Last night was “Relative Night” as in, I made dinner for my mother-in-law, her sister, my sister-in-law, her children and my family, a packed house! Everyone was arriving at 6.30 pm and expecting to eat soon after? I was in the supermarket at 5.30pm with only a vague notion of what I would be cooking? This was a tough crowd, Diane (mother-in-law) loved food but had a limited diet, her sister…. I had no idea about her likes and dislikes, my sister-in-law didn’t like the texture of mushrooms and kids being kids put a damper on many options.
When I cook for a crowd I never think about separating the kids from the adults. I absolutely do not belive in making “kid food” as I call it, and sticking them at a different table – why do people do that? No wonder kids have a hard time communicating with adults and vice versa – they have no practice! If kids are at the same table, enjoying the same food, they feel part of the group and get use to expressing themselves. There is nothing nicer than being around a table where grown-ups and children are all talking and laughing ( on occasion, the kid at the table can sometimes end up being the most interesting person to talk to!).
So how to please everyone? I knew that Diane loved the dark meat of chicken (only) and that pasta was universally liked by adults and kids. I started to think about creamy chicken with pasta? There is a dish in Italy that is based on a creamy sauce with pasta and is finished in the oven. I’m sure there are endless variations? So, using those guidelines I ran around the shop grabbing ingredients. I called my husband and asked if Diane liked mushrooms?? He told me to not think about what people liked and didn’t like and to just cook! Dispelling my worries about what to use or not to use I armed myself with cream, chicken thighs, mushrooms and fresh basil!
Dinner turned out great in every way. My sister-in-law brought over a couple of bottles of prosecco which was fantastic with the chicken. A night with the relatives can go in any direction and last night will be remembered by me as a table full of loud happy talking and empty plates – what could be better..
You will need – 12 to 14 boneless, skinless, thigh cutlets (cutlets are on the small side), 1 medium sweet onion (Vidalia), diced, 4 garlic cloves finely chopped, 8 oz white mushrooms, slices, 4 cups (2 big bunches) of fresh basil leaves, left whole, 1 1/2 cups white wine, 3/4 cup heavy cream, 2 tbs olive oil, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper for seasoning, pepper flakes (optional), Parmigiano Reggiana cheese (optional), 1 lb linguine pasta (I use Barilla brand).
1 – Wash and dry chicken ( I always wash chicken?) and season with salt and pepper. Using a big saute pan on high heat with oil, brown thighs on both sides (2 minutes per side). Remove to a plate and turn heat down to low.
2 – Add onions and garlic to pan and cook for about 5 minutes, until onions are soft. Add mushrooms and continue to cook for another 7 or 8 minutes until onions begin to brown.
3 – Turn heat up to high and add wine. When it comes to a boil put chicken back into pan. Turn heat down to low (until you have a small simmer going), cover and cook for 20 minutes, at which time the chicken will be cooked.
4 – While chicken is cooking preheat oven to 400* and put pot of water on for pasta. When water boils cook pasta according to instructions (the pasta should be cooked about the time you need to add it to your pan). *Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water before draining into colander.
5 – When chicken is cooked remove to a plate and turn up heat under pan and add cream. Let the sauce bubble gently for 3 minutes. Put the chicken back into pan, add drained pasta, reserved pasta water and 3 1/2 cups of fresh basil leaves. Mix everything gently and place in oven. Time for 10 minutes then cover and cook for 5 more minutes. Take out and let it sit covered for about 10 minute to let all the flavors meld and settle.
Garnish with all or any of the following: pepper flakes, fresh basil leaves and Parmigiano Reggiana cheese.