Chicken Pesto Pasta: Dinner in Minutes.

March 17, 2011 § 7 Comments

You may have thought that Blushing Strawberries went walkabout and found herself lost in the desert, with no internet access, photography or good food. Well, that would make a pretty fun story but truth be told I’ve just been rather lazy of late. Woops! Do you ever feel that you have a lot of time but nothing gets done? I feel it has something to do with the change of season, my mind has bounced forward to Spring while my body and actions are still waiting to leave winter. I’m perfectly content to ride this wave and snuggle up on the couch after dinner with a good book and a cup of hot milk, even if it makes me feel more like Trixie Belden or one of the Famous Five than a city-living-22-year-old! But we covered that embarrassing reality a while ago!

Fortunately, my inclination towards doing-very-little has not left NB starving and begging for scraps on the street corner. Actually, Bojangles is on our street corner so it really depends on what you consider ‘begging’! With all this free time and not a spare minute, dinner recently has had to be quick, no fuss kind of stuff. Last night I tried my hand at some Asian baby-back ribs, which were such a hit that I must reproduce them for The Patch, and it took very little effort indeed.

But when I’m really in need of a healthy quick meal I reach for the pesto jar. Sauteed mushrooms, pesto and mozzarella for breakfast. Sourdough with pesto and fresh tomato for lunch. Or salad with pesto for dinner.

I have not been able to make my own pesto since arriving in the States because all the grocery stores only sell small packets of basil, the type you would normally expect for rosemary or thyme, and (sadly) there is nothing here like Norton St Grocer. I’ve never been a huge fan of store-bought pesto, finding the taste to be too thick and salty, so I was excited when Trader Joe’s began to stock full bunches of basil last week.

 

I whipped up a small batch using this recipe and stirred the whole lot into wholemeal pasta with shredded chicken from the freezer.

Tell me Blushers, what’s your standby lazy meal??

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Spring chicken pasta and why I’m not a good 20-something.

October 18, 2010 § 9 Comments

I’m a 22 year-old Nanna. I usually prefer to stay home with a nice dinner and a movie rather than hit the clubs, pubs and parties that are frequented by the rest of my peers. My version of ‘going out’ is pretty tame – dinner at a restaurant or friend’s house with wine, instead of short skirts and tequila shots. There’s no denying it, no avoiding it, and by this time I fear little hope in changing it. What excites me though is when I make friends who are also keen for a quiet night in. My Friday night date girl, AB, is a great example, we’re like a crisp semillon with fresh, cold prawns. She’s just as content as I am with a homecooked meal and a quiet space, but will also whip me into heels and young-adult mode every now and again when there’s potential that the knitting needles have become a permanent fixture in my handbag (on one school excursion I knitted all the way from my hometown to Canberra – an 11 hour bus trip. I think it was around this time that the dye was set).

 

 

Friday night with a spring pasta of poached chicken, olives, sundried tomatoes and rocket.

 

Lemon zest, dill, parlsey, mint, garlic, olive oil and a drizzle of balsamic – fresh and aromatic.

Treat recipes like ideas, not gospel. This dish started in my head as Donna Hay’s spring meatballs.

Perfect poached chicken breast (medium sized breast): Bring saucepan of water to the boil. Carefully slide chicken breast into liquid and immediately reduce to a simmer – if you have bad electric hotplates you might need to transfer the saucepan to

another plate that you have been heating on very low. DO NOT LIFT LID. Simmer for 6 minutes. DO NOT LIFT LID. Remove saucepan from heat and leave to stand for 12 minutes. Remove chicken from liquid, wrap in foil and rest for 5-10 minutes.

How to pit olives. If you’re like me you probably don’t like the taste of pitted olives from the deli, they seem to absorb too much liquid and become either tangy and almost artificial or dry and bland. To easily remove pips from olives, squash olive with side of your knife blade and they slide right out. Too easy!

Add chopped chillies, chopped fresh tomatoes and a slug of white wine. Simmer, covered over a low heat while you sip your drink and have a slice of cheese.

 

Everything, including the pasta, can be cooked ahead and then reheat, adding the drained pasta into the sauce.

