Thursday, June 14, 2007

chicken marsala

Last night we did one of our favorite, easy, wonderful treats: chicken marsala. We evolved this recipe from our original forays with the always fabulous veal scallopine, either marsala, or piccata. Evolved because veal was a lot more expensive than chicken!

We want to share our version of this oft-used recipe. But before we do, we have to confess that we googled "chicken marsala" and discovered a torrent of entries. Amazing. One site is just "". Italian Chef, All recipes, and of course the Food Network all have versions. One site "" yielded hundreds (I think, I quit counting) recipes all for chicken marsala.

Undaunted, here is ours:

  • four chicken breasts. About a pound. (See note).

  • three tablespoons butter (to start)

  • three tablespoons vegetable oil

  • about a half cup of flour

  • salt and pepper

This gets us started. Spread the flour on some waxed paper. Add salt and pepper. Put the oil and butter in a saute pan (equipped with a lid to use eventually). Medium high heat. When oil is hot, roll the chicken breasts in the flour, shake off excess flour, and put in the saute pan (which should be large enough to hold the chicken breasts without overlapping). Brown the chicken breasts, usually about three minutes a side, and then cover and turn the heat to medium. This is because we find the chicken breasts cook more evenly by cooking under cover rather than getting the breasts done just by continually sauteeing.

Watch the chicken breasts closely. Ideal is to take them off just before they are completely done -- a tiny touch of pink. Worst case is to overdo the chicken: tough and tasteless. When done remove the chicken breasts to a plate and keep warm in the oven.

Note: we do not pound the chicken breasts. We like them in their full glory. And let's face it, we always seem to get different sizes and shapes, depending. Sometimes this requires cutting the chicken breasts in half. Sometimes we just remove the "extra" pieces on the side. Whatever works. Ideally we get free-range, organic chicken breasts, skinned, deboned and halved, quite thick, and then we go from there.

Now the sauce:

  • four tablespoons butter

  • one-quarter cup white wine

  • one-half cup marsala

  • one-quarter cup chicken stock

  • couple tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

  • one teaspoon chopped fresh oregano (optional)

  • one-half cup mushrooms, sliced (optional)

First: drain the saute pan of the fat accumulated. This is key. It is not necessary to drain all the fat and certainly not the wonderful brown bits and stickings from the sauteeeing. But get rid of most of the fat. Otherwise you get a fatty sauce!

Turn the heat to high. When hot add the butter. As soon as it starts to melt, add the white wine which should steam and immediately de-glaze. Add the marsala. Add a half teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Add a tablespoon chopped parsely. Stir. You don't want the sauce to get too thick, but you don't want soup either. Probably add the chicken broth to create enough broth.

When the sauce is just about the right consistency, bring back the chicken breasts, and add them, and their juices, to the saute pan. Turn them over a couple of times to get them well coated.

If the sauce is too runny, thicken by adding a little more butter.

Serve, putting the chicken breasts on the plate, spoon the sauce over, add a touch of parsley for garnish.

On the oregano option, just add it after you add the marsala.

On mushrooms: we ordinarily do not add mushrooms to the dish, but they can be delightful. As soon as you add the marsala, add the sliced mushrooms. They should be done just right as the sauce thickens. (some recipes call for a cup or two or three of mushrooms, which we think is overkill, and takes away from the great taste of the marsala.)

Remember: watch the chicken carefully (checking by cutting into it with a sharp knife). Do not overcook. And get rid of all the fats in the saute pan before starting the sauce.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

pasta with sausage

We received some outstanding sweet Italian sausage recently (more on this on a later blog), and indulged ourselves with two back-to-back incredibly delicious pastas. Which we want to share!

Rather than repreating these two excellent recipes on the blog, we would like you to go to for the details, as usual presented in clear and complete, easy-to-use, form.

Under the heading "penne and other short tubular pasta", you will find garganelli or penne with sausage. Try this one first.

Under "tagliatelle" you will find tagliatelle with sausage, lemon and nutmeg. This more delicate sauce is a wonderful follow-up.

Let us know if you find these pasta and sausage recipes -- which we think define the wonderful combining delights of pasta and sausage, combinations made in an Italian heaven -- perfectly.

Monday, June 4, 2007

the best lamb ragu ever

This is the sauce we made for our imported (by us) pinci from Montalcino at a dinner we prepared last weekend. Naturally the sauce transports easily to other pasta: pappardelle, penne and tagliolini for example.

For the sauce:
  • three tablespoons of olive oil
  • eight ounces of ground lamb
  • eight ounces of mild Italian sausage (casings removed)
  • two cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • one medium onion, finely chopped
  • one stalk celery, finely chopped
  • one medium carrot, finely chopped
  • one-half cup red wine
  • one tablespoon tomato paste
  • one bay leaf
  • two sprigs oregano
  • two sprigs thyme
  • one sprig rosemary
  • two cups beef broth
  • two cups imported peeled Italian plum tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped (see note)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • one half cup freshly grated parmesan
for the pasta:
  • one pound of pinci, pappardelle, fettucine, or penne

Note: if you are lucky enough to have truly ripe and tasty plum tomatoes, or cherry tomatoes, dice them and use two cups of them rather than the imported variety.

Put two tablespoons of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the sausage and lamb. Add a half teaspoon salt and some freshly ground pepper. Brown the meat -- cooking it until it is brown all over. Throughout the browning, constantly work the chopped meat with a wooden spoon to break it up as much as possible (in fact make sure it is truly all broken up).

Remove the meat and set it aside. Drain the fat, most of it anyway (leaving all the good brown bits) from the pan.

Add the third tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onion and cook until golden, about four minutes. Add the garlic, and then a minute later add the celery and the carrots. Cook another three minutes; the carrots should start to get soft. (add more olive oil if you need it).

Have the heat high, and add the wine, to deglaze the pan. Cook for about two minutes until the alcohol is dissipated and the wine reduced by about half.

Add the tomato paste and stir. Add the browned meat. Add the bay leaf, oregano, thyme and rosemary. Stir. Add the tomatoes and then add the beef broth. Stir, bring to a boil and then cover and lower the heat to a simmer.

Note: you can reduce the time involved in making this sauce by reducing the amount of beef broth added to one cup. By cutting the beef broth amount, you will get a sauce of the right consistency in about thirty or forty minutes.

We love the long simmer, since it isn't any work anyway and the kitchen smells wonderfully for a long time. We put the cover slightly askew, and simmer away, maybe several hours, to get a sauce with a great consistency: moist with just enough liquid to meld with the pasta.

When the sauce is done, remove from the heat, discard the bay leaf and sprigs. Add several grinds of pepper and a half tespoon of salt. Stir, taste, adjust.

Meanwhile bring 4-5 quarts of water to a boil. Add two tablespoons of salt. Drop in the pasta and stir. Continue cooking until al dente. If using pinci, they seem to take about twenty minutes. Reserve a cup of the pasta water and drain.

Re-heat the sauce, add the pasta, and stir (or mix). If not moist enough add the reserved pasta water as needed. We find that by covering the pan with the pasta with its sauce, and turning the heat up to high for about two minutes, we can guarantee a truly hot and steaming presentation, with the pasta staying hot longer.

Serve with ample parmesan (and more on the side) plus some chopped parsley. The best lamb ragu ever, right?

For a version with lamb cubes, see, under sauces.