Sunday, October 17, 2010

Chicken with pasta, inspired by Greece and Syria

On of the under-reported joys of parenthood is being able to eat your kids' leftovers.  It may be as simple as picking at the food that adheres to their clothing when they are done eating (only try this with very young children) or nabbing half a hot dog (if people still feed their children hot dogs) that is left on their plate.  My favorite juvenile leftover, however, is pasta.  When they were young, my kids were VERY picky eaters-- no longer, fortunately.  More than one friend has commented that this at least partially proved the existence of a just God with a sense of humor.  They ate a lot of pasta, seasoned at times with nothing more than air.  Salt and butter came later, and tomato sauce much later. Cheese is a relatively recent addition to the pasta plate, that Maya started eating in her teen years and Harry not at all with the occasional exception of mozzarella..  We call Maya the Cheeze Wizard and a substantial amount of our family's food budget when she is home goes to buying good cheese, especially parmesan.  We can go through two pounds of Parmiggiano-Reggiano a week.  We have tried to slip in some Grana Padano, but it apparently won't do.  But I digress.  To me, the best thing about my kids' pasta habit was that we would get to zap the leftover in the microwave for a few minutes, covered loosely with paper towel.  Throw in some Parmesan, mozzarella or other cheese if you kids' pasta was cheese-less. What comes out was a combination of somewhat overcooked pasta in the center, surrounded by amazing crusty pasta.  If you are the kind of person who likes picking the hard bits from the edges of a pasta casserole, and who doesn't, try this some day.  If you are this kind of person, this recipe is also for you.

Both Syrian Jews and Greeks make chicken with macaroni pasta.  I have been toying with this recipe for years, combining seasonings and methods.  There was a time when I would rub the chicken with spices, leave overnight, roast it, cook the tomato sauce in the pan juices, add the semi cooked pasta, and then toss it altogether and cook some more.  I decided that life is to short and have come up with a version that I like and that I find pretty easy to prepare.  It uses the Filipino method of stewing the chicken without browning and then broiling it after to crisp the skin.  This dish will be done minimal harm if is sits for a while in a warm oven before serving it, which makes it great for company or a Friday night dinner.

Chicken with pasta

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, and a bit more for oiling the baking dish
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 medium-large onion, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 5 or more cloves garlic, sliced or chopped
  • 28 ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juice (I like Muir Glen fire roasted)
  • 1 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1-2 teaspoons Alleppo pepper
  • 4 pounds chicken parts (I used a chicken  cut into eights plus a few thighs, a little more or less won't hurt)
  • 1 pound tubular pasta
  • Bring several quarts of water to the boil in a large pot to cook the pasta.  Salt it well.  Meanwhile, do the rest of the recipe.
  • Heat olive oil on medium in a large 5 -6 quart pot.
  • Add cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon stick, Stir around for a few seconds and add the onion, a little salt, and cook until soft but not brown.
  • Add the garlic and cook for a minute or two.
  • Add the tomatoes and their juice, the allspice, and the Alleppo pepper.  Cook on high for about 5 minutes.
  • Add the chicken, some salt and pepper, bring the boil, turn heat down to medium-low, cover and simmer for about 40 minutes until chicken is barely done, or slightly underdone.  Remove chicken to an oven dish.
  • Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling water for no more than 2-3 minutes.  Drain, run under cold water to stop the cooking, and drain well.
  • Broil the chicken, skin-side up, until the skin is crisp but not too brown, because it will cook more later. 
  • Set oven temperature to 425.
  • While the chicken is broiling, add pasta to the sauce in the pot, and cook on high heat for about 5 minutes.  The past should still be very al dente.  
  • Spray or lightly oil a large, fairly shallow bake and serve dish. A shallower dish will give you crustier pasta.  Pour in the pasta and bake in the oven about 20 minutes.
  • Put the chicken on top, skin side up, and bake another 10-20 minutes until cooked through.  If you want, brown the chicken a bit more at the end to crisp and get the pasta crusty.
Cooking the pasta:  If I really had the courage of my convictions, I would skip the preliminary boiling of the pasta and just cook it in the tomato sauce before baking it.  There should be enough liquid since the chicken, onions and tomatoes give off a lot of juice.  This would make it easier to keep the pasta al dente.  However, there is nothing wrong with a casserole where the pasta is slightly soft in the center and crusty around the edges.  If you do try this without pre-boiling the pasta before I do, post a comment to let everyone know how it turns out.

Leftovers:  One one level, this is what the dish is all about. To make it easier to reheat, remove the chicken meat from the skin and bones and shred coarsely, ideally with your hands.  Oil or spray a baking dish, and add half the remaining pasta.  What sauce there is will have mostly been absorbed and the rest will be solid from the amount of gelatin. Top with the chicken, and top with the remaining pasta and spray with some oil spray.  I find that I don't care for chicken reheated in the microwave, so I would bake it about 45 minutes in a 400 degree oven, until the top is crusty.  You could also zap it if you want, but be sure not to cover it with plastic wrap or a regular cover or the pasta will get soggy.  Use paper towel or wax paper. 

Boiling water:  This should probably be the first thing that you do when you start to prepare any meal whether or not you will actually need it later..  Boiling water takes time, and you don't want to have to wait for it.

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