Friday 12 June 2009

Double Dinner: Fusilli with Marinated Chicken, Pesto and Tomatoes, and Pasta Salad the next day

If you're feeding a hungry family, you will know what I mean by Double Dinner. First, there's the DDDTPE (Double Dinner Due to Picky Eaters), which involves your having to make two separate meals because the smaller, fussier kids won't eat what the bigger kids (or teens) want to eat. And then there are the meals that you make in bulk, in the faint hope that you'll have plenty left over the next day for snacks, lunch-boxes and freezers.

I say 'faint hope' because there is no such thing as a left-over in my house, which is the land of midnight snackers. Even if a few morsels do find overnight refuge in the fridge, nicely covered in clingfilm, the chances are that a) they'll mysteriously vapourise in the early hours of the morning and b) there will be loud complaints about having to eat the 'same old food that we had yesterday'.

Still, I persist in my quest to find the ultimate Double Dinner. I reckon most kids and teens will eat this happily, in its hot and cold forms, but if you have a super-fussy toddler or preschooler, I suggest you put a portion of the pasta to one side, add a little of the hot chicken, pulled into shreds, and top it with a knob of butter, a little grated cheese and a dollop of tomato sauce.

The yoghurt is an essential ingredient in this dish: it makes the chicken breasts amazingly tender and succulent.

This recipe serves five to six people, twice over.

Double Dinner: Pasta with Marinated Chicken Breasts, Pesto and Tomatoes, and Delicious Pasta Salad the next day

12 deboned, skinless organic chicken breasts
1 cup (250 ml) plain white natural yoghurt
3 cloves garlic, crushed
the juice of a fat lemon
salt and freshly ground pepper
750 g (one and a half packets) dried pasta shapes (fusilli, farfalle or similar)
a little olive oil
1 cup (250 ml) dried tomatoes, soaked in water for an hour, or oven-baked cherry tomatoes
3/4 cup (180 ml) basil pesto
1/2 cup (125 ml) grated Parmesan, Grana Padano or Pecorino cheese

For the next-day salad:

depipped, halved black olives
fresh basil leaves, shredded
firm feta cheese
a little olive oil and lemon juice

Using a very sharp knife, make three or four 5-mm-deep slashes in each chicken breast, top and bottom. Place the breasts in a big plastic or glass bowl or dish. In a separate bowl, mix together the yoghurt, lemon juice, garlic and two tablespoons (30 ml) of the pesto. Tip this mixture over the chicken breasts and mix well - using your bare hands, preferably - making sure that every breast is thorougly coated with the marinade. Set aside in a cool place (in the fridge, if it's a hot day) for two hours. Don't leave the breasts for longer, as the yoghurt may tenderise them to the point of mushiness.

Pre-heat the oven to 170 C. Put an enormous pot of salted water on the heat and bring to the boil.

Remove the chicken breasts from their marinade and, using a spatula or the blunt edge of knife, scrape off the excess yoghurt. It doesn't matter if a little yoghurt still clings to the breasts. Season each chicken breast with salt and freshly ground pepper. Heat a large frying pan and, when it is blazing hot, add a dash of olive oil. Brown the chicken breasts, in small batches, in the fiercely hot oil for a few minutes, until golden brown on both sides. They will still be raw in the middle. Place the partially cooked breasts on a metal baking sheet. When they are all browned, place them in the oven to finish cooking for 10 to 12 minutes.

In the meantime, throw the pasta into the boiling water. Boil for 10-13 minutes, or until just cooked (al dente). Drain the pasta, leaving a little of the boiling water behind in the pot, and set aside.

Remove the chicken breasts from the oven. They should be perfectly cooked: you can test by cutting through the thickest part of the biggest breast. If there is any sign of pinkness, put them back in the oven for 5 more minutes.

Gently heat the remaining pesto and the drained sundried tomatoes in a pan, but do not allow to boil.

Using your hands or a sharp knife, tear or cut the chicken breasts, along the grain, into pieces as big as your pinky finger. Tip them into the pot of hot pasta, along with any juices. Stir in the warmed pesto and the tomatoes, and splash over a little more olive oil. Check the seasoning - it may need more salt and pepper - and serve piping hot, in deep bowls, with grated Parmesan.

Now, the leftovers:

Tip the remainders into a big salad bowl and set aside in a cool place (or in the fridge, if it's summer). The next morning, stir in the olives, feta and basil, and any other ingredients you fancy - perhaps some chopped spring onions, shredded fresh spinach leaves, halved fresh cherry tomatoes, a handful of toasted pine nuts... Add a splash of olive oil and lemon juice if the salad seems dry, and season well with salt and pepper.

Serves five to six, twice over.
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