This is a very simple menu created in response to a request for a menu to please my hostess at a recent evening. It had to include chicken and pasta, and had to be sufficiently straightforward that I could prepare at home, carry to destination and allow for the fact that I had no idea what cooking facilities were like, nor what storecupboard items would be available.
No problem, eh? Well the joy of cooking is that if you have the capability then you should be able to adapt to any circumstances and turn out grub of equal quality. The starting point is always great ingredients, and they will always stand up for themselves.
In fact, I didn’t have anything to worry about, other than the complication of an oven requiring a degree in computer science. Luckily, the Wolf hob was all I needed, and it did a fine job.
Lemon & garlic chicken with pasta, roast butternut squash & lemon cream sauce
- 1 chicken breast per person
- 2 lemons, zested and juiced
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- Garlic-infused olive oil
- Lemon and thyme infused salt
- Ground black pepper
- Fresh parsley, roughly chopped
- Fruity white wine
- Double cream
- Butternut squash, peeled, cored and sliced into chunks
- Pasta (I used Gigli, also known as Campanelle or ‘little bells’, but choose your favourite)
- Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, freshly grated
Trim chicken then place in a suitable container. I used a plastic box with a tight lid since I was driving it 100 miles before cooking. Season chicken on all sides, add lemon zest, parsley and garlic. Add a good slug of garlic-infused olive oil and leave to marinade for at least an hour.
You can do this in advance or at the time: put the squash pieces into an oven tin, season well and toss in the same garlic-infused olive oil. Bake at a medium heat for roughly 20 minutes, turning as necessary. The squash is done when you can penetrate it with a knife and the outside has picked up a healthy colour on all sides.
When you are ready to cook, prepare your hob ready. Put the pasta in a large pan with salt, boil the kettle ready. Get a good heavy sauté pan and warm it on a high flame. In the meantime, drain the chicken breasts but keep the marinade.
Toss a large knob of butter in the pan so it is frothing, put the chicken breasts in and brown on all sides, turning down the heat slightly so they don’t burn. This should take around 2-3 minutes max.
In the meantime, warm about half a bottle of wine plus the remaining marinade. Add to the pan and simmer to poach the chicken for about 15-20 minutes. Remove the chicken and keep warm in a low oven.
Put on the pasta and cook for the requisite time so it is still al dente. Drain, put back in the pan with a little cooking water, butter, freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and fresh ground black pepper.
Turn up the heat on the pan so the wine and marinade are boiling furiously and reduce by half. Stir in about 2-3 tablespoons of cream and reduce further. When the sauce is thickening, put in a warmed sauceboat.
Serve the chicken, pasta, squash and sauce for your guests, either by arranging it beautifully on plates for them, or, as I did it, allowing them to help themselves. All went for seconds!
Dessert: Strawberries with black pepper & balsamic vinegar
This could not be easier. It sounds counterintuitive but works a treat. Cut up a punnet of strawberries appropriate to the number of people to be served (best have plenty) and place in a large bowl.
Either coarse-grind black pepper or use a mortar and pestle to crack a good handful of peppercorns. There should be sufficient to season all the strawberries well.
Vanilla flavouring depends on your choice. Some will use vanilla essence while others will (correctly) scape out the seeds from a vanilla pod. However, I used my own home-made vanilla sugar, killing two birds with one stone, and therefore did not require separate vanilla.
Assuming you’re not using vanilla sugar, any light brown or demerera sugar will do fine. Give a generous layer on top of the strawberries and spices.
And now the balsamic. You don’t particularly need to proper aged balsamic for this dish, but don’t use anything too cheap and nasty either, nor yet the balsamic glaze that seems to have found its way into supermarkets. Give it a good slug over the strawberries.
Serve immediately with cream and/or ice cream. it will be absolutely delicious!