Two of our very good friends went to Italy for 5 weeks. I’m very excited for them, but mad jealous also. They are in Tuscany and one of them has spent months at a time there and, has told me all sorts of fabulous gastronomic tidbits about the delicate pastas, robust sauces, cheeses, fish, fowl, cured meats and of course, the wine. It seems like every meal is a celebration, but none more than dinner. It is all about the chopping, the tasting and the talk is all about the food. Now that it is all over and I am in the quiet of my kitchen I have to say that this dinner was voted the #1 dinner of 2011. I don’t know exactly how it came about but I will say that when you ponder enough (about food that is) about something…it pays off! I felt like I was eating food I did not cook. That is actually a good thing. It was not familiar and predictable, as one’s food seems to be after a while…it seemed fresh and inspired. When I thought about Italian food I thought about pasta, cured meat, parsley and fennel. Here is what I came up with . I also made a dessert and I wanted something light so I used oranges. It was also impressive. I have posted the dessert separately. This dinner is dedicated to my friends who are eating the real thing in Cortona (I hate them!)
You will need: 1 lb chicken breast, 3 oz sopressato (cured pork), 4 garlic cloves, 1/2 cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley, 1/2 cup white wine, 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1 fennel bulb, 1 lb rigatoni pasta, 2 tb unsalted butter, 1 tb extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup pasta cooking water (you will get this when you cook the rigatoni), freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Put big pot of cold water on high heat for pasta, along with 1 tsp kosher salt. Firstly, prepare all vegetables: Finely chop garlic, finely chop parsley, thinly slice chicken into stripes, cut stalks from fennel bulb and quarter the bulb.
Add 1 1/2 tb of butter to small pan (7-8″) on low heat and melt. Add quartered fennel bulb and cover. Every 5 minutes turn bulb to a different side so all sides brown evenly (about 15 minutes).
Turn off pan when fennel is soft and leave on stove-top until ready to use. As pasta water boils and fennel cooks put a 12″ saute pan on low to medium heat and add 1/2 tb butter and 1/2 olive oil. When pan is warm add garlic and cook for 2 minutes before adding chicken, sopressato and parsley.
Saute chicken on low to medium heat until cooked (about 6 minutes). Add white wine and cream and continue to cook on low for another 4 minutes.
Season with lots of freshly ground black pepper and turn pan off and cover with a lid. In the meantime cook the rigatoni (takes about 14 minutes) and when it is cooked, scoop out 1 cup of pasta water before draining and set aside. Toss pasta directly into sauce. Add pasta water and stir everything together.
Let everything sit to melt on low heat for about 3 minutes before serving in a warm bowl topped with a piece of fennel, more freshly chopped flat leafed parsley and lots of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese – delectable…