I decided to cut into thick strips, called pappardelle – AKA wide fettucini noodles.

This is a pretty simple recipe: what keeps it from being a Weeknight Wondermeal is that most people can’t get their hands on lobster and fresh pasta as easily as we city-dwellers can.  But, as you can see from the list of ingredients, it’s not too complicated.  The sauce starts easily: 2 or 3 tablespoons of freshly minced garlic (do *not* use that crap suspended in oil purchased at the grocery store – it’s horrible!) and lotsa butter.

I melt the butter and, when it’s frothy, I add the minced garlic and simmer gently on low heat until fragrant but NOT browned.

I strain the garlic and butter solids from the pan, leaving only lovely clarified garlic-infused deliciousness.

Into this I whisk my heavy cream, which I bring to a roiling boil over medium heat.

Finally, I add my lobster meat and most of my fresh grated cheese (which I forgot to take a picture of), stirring everything together well until the sauce thickens and the lobster is fully cooked and heated through.

Earlier, I brought my pasta to a boil for 3 minutes in a large pot of salted water.  After the lobster is heated through, I pick it out of the sauce and set it aside, keeping it warm, so I can toss my cooked and drained pappardelle in the cream sauce.  (If I leave the lobster in, it will all sink to the bottom when I try to plate my dish…)

Succulent, buttery, delicate and sweet lobster meat atop a steaming platter of perfectly al dente spinach pasta doused in a rich, flavorful, creamy cheese sauce.  A sprinkle of parmigiano, chives, salt and pepper round out the dish, and a glass of crisp white wine completes the meal.  O, if only lobster season was year ’round!  Thank God it’s not, or else my perpetually-6-months-pregnant profile would probably make it to full term.

Simple Sick Day Kitchen Sink Pork Chop Soup

I’ve recently come to terms with something: I am going to be one of those old ladies that is always complaining about her aches and pains.  Yup.  I know this because I’m already doing it.  And I’m about to set it down in writing.  Here goes: an acute muscle spasm of unknown origin on my right shoulder kept me awake in surprising pain all night Monday. Compensating for that has lead to a flare up of excruciating bursitis that’s frankly immobilized my left shoulder today.  I’m doped up on muscle relaxer and sluggish from hours just sitting, trying not to move.  But yet, dear readers, I had to eat – and nothing delivery would do.  So, I get up, rummage one-handedly through the fridge and my pantry shelves, and I throw together some soup – some warm, bright, savory, light, fresh, healing and wholesome soup.  With a sudden surge of energy, I find myself taking pictures before I even realize I’m doing it.  And now, here I type – with my right hand only, my left can’t reach or hold itself to the keyboard without shooting a searing pain from my shoulder to the tip of my middle finger – because, well, I’m obsessive that way.  If I’m going to be a wimp whose arms just decide to stop working one day, I’m at least going to be a well fed wimp.

Simple Sick Day Kitchen Sink Pork Chop Soup

1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
1 stalk celery
6-8 tbs diced tomatoes
8 cups chicken stock
sea salt, cracked black pepper, oregano
1 smoked pork chop
1 can cannellini beans
4 cups loose fresh spinach leaves
1 cup small pasta
parmigiano reggiano cheese

I call this a kitchen sink soup because I just threw all sorts of scraps and ends and stuff I found in the freezer and fridge – everything I could find, really – to make this.  I had an old bag of celery, from which I was able to harvest a still snappy center stalk, a stray carrot, and a found-in-the-back-of-the-drawer onion — all of these I washed, peeled, and chopped roughly.  Nights like these are why it’s always good to have basic mirepox ingredients like these on hand.

These I very ungracefully chuck into my wok, which is sizzling with a few glugs of EVOO on the surface.  After adding a dash of salt, a generous tablespoon or so of black pepper,  and about two tablespoons of dried oregano, I let everything sweat and soften for a few minutes.

I wasn’t feeding a crowd, and I didn’t want a tomato sauce, so I only add about half the contents of a can of diced tomatoes in juice.  I toss everything well, and let it all simmer for a few moments.

Just enough time to chop up my chop.  This perfectly smoked, perfectly trimmed pork chop is from Blood Farms, and it’s been in my freezer for a few weeks now.  It doesn’t take too long to defrost, and then I…

… cut all the meat off the bone, and then into bite-sized pieces.

Everything gets chucked into the pan – meat and bone (why loose all that beautiful smoked seasoning?).  A quick stir later…

… and I add my chicken stock.  I bring this to a boil, lower to a gentle simmer, and let cook for about 30 minutes.

Oh, right — my beans!  I didn’t think the soup would be hearty enough without beans, so I crack a can of cannellini, which I drain and rinse before I add them to the pot.

While this is simmering, I boil off about a cup of ditalini pasta in salted water.  I don’t cook it in the soup because I don’t want to add all that cloudy starch to my broth.

I made a spinach salad at a party the other day, and I had one bunch left over, just about to start its conversion process into compost.  I salvaged the crispest leaves and threw them in the soup during the last 2 minutes of its simmer.

They melt beautifully into the soup.

The final ingredient: this lump of leftover parmigiano reggiano cheese – the perfect nutty salty substance to top off all the vegetable and porky goodness swimming in my bowl.

A luscious, steaming broth, made slightly smoky by the bites of chop ladled throughout, enriched by the white beans and tender pasta, and freshened by the carrots and spinach and spice.  It might have been easier to crack a can of Campbell’s soup (if I had one), but then I would have to deal with preservatives and salt and stuff I couldn’t control.  Although my left arm is still no better than a vestigial appendage, and my right lung feels like it can’t take a full breath (this getting old shit has got to stop!), my tummy and soul feel totally satisfied – almost giddy, even.  If chicken soup is for the soul, here’s hoping pork soup is for the shoulder…