Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Creamy Chicken Penne with Sauteed Ramps



Before you adjust your monitor colour, yes, that is whole wheat pasta


Well, I finally got to use my ramps...as a garnish on an unromantic pile of leftovers. Anyway, tonight was one of those dishes that are not gourmet, not terribly interesting and not my favourite type of cooking. Nevertheless, my hunch is that most people cook this way on Wednesday night: a hodge-podge of leftovers thrown together in haste. Growing up, this was more the rule than the exception. My mum would cook up Kraft macaroni and basically toss any and every leftover into it along with a tin of mushroom soup. This is my homage to that kind of cooking. I had a significant pile of left over chicken from a bird I had roasted the night before. I also had these lovely little ramps that were so hard won, yet were already getting rusty in the crisper. They had to be used....somehow.

In the end, I did my best to produce a dish that while humble, retained a certain level of decorum...and flavour. Also, given the inclusion of whole wheat pasta, it was a reasonably healthy tonic for all. Here's what I did:

I could have made this uber creamy with a heavy bechamel sauce, however, again as per my wife's instruction, I attempted to keep things light, so I opted for a veloute sauce instead. To make a veloute sauce, one basically employs the same method as bechamel except in place of milk, chicken stock is added (or fish stock if making a fish veloute). To prevent the veloute from looking like chicken gravy, a little milk is called for. Anyway, I got a knob of butter in a sauce pan on a medium heat and then added about two heaping table spoons of flour. Cook out the 'roux' until the raw taste of the flour is gone. Then deglaze with a tiny bit of Noily Prat. The alcohol will burn off but you will also end up with a vermouth flavoured buttery ball of roux in the bottom of the pan. To this, add one-quarter cup of milk and a cup or so of chicken stock (homemade works best here, but the stuff in a carton won't kill you). I used to always warm up my milk before adding to bechamel, but I have since found that it actually works better cold. Then get your whisk and start beating this ugly concoction down until it starts to become smooth and silky. Show it who is boss. As it comes back up to a boil it will start to thicken. Let it get to the point that it can lightly coat a spoon, then dump in a cup and a half of diced left-over chicken meat. Allow the chicken meat to warm through and then add half a cup of frozen peas. The chicken will soften and start to fall apart. It's all good. Try to keep the anxiety at bay; yes, it is going to end up looking like something right out of a 1960's diner. I see chicken a la king, or a hot open-faced chicken sandwich. Yes, the dreaded word 'casserole' might work here. I experienced twinges of shame whilst cooking this - it felt like something that Rachel Ray would huskily proclaim as 'yum-o'. Anyway, as they say, it is what it is.

FYI, all along I had some whole wheat penne boiling in some salted water on the back burner. Once the chicken and the peas are warmed through in your veloute and the pasta is tender, it's ready to get down to the serious busines of introducing sauce to penne. That's about it.

So what elevates this dish from a 1970's recipe card to something Beech Tree worthy? Ramps. I simply sliced them up and gave them a a quick sautee in butter with a bit of maldon salt. When I plated the dish, I sprinkled the ramps atop the pasta as a garnish. Yes, it did work. Yes it tasted good. May God have mercy on my soul.

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