Dear Pasta, Why Are You So Awesome?

There are a few life threatening illnesses I’d prefer to be diagnosed with before hearing my doctor tell me I have a gluten intolerance. I’m not trying to make light of a condition that affects many people, including a few I care a great deal for, I just want to ensure that I ably demonstrate how much I love pasta and bread. Firstly, I find nothing quite as completely stomach and soul satisfying as a heaping bowl of pasta. Simple pastas like Cacio e Pepe, spicy pastas like Bucatini all’ Amatriciana, creamy pastas like Spaghetti Carbonara, and stuffed pasta like tortellini, I love them all.

The other terrific thing about pasta is the fact that, if all else fails, you can grab almost anything you have taking up space in your refrigerator, pantry or cabinet, toss it with some pasta and make yourself a delicious, satisfying meal. Got an old can of chickpeas gathering dust in the back of your cabinet? Yeah, that’ll do just fine. A can of tuna? Oh yes. Also, it’s cheap, and in these Double Dip recessionary times who among us doesn’t love cheap? And utilizing leftovers and cabinet clogging stuff? Well that’s recession bliss my friends.

As it turned out we had some unexpected guests this week as their beautiful home in Connecticut was left without power thanks to Hurricane Irene. I didn’t find this out until I was already home from work and it was too late to go shopping. There was no way that I was hosting friends, displaced by a storm no less, and ordering dinner in. I’m a man of few principles but hosting etiquette is one area where I have no room for compromise. I probably wouldn’t compromise with terrorists either but thankfully I’m never asked to.

What was I to do? Dinner guests and no planning or shopping time. This called for Pantry Pasta. If you’ve been with us here at WestchesterFoodie for a spell you’ve seen PPP’s (Pantry Pasta Posts) before. Sometimes it’s genuinely fun to see what can be created from the stuff you’ve left over in the past. I took a quick inventory. I had:

  • Pasta (duh)
  • Frozen chicken breasts (Will I ever be mature enough to not giggle when I say breasts? Heh, breasts.)
  • Arugula
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Sun dried tomatoes
  • Olives
  • Garlic
  • White wine (always)
  • Chicken broth (Well, I didn’t have CB so I made my poor, displaced, refugee friend bring it from her powerless house.)
  • Fresh oregano (not a pantry staple but left over from an earlier meal)
  • Fresh Mozzarella cheese
  • Crushed red pepper
  • Corn starch
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parmigiana cheese

Yeah, that’s a lot of leftovers, but it’s what I had. Oddly I had more stuff and had to just choose the things that went best together. The importance of a well stocked pantry and fridge cannot be stressed enough. There’s a “d” in fridge but not in refrigerator….weird. I figured I’d make a nice, light pasta in a white wine, chicken broth sauce. I wanted it the sauce to be slightly thick so it would coat the pasta nicely so I figured I’d use the cornstarch. I should also point out that half of these ingredients would be more than enough to make a great dish. If anything I was overdoing it as I had evenything anyway. Simplicity is the beauty of Italian cooking and a general rule of thumb is, “when you think you have enough ingredients, eliminate two.”

The first thing I did was slice my chicken and 3 or 4 sun dried tomatoes into strips and coarsely chop the garlic, olives and oregano. I tossed the chicken strips in salt and pepper then coated them lightly in cornstarch. Then I sauteed the chicken in a pan with olive oil.

When the chicken was browned I removed it to a bowl, lowered the heat to medium, and threw in the grape tomatoes and garlic. I cooked them, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes and garlic both started softening.

I added about 1 1/2 cups of white wine and deglazed the brown bits on the bottom of the pan, then raised the heat boiling the wine until it was reduced by half. I then added about 2 cups of chicken broth along with the olives,

sun dried tomatoes……

…..and the chicken and oregano, then I simmered the whole thing for about 15 minutes. In that time I boiled well salted water and cooked my pasta, a short, Cavatelli type pasta (whose name I don’t actually know) with ridges to hold as much sauce as possible. I also cubed some mozzarella to be thrown on top at the end.

I added the pasta to the pan to finish cooking in the sauce.

xxxI wanted the sauce a bit thicker so I made a slurry with corn starch and cold water and slowly drizzled it in.

Just before finishing I added the arugula, giving it just enough time to wilt slightly but retain its pepery freshness.

It was very simple and very good. Part of the reason I started this site was so that I could remember dishes I made off the cuff when I had no idea what to make for dinner. However, in general, it often happens that the creativity and spontaneity of it adds to the taste. Pasta really is just a great canvas upon which one can create a great meal. In a word, it’s awesome.

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