Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pasta Alfredo with Grilled Chicken: an Italian classic

Real alfredo sauce is simply butter, cream, parmesan, and a tiny pinch of nutmeg. It is easy to make from scratch IF you know a few tricks. When I have a major craving for comfort food, I'll often say, "Honey, can we have pasta alfredo tonight?" I happily take the copilot's seat and let him take charge of this meal, which is one of his specialties.

If you're going to eat alfredo sauce, commit to it. Do not use margarine. Do not use half and half. Do not use anything called "low fat." Also, be aware that pre-grated parmesan contains anti-caking agents that damage its melting properties. These anti-caking agents will destroy the sauce, making it clumpy and separated. (Trust me - I know this from experience.) Buy a block of parmesan and finely grate it yourself. It's worth the extra 2 minutes.

Alfredo Sauce Ingredients

2 tbsp butter
2/3 cup + 1/3 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup parmesan, freshly grated
pinch nutmeg

Other Ingredients

12-16 oz. pasta such as farfalle, radiatori, or penne
small pat of butter
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
fresh parsley, chopped, with stems discarded


0. Read the recipe all the way through. Prepare and measure out all the ingredients.

1. Preheat the grill to medium heat. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and toss in a pinch of salt.

2. Pound the chicken breasts flat and thin. Lightly coat with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

3. Add the pasta to the boiling water and set a timer based on package directions.

4. While the pasta is cooking, grill the chicken. (Note: do not skip step 2 or the chicken will not cook evenly.) When cooked through, remove, cover, and set aside.

5. Drain the cooked pasta, add a small pat of butter, and stir to keep noodles from sticking together.

6. Heat 2 tbsp butter and 2/3 cup cream together in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon to fully combine. Do not boil the cream.

7. When slightly thickened, add just a pinch of nutmeg. Turn off the heat.

8. Add the pasta, the remaining 1/3 cup cream, parmesan, and parsley all at once. Stir to fully coat the cooked pasta in the cream sauce. Remember: do this step with the heat off. When fully combined, cover to keep warm.

9. Chop the chicken into strips.

10. Serve the pasta topped with chicken strips and a little more grated parmesan if desired.

Raw red bell pepper slices are as a nice counterpoint to the creamy pasta, cleansing the palate with their cool, satisfying crunch. A garnish of fresh parsley contrasts the vibrant red of the pepper slices, adding the final visual touch. We chose this sauvignon blanc to accompany the meal, but it works well with almost any white wine.

What was I doing while hubby was cooking this delicious food? Assisting with ingredient prep, working out the presentation details, and making this simple dessert of sliced strawberries, blackberries, and real whipped cream:

The basic ratio I use to make whipped cream is 1/4 cup heavy cream, 1 tsp sugar, 1/4 tsp real vanilla (the ingredient label should not say vanillin, artificial flavoring, or corn syrup). Combine all ingredients in a bowl and use a hand mixer to whip until fluffy.

How did I get the whipped cream to look like that if I didn't use a ReddiWhip can? I used a squeeze bottle with a pastry tip. That might be just a little over the top, but it certainly does look appetizing, no?

Buon appetito!

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