Our daughter, our firstborn, is home from college for the winter break. She heads back to school at the end of the week — back to the study grind, her on-campus job, and cafeteria food — so when she said she had a meal request I was ready to comply. “I want an Italian creamy chicken supper.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. I just feel like I want to eat something made with chicken that’s Italian and creamy.”
“Do you want pasta in it?”
“Sure. Fine. Whatever. I just want it to be Italian and creamy and chicken.”
Though such a description might sound odd to some, to me it makes perfect sense. It mirrors exactly the way I “plan” many meals. I start with a vague idea, a desire for a certain flavor or texture or temperature or all three, and then I evaluate the ingredients at my disposal and figure out how to combine those into something that fulfills my desire. For example, I may be wanting to taste beans but also an undertone of sharpness and tang to accent the richness of legumes, like from vinegar. My mind starts filing through the possibilities — I could make any number of things to satisfy this hunger. I could make a simple lentil soup and add a couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar at the end, which brightens up the flavor admirably. I could make a main-dish salad of any kind of bean with some sort of allium/onion, other raw or cooked vegetables, and vinaigrette. Chili served with pico de gallo with its hit of lime juice would fill the bill nicely. In the summer, I often make a salad of cannellini beans/tuna/fresh sage with olive oil and red wine vinegar. It is good cold or at room temperature. So many possibilities from one flavor combination craving!
So, to Italian and creamy and chicken. Our local Giant grocery store has rotisserie chickens on sale this week for $4.99. (Have I said before that I think rotisserie chickens are one of the very best convenience foods ever dreamed up? They are right up there with cake mixes — brilliant!) I love to roast chickens myself and do so regularly, but it was a busy day and I needed groceries anyway so a couple of rotisserie chickens to use in various ways during the week went onto the list. I was the lucky possessor of a quart of heavy cream and a good chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano, so pasta Alfredo with chicken was the natural choice. A simple salad of mesclun, grape tomatoes, and hothouse cucumber went well with it. Bread would have been nice, but there wasn’t any. This was a tasty meal for a cold winter night, one that can send the girl back to cafeteria fare with a warm memory.
Now get up and go cook something good.
Pasta Alfredo with Chicken
16 oz. pkg. pasta — I used mini rotini because that’s what was in the pantry
3 c. heavy cream
1 fat garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
2 big pinches salt + grinds of pepper
a generous cup of grated Parmesan cheese
1-2 cups roughly torn meat from a rotisserie chicken or other cooked chicken
optional — a handful of minced fresh parsley, but I didn’t have any
Bring the pasta water to a rolling boil in a big pot and cook the pasta al dente; drain, saving ½ c. or so of the pasta water for the sauce.
Meanwhile, combine the cream, garlic, salt and pepper in a medium saucepan and boil it over medium heat until it is reduced by about half. Fish out the garlic halves and discard. Add the chicken pieces. Mix in half of the parmesan. Toss the hot pasta with the sauce, adding dribbles of pasta water if the sauce is too thick. Taste for seasoning and add salt as needed. Serve on warmed plates, sprinle with a bit of parsley for color, and pass the remaining cheese.