Monday, November 16, 2009

Chicken Penne Alfredo - Made Easy

Fettuccine alfredo is a mainstay of most Italian restaurants. The secret to this dish is of course, the alfredo sauce, a delicious mix of cream, butter and cheese. According to legend, it was created by Italian restaurateur, Alfredo di Lelio, at his restaurant in Rome in the early part of the last century. The dish eventually gained fame when legendary actors, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks had it at di Lelio's restaurant and because they liked it so much, brought it home to serve to their own friends. Word quickly spread about this extraordinary pasta dish and the fettuccine alfredo was born.

Of course, in the original version, the pasta used is fettuccine but nowadays, any type of pasta is acceptable. For my version, I am using penne, a cylindrically-shaped pasta. As always, cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente, undercooking it just a little bit. Remember that pasta can go from undercooked to overcooked very quickly. As soon as you think it is done, strain it out of the boiling water and run cold water over it immediately, which will help to stop the carryover cooking process. Do the same thing with the broccoli, boiling it quickly to just soften it up just a little. Overcooking will result in unappetizing and mushy broccoli. Yuck! As for the chicken, cut it into small slices. You can use either dark or white chicken meat for this application. Now, you can cook it in two ways. You can either season and then bake it in the oven or you can saute it when you are making the sauce. Either way is fine but I chose the former.

Now lets work on the sauce. At the basic level, you need heavy cream, unsalted butter and shredded parmesan cheese. Start off by melting 3-4 TBPs of butter and sauteing julienned onions and garlic in it until they are soft and lightly brown. Deglaze the pan with heavy cream, about 1 - 1.5 cups, and add the shredded parmesan cheese. Keep stirring to melt the cheese. Parmesan is a very hardy cheese and will melt well when cooked. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper. I also like to add half a teaspoon of coriander powder and some fresh thyme to add an extra dimension to the sauce. Reduce the sauce a little so that it will thicken up. The cheese will also help with the thickening process. When you've gotten the sauce to the right taste and consistency, add the chicken, pasta, the broccoli and also some chopped roasted red pepper for color and taste. You can even add mushrooms and other types of vegetables.

And that's it. All done! Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

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