Saturday, August 19, 2006

Penne with Chicken and Ham Sauce

I haven't used this cookbook in ages because, while it has some great recipes, alot of them seem kind of labor intensive or require tricky ingredients. But this recipe seemed pretty simple. The only hold up was finding "crème fraîche." Time for a quick cooking lesson, with some help from wikipedia:

"Crème fraîche [IPA: krɛm frɛʃ] (French for "fresh cream") is a heavy cream slightly soured with bacterial culture, but not as sour or as thick as sour cream. Originally a French product, today it is available throughout Europe (and in speciality stores in the States, such as Trader Joes where I eventually found it, pictured above).

"Crème fraîche is made by inoculating unpasteurized heavy cream with Lactobacillus cultures, letting the bacteria grow until the cream is both soured and thick and then pasteurizing it to stop the process.Thus, it cannot be made at home with pasteurized cream—the lack of bacteria in the cream will cause it to spoil instead of sour. If unpasteurized heavy cream is not available, a substitute for crème fraîche can be produced by adding 1–2 tablespoon of cultured buttermilk to two cups of pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized) heavy cream and letting the mixture stand at room temperature for 8 - 24 hours until thick. (time which I totally did not have and didn't want to even begin to attempt)

"In general, crème fraîche and sour cream can be used interchangeably in most recipes, but crème fraîche has two advantages over sour cream: it can be whipped, and it will not curdle if boiled. (since this recipe calls for you to bring the sauce to a boil AND I had never made it before AND the idea of curdled anything really grosses me out, I decided to just hunt down some crème fraîche myself)"

So, this dish, crème fraîche and all, was actually pretty easy and delicious. I used smoked gouda because I like it and it was cheaper, and it added a really great flavor to the dish (though I'm sure regular gouda would be delicious as well). The sauce is kind of strong, so make sure you have enough pasta to spread it out. I prepared the chicken myself before putting the whole thing together, but you can use pre-cooked chicken easily. I used canadian bacon again (personal preference) and added some peas at the end. This got a big thumbs up from the boy. We had it with thick slices of Garlic Basil Parmesan Bread from the farmers market.

Penne with Chicken and Ham Sauce
from Best-Ever Chicken ed. by Linda Fraser, with mods.
Serves 2-3

1 cup cooked chicken OR 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast--cubed small, garlic salt, and 1 TBS oil

2 cups penne
1 TBS butter
1/2 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 bay leaf (I used some dried chopped bay leaf)
1 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup crème fraîche
1/3 cup cooked ham or canadian bacon
1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted
3/4 cup grated (smoked) Gouda cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried mint (original recipe: 1/2 TBS fresh mint)
salt & pepper to taste

1) Cook pasta according to package directions (if you start the water boiling just as you begin cooking it should all be ready together).
2) If cooking chicken, heat oil in skillet and, when hot, add chicken and garlic salt and sauté. Add canadian bacon once the chicken loses it's raw color. Cook until browned, drain, and set aside.
3) Heat butter in skillet and fry onion until softened.
4) Add the garlic, bay leaf, and wine and bring to boil. Boil rapidly until reduced by half. Remove bay leaf, then stir in crème fraîche and bring back to boil.
5) Add chicken, ham, and cheese and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until heated through. Add peas towards the end and mix.
6) Add the mint and seasoning. Drain pasta and toss in large serving bowl with sauce.

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