This means the final wash up is left to one saucepan as boards, knives, graters etc can be washed and dried before you finish cooking.

 

Baked ricotta, spinach and chicken pasta.

August 11, 2010 § 1 Comment

Following on from the last post, which saw me wanting to have my cake and eat it too (winter food and a spring body), I was inspired tonight to use some leftovers in my kitchen and make a light baked pasta dish with low fat ricotta, chicken mince and spinach. With a sprinkling of cheese and a side of steamed broccoli and garlic bread this dish makes a satisfying late-winter dinner or, team it with a dressed garden salad and you have a light spring supper. It’s like adding a pair of sandals to your LBD, classic chic!

Chicken, spinach and ricotta stuffed conchiglie

Serves 4.

The great thing about baked pasta is that you can just use whatever bits and pieces you have lying around. Try strips of lamb, sundried tomatoes, peas and mozzarella. Just chop, stuff, cook!

Preheat oven to 200C

Cook a pack of large conchiglie (shell shaped pasta) in boiling salted water until nearly al dente. Drain and set aside.

Fry 1 diced red onion and 2 garlic cloves until beginning to soften and become fragrant. Add a large handful of chicken mince and cook until just browned and broken up. Stir through sprigs of rosemary, or whatever Italian style fresh or dried herbs you have on hand.

In a large bowl combine 300g smooth ricotta, 2 large handfuls of diced baby spinach leaves and 3 tablespoons of pesto. Season to taste.

Add mince mixture to ricotta/spinach (making sure you drain any liquid from the meat pan) and stir to combine.

Pour 500g tomato passata onto the base of your baking dish and add 1/2 cup vegetable or chicken stock.


Spoon stuffing into cooked pasta shells and line them into the dish.

Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan and cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes, remove foil and bake for another ten until hot through and cheese is beginning to brown.

You can cook the pasta ahead of time and then put it back in the oven for 15 minutes to heat through. Just be careful not to burn the top of your wrist when you return the dish to the oven!!

Eat well. Be happy. Think fit.

The Veggie Patch makes lasagne

July 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

I love pot-luck dinner parties – you reap all the benefits of yummy food and good company with none of the stress or expense of hosting the whole thing yourself. Sunday started vegetarian week for Blushing Strawberries and to get off to a good start I had intended to make the pumpkin, goats cheese and spinach lasagne from Valli Little’s cookbook ‘5 Of The Best’ (recipes from delicious. mag).

Now, obviously a whole lasagne is too much for one person, even when aided by the massive appetite of NB, and sharing a freezer with two flatmates and my last batch of soup has left no room for storage, which created the perfect environment for a dinner party! A few text messages later and the lasagne was suddenly joined by two BBQ chickens (the enticing smell of a roast chook was almost too much to bear…I may have stolen a wing! (Ah frailty thy name is woman!), a spinach, semi-dried tomato and bocconcini salad from Pasta Pantry, home made garlic bread, cheese and dips, some lovely wines and my gal pal CVV’s gorgeous homemade sticky date pudding (insert drool here).

The only thing we didn’t have was enough cutlery for ten!

Woops!

You might not have experienced the embarrassment  of calling a guest and asking them to bring knives and forks.

And their embarrassment when they forget and show up with a plastic set…hey, at least there’s some for next time now!

Bon appetite!

Pumpkin and Goat Cheese Lasagne

Preheat oven to 200°C.

Place 1 kg butternut pumpkin, (peeled & cut into 4 cm pieces) in a roasting pan and toss with 2tbs olive oil. Sprinkle leaves of 2 sprigs fresh rosemary over the top and season with S&P. Roast for 30 minutes or until tender. Transfer to a bowl, mash and set aside.

Heat another 2tbs olive oil and 2tbs unsalted butter in a medium fry pan over a low heat, add 2 leeks* (thinly sliced) and cook, stirring, for about 5-6 minutes or until softened. Add 300g baby spinach leaves (washed and dried) and 2 cloves crushed garlic, and cook for a further 1-2 minutes or until spinach has wilted. Set aside to cool.

