Monday, May 04, 2009

A quick dinner - pesto chicken pasta, or cooking without recipes

Finished, ready to go
Originally uploaded by monkeycat!.
There are only two things that I can say that I have been doing non-stop for a decade: going to school and cooking. My cooking adventure started with the egg, as I think many others' adventures do as well. How could I make a fried egg taste better? Cooking temperature? Cooking time? Egg size? Sunny side up or down? Butter or (gasp) margarine?

While I did not come to a definitive conclusion (though today I would say medium heat nonstick pan, butter, cook until the white is just set, use fresh eggs), I did discover that experimenting and testing and getting a feel for how foods react to cooking is a lot of fun.

Then, for a long time, I read through recipe books. Then through recipe archives online. Now, I've found myself back to experimenting. All this has become salient with the release of Michael Ruhlman's new book, Ratio, which tells us to learn ratios - food archetypes, to experiment, and to make up our own recipes. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I'm very much looking forward to it.

So, where's the recipe for that food in the picture? I'll give it to you below, but maybe in the spirit of Escoffier, who listed ingredients, then gave a few notes on how to use them.

Pesto Gemelli with Chicken

1 lb of gemelli or other short pasta
a few chicken breasts, cut into pieces
a bottle of pesto (yes, it is premade. And tasty. Stop judging)
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
a few garlic cloves, chopped
1 c milk
2 tomatoes, chopped
oil for cooking

Bring water to a boil. Salt, and add pasta.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken, season with salt and pepper, and let sit on one side for 4+ minutes, in order to brown. Turn over and finish cooking.

Remove chicken from pan, pour off excess oil, if desired. Add in butter and garlic. Cook for about a minute. Add in flour and stir together to form a paste. This is basically a roux. Cook the roux until brown, then add milk and whisk until everything is incorporated. At this point, start adding in pesto, until it gets to the flavor you desire - more pesto = more basil/garlic flavor. As the sauce comes to a boil, it will thicken from the roux. Add in the chicken, and the pasta once it is finished cooking. Add fresh tomatoes to the top and season with salt and pepper, if necessary.

There you go. Is that any less verbose than usual? Maybe. I'm trying, Monsieur Escoffier.