Raise your hands if you have the winter blahs. If you're anything like me, after the hustle and bustle of the holidays are over, you're ready to throw on some jammie pants, hop into bed, pull a nice down comforter over your head and settle in until the daffodils start to show their perky yellow heads, surfacing only to consume large amounts of carbohydrates - I am particularly fond of them in the form of cheesy pasta . . .
Unfortunately, the mortgage, cable, electric and gas companies keep expecting me to pay for services rendered, and I am therefore forced to rise occasionally and make my way into the cold, dark world to work. Besides all of that, I am pale and mushy enough as it is, and I fear months spent immersed in dreamland, eating nothing but piles of Parmesan and butter-coated pasta surrounded by piles of books would render me into a shapeless translucent blob.
All of that to say, I would like to raise up three cheers for modern preservation methods (an ancient ones), but particularly the invention of the white-lined can, which allows us to enjoy delicious tomatoes during even the coldest months. Lately, I have been enjoying Trader Joe's fire roasted tomatoes in a can, which have a nice smoky flavor and make eating the occasional vegetable during winter tolerable. I made a similar recipe the other day, but instead of the pasta and chicken, I placed a piece of fresh cod on top, coated it liberally with salt and pepper, and baked at 450 for 7 minutes, then added a little lemon juice and the bread crumbs and returned to the oven for another minute or 2. Just so you know how you can interpret this recipe in other ways.
I love making bread crumbs - they seem to make everything just a little more delicious, giving a nice texture to pasta (or soup, or whatever).
Read the recipe, if desired, in the extended post . . .
Pasta with Preserved Things, for Winter Nights - serves 2
6 ounces pasta
1 small can (one ounce) anchovy fillets, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 ounces red wine (optional)
1 small can whole tomatoes with their juices (I used the aforementioned fire-roasted tomatoes, but you can use any whole canned tomatoes) roughly chopped
red pepper flakes, to taste (I like 2 nice big pinches, but you might start with one and taste)
15 kalamata olives, roughly chopped
2 tbsp capers (I like them salt-packed), rinsed and roughly chopped
1 tbsp butter or olive oil
6 ounces chicken breast, very finely chopped
salt & pepper
Bread crumbs (recipe follows)
Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside. In the meantime, heat a little olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat and add the anchovies, stirring as they melt into the olive oil (2-3 minutes). Stir in the garlic and cook for a few minutes, stirring to be sure it doesn't burn. Move the garlic and anchovy mixture to one side of the pan and add the tomato paste, stirring it around as it browns (I scoot the pan over so that the burner is under the tomato paste and the garlic is off the heat). Once the tomato paste is nice and brown (3-4 minutes), deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping up all of the browned tomato bits; stir in the garlic and anchovies and reduce the wine by 3/4ths (2 minutes over high heat). Add the canned tomatoes, red pepper flakes, olives and capers and stir to combine. Allow to simmer away over medium heat while you cook the chicken; it should reduce to a nice, thick and chunky consistency.
Heat the butter in a small skillet over medium heat and then add the chicken. Season with salt and pepper and toss in the pan until browned and cooked through, 3-4 minutes for finely chopped chicken. Add to the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Add the pasta, check seasoning and top with a little extra virgin olive oil, if desired, and the bread crumbs.
Place chunks of stale, home style bread in a food processor and blitz until you have mostly small crumbs with a few larger crumbs for nice texture. Place crumbs in a skillet over medium high heat and drizzle with good extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and toss until the crumbs are lightly browned - 6 minutes or so. Remove from heat and try to refrain from eating them all while you are cooking dinner.