Grease a 23cm x 15cm ovenproof dish. Have 400ml good-quality tomato passata and 3 (23cm x 15cm) sheets fresh lasagne** out and ready to go. Spoon 4 tbs of the passata onto the base of the dish and season with s&p. Place a sheet of lasagne on top and spread with mashed pumpkin. Add another layer of lasagne, pressing down on top, then 4 more tbs passata, then a layer of leek and spinach. Finally, add another layer of lasagne and spread it with the remaining passata.

Mix together 150g soft goats cheese (crumbled), 1/2 cup grated parmesan, and the leaves of another rosemary sprig. Sprinkle this on top. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then remove foil and return to the oven for a further 15 minutes, or until the top is golden. Remove from the oven and set aside for 5 minutes before cutting.

*Leeks are so expensive at the moment, I replaced them with shallots.

** My pasta sheets weren’t that large so I used narrower ones crossways. If you use dried lasagne sheets this will require about another 15 minutes cooking time.

I assembled the lasagne a few hours ahead of time so I could shower, wash hair, set tables (minus cutlery) and all that jazz…it’s just so easy. I also made a quick garlic bread: Mix 1/2 cup softened butter with 3 cloves crushed garlic. Slice 2 long french sticks into 2-3 inch slices, not cutting all the way through to the bottom so they hold themselves together. Spread butter mixture in between each slice, wrap in foil and pop it in the oven for the last 20 minutes of the lasagne cooking time.

The Gluten Free Kitchen Makes Leftovers Pasta

June 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

As a 22-year old university student living in Sydney I can’t pretend that I don’t have money problems – it’s simply the nature of the beast. My friend and I were talking at dinner on Tuesday night about the cost of shopping/cooking for one, both admitting that we usually buy just one carrot, one tomato, two apples etc rather than letting anything go to waste. I remember one time when my (cheeky) local grocer commented on the selection in my basket – one potato, 6 mushrooms, 12 snowpeas…“still single I see“, he said to me!

But the truth is I abhor the thought of waste, I admit I’m one of those* people who will save a tea-bag for multiple uses, a habit many of my friends and family try to deny. Still, I think this is a step up from my Nan who washes cling wrap to hang on the line!

(*one of those – presuming there are other tea-bag hoarders out there)

The Great Depression grandchild that I am caused a minor waste-panic-attack in my crisper on Monday evening. A zucchini and six mushrooms were starting to tire (I never did make the omelette that I had planned), there was the mandatory lone carrot and a few other bits of veg, about half a cup of tomato sugo was left from making osso buco and a decent scoop of Philadelphia cheese that I had used in the most delicious accidental chocolate brownie cupcakes – not gluten free but I had to try the corner of one to make sure they were edible before I inflicted them on NB and the roomies (Note: definitely edible and if I can replicate the mistake I will post a recipe!).

9pm Monday isn’t the most inspirational time of night for cooking up a feast, but the things you can do with a tin of tuna, token veg and a zest of lemon…well, you know!

So here is my leftovers pasta! I know it doesn’t look much but it tasted so good, it probably cost less than $5, it took less than 10 minutes and is gluten free if you use GF pasta (I used a buckwheat spaghetti from my local organic store). I got the idea of stirring through cream cheese from the woman I babysit for, she made a delicious grated zucchini and fettucine dish recently that tasted too yummy and creamy to be good for you. I limited myself to a tiny bowl and then she came home and said she used 95% fat free Philadelphia cheese – I should have gone back for seconds!! Try it out at home, a healthy winter indulgence!

Leftovers pasta (quantities depend on how many people you’re cooking for, play it by ear!)

Cook pasta and set aside.

Slice or grate whatever leftover veg you may have in the kitchen, I used carrot, green capsicum, mushroom, corn, broccoli and onion. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a frypan, lightly fry onion with crushed garlic and sprigs of fresh sage or dried herbs, until fragrant and starting to soften. Add remaining vegetables, cook, stirring until they begin to soften. Add a good slug of tomato sugo and a dash of wine – red/white or vegetable stock. Add drained tin tuna. When nearly cooked through stir in some low fat cream cheese and grated lemon zest. Cook 3-ish minutes, add drained pasta and heat through. Season with salt and pepper and serve with fresh herbs and grated cheese if that’s your thing.

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