Baked Shells with Chicken, Scapes, Chard & Sugar Peas (serves 6)

WE GOT SCAPES! This is the fleeting moment in the growing season when I get to cook with one of my favorite things; garlic scapes. These are the shoots that emerge from the center of a garlic plant before the underground head of the garlic sizes up. They are a beautiful shade of green and are long and stubbornly curly in nature.

Scapes

They were the prize veggie in my CSA share box from Good Work Farm this week (look to the top right of my blog for info. on what a CSA is). Good Work Farm have partnered with another local farm who specialize in garlic, and I will get to enjoy their crop for the rest of the year – Thank you Rambler Farm!

Of course I got other fantastic things in my veggie box (like chard, white turnips, snow peas, beets, kale, lettuces etc) but the scapes got me thinking about all sorts of dinner possibilities. They have a mild garlic taste and are tender when cooked, and can be tossed into anything where you might use garlic. I wanted to be minimal and saute them in olive oil and toss them with spaghetti and some Maldon sea salt flakes, but, my family would have eaten it, complimented me on the first course, and then wondered when the meat or fish course was coming?

I came up with something to satisfy everyone!

A few days earlier I had gotten some big pasta shells and decided to experiment with those and make a baked pasta with the scapes, held together with a variation on a bechamel sauce, by adding the broth used to cook some chicken breasts, in addition to the milk.

When in NYC this past week I stopped into a fantastic spice shop on 1st ave (close to 1st st.) and bought a Vindaloo curry powder, which had a crazy variety of ingredients, such as cardamom, cayenne, cumin, cloves, mango & lemon powders, ginger, the lists goes on. The shop owner said it was “hot” and after one whiff I couldn’t resist taking my chances and buying a modest amount. I added 1 teaspoon of the sweetly pungent powder to my sauce and couldn’t have been happier with the results. It was just enough to color the sauce and give a mildly exotic flavor to the overall dish.  I also opted against adding cheese to lighten the whole dish up, and it was not missed one bit!

I threw in some red chard and the last of some sugar ann peas (from my CSA share last week) to give everything a green hue. The snap from the peas along with the mild flavor of the scapes was an amazing combination with the light clinging sauce.

You have to try this!

Dinner last night was a big hit with everyone. I was sorry I hadn’t invited anyone over to show off, but, now we have leftovers for lunch. I still have enough scapes to invent some more great things this week, and I am certainly putting them in my scrambled eggs this morning!

_______________________________________________________

Preheat oven 375* at Step 5

You will Need: 3 large boneless chicken breasts, 1 cup chicken broth, 4 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, 1 medium sweet onion, diced, 5 scapes, chopped, 1 bunch red chard, thick center vein removed and leaves roughly chopped, 1 cup sugar snap peas, cut in half lengthways, 1/2 cup white wine, 3 tbs unsalted butter, 3 tbs unbleached white flour, 2 cups milk (any % will do), 1 tsp curry powder (optional, but recommended), coarse sea salt and several grinds of black pepper, 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs, 1 lb pasta shells (I used a large shell by Barilla)

Sear chicken..

1 – Put pan (big enough to cook chicken breasts) on high heat and add 2 tbs of oil. Season chicken lightly with salt and pepper and add to pan when oil gets hot. Cook for 2 minutes, turn and cook for 2 minutes more. Turn heat down to low and wait a few minutes before adding 1 cup of chicken broth (if you don’t wait, the liquid will be too explosive when it hits the pan!). Cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Turn off pan, remove chicken to a plate and tent with foil. When cool enough to handle, slice the chicken and set aside. Reserve the broth (you will need it for your sauce)

*Put water on for pasta and when it boil, cook shells according to instructions.(the big shells I used took 14 minutes). Drain and rinse throughly under cold water and leave to drain until ready to assemble dish.

add onions & scapes, then peas..

2 – Put large saute pan on low/medium heat and add last 2 tbs of oil. When pan heats up add the onions & scapes and cook for 8 or so minutes. Add peas and cook for another 6 minutes.

add wine..

3 – Add wine, 1/2 tsp salt and several grinds of black pepper, cover and cook gently for 5 minutes more.

add chard..

4 – Add chard, cover and continue to cook until chard had wilted and softened (about 4 minutes). Using a spatula, scrape the vegetables into a bowl or big plate and reserve.

Make sauce..

5 – In the pan you just used to cook the vegetables add the butter (on low heat). When it has melted stir in the curry powder (if not using, add the flour). Cook and stir powder for 1 minute. Add the flour and stir until you have a paste.

Smooth sauce..

6 – Immediately add the broth and stir with a whisk until it had become smooth. Add 1 cup of milk at a time stirring all the while. Add 1 tsp salt and several grinds of pepper and continue to cook for 5 or 6 minutes until the sauce thickens (it will not be very thick). Turn off heat.

assemble..

7 – Assemble dish: In baking dish (with about 2″ in depth) add a half cup of sauce and coat bottom. Add half of the shells, followed by all the chicken and then all of the vegetables. Spread in an even layer.

top with breadcrumbs and optional butter.

Top with half of the remainder of the sauce and then top with rest of shells and the rest of the sauce, making sure to scrap all of the sauce from the pan using a spatula. Top with the breadcrumbs and dot with butter (butter being optional).

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the top had just become lightly crispy. Wait for 5 minutes before serving

Time to eat!

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