15 September 2008

Spaghetti Tetrazzini

Chicken and Mushroom Pasta Bake
Spaghetti Tetrazzini (with title)
This is my entry to dear Susan's Blogiversary Bash at Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy-- a friend to this blog as you all probably know. Let's unhinge or mouths, point our noses at the sky, and with dangling arms, give our best Muppet "YAAAY!" for SGCC!
I think many of you would hate me if you could read my mind. And guess what, I'm sharing a little bit more of it today! Confession: each time I browse the used magazine piles, I encounter Everyday with Rachael Ray Magazine, and other titles (Bon Appetit, Cook's Illustrated, Fine Cooking) that boast meals that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less, and I think to myself, "What's with the arbitrary cut-off time of thirty minutes? Does food beyond that officially become too much of an undertaking? What about developing flavor? What about the joy of cooking? Of the process? What about skill?"

These are just some of the insensitive thoughts I think when I'm feeling pedestal-y and grumpy, like when people walk too slowly in front of me (WHAT?! They're TEXTING!!!) or when people on television bake poorly (Seriously. I saw Julia Louis-Dreyfus on The Rachael Ray Show, and they made baking seem a thousand times harder than it was. Just disorganized, and wrong, wrong, wrong. No wonder people are afraid of baking). Then of course I think to myself quite guiltily that I am between jobs and when I do get one, I'll be lucky to squeeze thirty minutes out of my schedule for a decent meal. (Hockey) moms must have it much more difficult, picking up the kids from school and getting the house in order with just enough time to slap together a decent meal that the cute young ones will hate no matter what you do (barring making a burger or pizza). I was feeling a bit under the weather last, last weekend, while hauling major ass to produce a pasta dish for my grandmother's birthday last September 8 (all birthday celebrations must have a pasta dish, which everyone must eat for long life). Hence the substandard pic. But I assure you, the taste was not substandard.

I was actually quite surprised how much I liked this pasta dish, especially since I am a sworn member of the red sauce brigade. But my grandmother loves cream sauces (ugh), so I decided on this dish without hesitation. It's also my first time to cook for a party of 50 (okay, 60) people, and I'm quite pleased with the results and how inexpensive it was. The hardest part was cooking a kilo and a half (3 pounds 5 ounces) of dry spaghetti-- no pot we had was big enough, so I understirred the pasta at the bottom.

So I'm thinking right now how much more my pictures would suck if I actually had work. Oh God, I've got to stock up on great recipes before I start residency!

At the party, my grandmother was gifted 6 cakes. I am puzzled by this behavior. Do people really come to birthday parties thinking there might not be cake and they're saving the day? Because we had a huge sheet cake. Obviously. Over the next 4 days, we (a household of 6 people) had to eat all the cake and since I'm the designated sweet tooth, I had a bigger share, and I ended up weighing 4-5 pounds heavier and feeling very ill (seriously). Give a tiny red envelope of money containing a third of the cost of a cake. Or preserves, they keep for months. Prayer cards would be GREAT for my grandmother, she loves those. Mango chutney would be nice. Just not cake. NEVER cake. It's just not wise.

Spaghetti Tetrazzini adapted from Jamie's Italy
This is from an old Italian cookbook, I swear Jamie said that. Even if it does sound like something out of a school cafeteria. But you cannot argue with good taste. And once you've fed 60 people, you really can't argue with the results.

  • 3 small handfuls (80g or 3oz) dried porcini mushrooms

  • olive oil

  • 200g (8oz) bacon, chopped

  • 8 chicken thighs, boned (what I really got was the hind part of the chicken with the thigh and minus the leg, so they were quite large. Try deboning, it's fun just "winging" it-- chicken humor)

  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced

  • 450g (1 lb) mixed fresh mushrooms, cleaned and torn

  • 2 cups white wine

  • 1.5kg (3lbs 5oz) dry spaghetti

  • 750g (3 cups) heavy cream

  • 500g (18oz) Parmesan cheese, grated (I had no budget for this much Parmesan, so I subbed a major portion of this with whatever cheese I could get.)

  • a handful of fresh basil, leaves picked

Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour just enough boiling water to cover them. Leave to soak for a few minutes. Meanwhile, place a giant pot over medium heat and pour in a splash of olive oil (be conservative, as plenty of oil will come out of the bacon and the chicken). Add the bacon and fry until lightly brown. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper, then pushing the bacon to the side, lay them skin side down on the pot (you may have to do this in 2 batches as pots will rarely be able to hold all the chicken). Once the bacon and the chicken skin has become brown and crisp, turn the chicken and continue cooking until cooked through. Once all the chicken is cooked, chop them into bite-sized pieces (I used a pair of shears) and park off the heat. Strain the porcini mushrooms, reserving the soaking water. Turn the heat up to high, and discard all but 6 tablespoons of the oil in the pot (or not... Your arteries), then add the garlic and all the mushrooms. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add the wine and porcini liquor, and turn the heat down to low and allow to reduce a little. Add the chicken and the cream. Bring to a boil then turn off the heat. Add the basil and 3/4 of the Parmesan and stir well. Season with salt and pepper (I find that the salt is unnecessary).

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water according to the package directions and drain well. Toss with the cream sauce and transfer to 2 or 3 large ovenproof dishes. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and bake until golden brown, bubbling, and crisp.

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