Better than a restaurant and in under an hour

So this summer my herbs have been growing like crazy and I decided I really should do a bit of trimming. Of course I couldn’t just throw out perfectly good, fresh herbs. On the other hand, it has been REALLY hot and the last thing I want is to spend hours by a hot oven or stove.

The herb in question here is sage.

I happen to love sage with butternut squash ravioli and brown butter or with eggs, but my husband is not a huge fan. I was undeterred. I had some beautiful fresh sage leaves and I was going to use them. I also happened to have some boneless, skinless chicken breasts and a package of La Quercia Speck Americano (Prosciutto or Jamon would have worked as well) in the fridge. I ALWAYS have several good cheese options and in this case it was an Asiago Fresco. (A good Mozzarella, Pecorino, Cubadu etc. would also work.) My pantry ALWAYS has a good bottle of pasta sauce – in this case a simple, but delicious marinara with basil – some kind of pasta (spinach fettuccine nests). The key is not to get bogged down in finding the exact same ingredients that the recipe calls for but to let yourself work with what you have or is easily available. I really, really hate when a recipe calls for 2 Tablespoons of something that I have no other idea how to use and then I am stuck having spent a fair amount of money on a single ingredient that I don’t even know if I will like. Soooooooooooooooooo while I will always, always advocate for using great quality ingredients, you can and should not feel like a slave to a recipe.

Have I mentioned yet what I decided to make?? Chicken Saltimbocca a la Lisa. This is a recipe that really doesn’t require a lot of careful measuring. I used a large rectangular baking dish (12″ x 9″ x 2.5″). Mine is stoneware and makes clean-up a snap. I also gave in a year ago and treated myself to a really nice meat pounder. It’s round with a handle and has a nice heft to it. The meat doesn’t get torn up and it is highly recommended for getting rid of any aggression you may be feeling.

I preheated my oven to 375 degrees F. I pounded my chicken breast as flat as I could between two pieces of plastic wrap. You could use parchment or waxed paper too. I then generously salted (Kosher salt only) and peppered (cracked black) both sides. With what would have been the skin side facing up, I began my assembly. I took some finely chopped fresh garlic (a generous 1/2 teaspoon for each breast) and spread it across the top. I then took several sage leaves and lay those over the top of each breast. On top of that went one slice of Speck and several thin slices of my Asiago Fresco. I poured about 1/2 of the large jar of pasta sauce in the bottom of my baking dish and carefully laid the chicken on top of the sauce in a single layer. I drizzled a bit of EVOO over everything and I popped it in the oven uncovered for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, I turned the broiler on high and let the cheese brown for five minutes. Watch it, though, since all ovens are different!

While the chicken cooked, I made my pasta al dente and after draining it, I mixed in the remaining pasta sauce and added some freshly grated pecorino. I could have added some fresh basil or used a different kind of pasta, but this is what I had. When the chicken was finished and the cheese was bubbling, I plated everything and served it with a simple salad. This took less than an hour and was full of umami goodness. The chicken was tender and all of the flavors were present and accounted for. People will think you slaved over a hot stove and you will smile (not too smugly) when they are thanking you for this glorious dinner.  Buon Appetito!

Quick and elegant pasta

Image result for trufflesSometimes you want (well, okay – LOTS of times) something wonderful for dinner, but you don’t have either the energy, time or inclination to spend hours working on a great meal. There are many ways to tackle this problem and from time to time, I will, but here is one delicious and elegant way. I’m not promising that it is the least expensive dinner you could produce, but it still beats the price of a pizza. I’m just sayin’.

I always try to keep on hand the fixings for  some kind of pasta and this summer I also am growing some wonderful herbs on my windowsill (and occasionally taken out to my terrace for fresh air). I happen to really like truffles, but there is no way (none, zero, zilch) that I am going to put down the money for actual truffles. I have learned that doesn’t mean that I can’t still enjoy them at some level. I’m sure that true truffle aficionados will tell you how there is nothing like shaving a real truffle over your pasta and I will gladly concede that likely they are correct. And if someone else is paying, call me up and I will happily come on over to eat it. But for the rest of us, well there are some pretty good (and much less expensive) ways to get your truffle fix.

I look for truffle butter on sale and you would be amazed at how far 3.5 oz. of truffle butter goes. (It will also last quite awhile in the fridge if unopened.) I can get it in my local Whole Foods for $9.99 (not on sale) or through Peapod for $5.99 any time. Same brand. I also have Frances to thank for a bottle of white truffle oil, which you can also pick up in many grocery stores or you can order it online along with that Meyer lemon EVOO. I pick up LOTS of mushrooms (different varieties if I can get them) at the grocery store or farmer’s market, market mushrooms along with two big shallots or some onion if shallots aren’t available. I sauté the mushrooms and shallots in the truffle butter with some EVOO until still meaty, but tender and the shallots are translucent. Towards the end of the cooking, I add some finely chopped garlic. I like a lot so I add about 2 teaspoons. If I happen to have some white wine open, I splash some in too. Then I add Kosher salt and lots of cracked pepper to taste and a good handful of fresh herbs. I happen to have lemon thyme and parsley and basil so in they went. It’s really to taste. Remember that the taste of fresh herbs is not as concentrated as that of dry, so don’t get scared off – use plenty. Just as the pasta (use any kind you like but one that has some substance is best) is finishing cooking, take 1/3 cup of that wonderfully starchy pasta water and add it to the sauce. If you are feeling really decadent, throw in some heavy cream at the end.

I top the pasta and sauce with this wonderful Pecorino with Truffles that you can find at Whole Foods or other gourmet stores. A little goes a long way. It’s definitely worth the splurge, in my opinion. If you don’t have that then shave or grate some good Reggiano Parmesan or a good Pecorino on top. Sprinkle with a bit of chopped parsley (flat-leaf, of course) or basil and mangia! Some crusty bread, a bright green salad, a crisp white wine that can stand up to the earthiness of the mushrooms and truffles and you have a meal fit for guests or that special someone. And it took less time to make than it took me to write about it.