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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Spaghetti-Chicken; the evolution of a dish

I was thinking of making a Syrian spaghetti with chicken casserole, partially because people generally like it and partially because its a casserole and how hard could it be? Upon looking at a Syrian cookbook, the answer to that question turned out to be, to hard and involved for my 4-hour-max time limit of total shabbos prep. It involved such gratuitous steps as roasting the chicken with a spice mixture first, making a tomato sauce seperately, recovering the pan drippings, heating them on the stove, throwing cooked pasta in the hot oil to make a crisp crust, boning and chunking the chicken seperately, makign a gravy, then assembling the crispy, tomato-sauced pasta as a nest for meticulously prepped chicken, then pouring a gravy over. Too many pots and pans and plates for my tiny manhattan kitchen. However, my mother typically makes a round variation of this dish (with a big round slice of cured dry salami in the center) for Shabbat Parashat Beshalah- we call it "Pharaoh's Wheel" in symbolization of the chariot wheels of the Egyptians caught in the mud at the crossing of the Red Sea. So I may attempt it that Shabbos.

As it stood, I had 2 boxes of whole wheat spaghetti and no good ideas. I was going to make thai peanut or sesame noodles as a side dish when resounding cries of "not sesame noodles again!" from the peanut gallery made me think twice. I said, "Maybe I'll make a mushroom pasta," thinking along the same crispy-tomato-sauced lines. I was totally at a loss for how I could combine pasta and mushrooms in any appetizing way with chicken, but heres what I came up with.

Emphatically Non-Syrian Spaghetti Chicken
First, I boiled a box of whole wheat spaghetti. Drained, rinsed, dabbed with olive oil and set aside.
I took the pasta pot and sauteed 3 boxes of white button mushrooms (sliced up) in olive oil with 3 or 4 pressed garlic cloves and a handful of chopped fresh parsley. As the mushrooms began to throw off copious amounts of juice, I threw in some capers and caper juice along with some peppermill twists and some salt, which caused even more throwing off of mushroom juice, as salt draws out more water once the cell walls break down a little. Once the juices had reduced to a syrupy almost nothing, I added some leftover red wine (I have some left over almost every shabbos and its a shame not to use it..) and let the alcohol cook off (you can tell this has happend if you stick your nose over the pot and you don't feel like you are in a bar).

I tossed this mushroom mixture (which took about 10 minutes to make) with my reserved spaghetti and began to wonder what to do with it. Sure, I could just heat it up on the platta as a side dish, but I was planning on making chicken cutlets, and however was I going to fit both pans and my soup pot on a 2-burner blech?

In the interest of economizing on space, I had a brilliant idea-- combine chicken and pasta! I was almost back to square one, but from a completely different angle. I pounded about 8 chicken cutlets untill pretty thin, and then tossed some flour, salt, and paprika on them. I heated up more olive oil in a frying pan and sauteed the chicken breasts. At the end of this procedure i was left with a chicken-flavored olive oil lightly thickened with castoff flour, so I added a little more flour and cooked my improvised roux for a minute or too. Then I added more capers, about 2 lemons worth of juice, and (suprise suprise) some more red wine and salt and pepper. I assembled the chicken on top of the pasta and poured my thickened sauce atop all.

I served this with winter vegetable soup, grapefruit-avocado salad, potato kugel, and a delectable zucchini-tomato dish that my friend Yael brought over.


I can attest to that firsthand :o)
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