Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta

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I’ve gotten into the habit of occasionally buying those hot roasted chickens from the grocery store.  They’re just so darned cheap and handy, not to mention tasty.  Last weekend, the Pie was out of town, and sometimes I forget to actually eat when he’s not around, so I bought the chicken to give me some incentive.  One leg at one meal, one leg at another, and I was set.  But I still had the body of the chicken left to deal with.  I dismantled the remainder of the carcass, including the breasts, and whipped up this quick pasta dish to greet the Pie when he came home.  He went back for seconds so I think I did a good job.

So.  Chicken.  You’ll need about 2 cups shredded chicken.

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About 1 cup ranch dressing.

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An onion, some garlic, and a head of broccoli.  Chop those up.

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Cook 4 slices bacon.

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Make them super crispy and then put them somewhere to drain.

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Start your pot of boiling water to make your pasta.  You’ll need enough noodles for four.  I used linguini.

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Grab a pot and chuck in a few tablespoons olive oil.  Add in the onions and cook until translucent and smelling fabulous.

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Then add in the broccoli and garlic and stir that as well.

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Next, add in a few pinches dry mustard and pepper and paprika (you’ll see the paprika added in a later photo but that’s because I had to wait for the Pie to pick it up from the store on his way home).

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Pour in about 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup cream, and the 1 cup ranch dressing.

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Chuck in the chicken, then cut up the bacon and chuck that in as well.

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Stir that to heat things up.  You’re not really going to want to cook this for a long time.

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Then add in a few tablespoons pesto.  And some more cream if you want it thicker.

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Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.  Dump the sauce over top and toss to coat.  Serve immediately, although it’s equally fantastic the next day.

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Snow Day Dinner: Pasta Carbonara

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As I said before, the charming Fussellette braved icy streets and our own half-assed driveway-shoveling job to make it to our house on Friday for a gluten-free extravaganza.  I decided to make pasta carbonara, not only because it’s freaking amazing, but also for another, rather peculiar reason.

Chel (she of the wedding cake), back before she married Invis, was dating this other fella who was from England.  And when she went to the UK to meet his parents, the fella’s mum made a pasta with a white sauce that Chel (who hates cheese and most things creamy) absolutely adored.  Problem is, of course, that the breakup didn’t go so well and she has since married someone else, someone who doesn’t know anything about this recipe.

So for the past year or so she has been puzzling this out.  She knew it wasn’t an alfredo, and she pooh-poohed my suggestion of a béchamel.  Last week she suggested it might be a carbonara.  Now, despite the fact that this woman is a tech genius, it didn’t occur to her to look on the internet herself and experiment with the various recipes.  Instead, she comes and asks me.  Silly girl (love you squishee!).  So it’s up to me to see if what I cobble together tastes like the heaven that SHE ate some time ago.  Also remember that she lives in Toronto, so it’s not like she can pop over for a bite.

So here goes.  I pulled inspiration from a bunch of different carbonara recipes, so I think you can be pretty flexible with your ingredients.

This is a pasta that you toss before serving, so it’s recommended that you use something like a penne, or that which is easy to stir around.  We had our fresh gluten-free linguini, so we just had to suck it up for this occasion.  This is also a recipe that you make on the fly — aside from cutting up the vegetables ahead of time, you pretty much have to do this all as you cook and then serve it immediately.

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So let’s start with what prep work we can get out of the way.

Take 12 or so slices of bacon and cut them into little bits.  You can also use pancetta or prosciutto, or any other strongly flavoured cured pork.

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Dice up an onion, a handful of mushrooms, and the florets from one head of broccoli.  You could also use zucchini, sweet peppers, any number of vegetable.  Go with what you’ve got in your fridge.  Don’t try to be too fancy.

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Finely grate up about two hefty handfuls of parmesan cheese.  Because I have tiny munchkin hands, I got the Pie to do this part (also because I hate grating cheese and I’d already skinned off part of my finger).  His hands are sizeable.  He can cover my whole face with part of one hand.

Put one handful of cheese in a pretty serving dish and put it on the table for garnish.  Take the other handful and dump it in a measuring cup with 1 cup whipping cream and 4 egg yolks.

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Give that a good stir and set it aside.

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Set a pot of slightly salted water to boil (if you’re using fresh pasta, add a few drops of olive oil to prevent the pasta from sticking together). Cook your pasta.  You need to time it so that the vegetables are ready at the same time the noodles are.

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In a very large, deep frying pan, heat up about 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Chuck in your bacon and fry until it’s crispy.

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Chuck in the onions and stir for a few minutes until they start to become translucent.

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Then add the rest of your vegetables, and cook, stirring often, until they are all tender and bacon-flavoured. I also sprinkled on some herbes de provence for extra flavour.  Thyme or oregano would also work well.

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When you drain your pasta, reserve about half a cup of the cooking water.  Toss the pasta in with the vegetables and add a bit of the water.  Use only as much as you need to help coat the pasta with sauce.  If you like your sauce thick, add a few tablespoons.  If you like your sauce thin, add the full half cup.

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Remove the pan from the heat and pour in your cream/egg/cheese sauce.  Toss to coat the pasta and then serve immediately.

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Garnish with the extra parmesan, and go back for seconds.  Serves 4 generously.

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Snow Day Dinner: Gluten-Free Linguini

Snow Day Dinner

Fussellette has recently discovered that she is a celiac and can no longer digest wheat gluten.  So now when we have her for dinner we have to take that into account, and can no longer offer the very dough-heavy meals that are traditional favourites for our Newfoundland friends.

Friday here in St. John’s was a snow day.  The whole city, including the court systems, the municipal and provincial governments, were shut down due to a sudden snow squall.  Fussellette decided to brave the winter weather, however, and made it to our house for dinner.  In honour of the weather, I decided on some form of comfort food, and in my mind that usually equals pasta.  For Fussellette, that means gluten-free pasta. This recipe makes enough for four servings.

Fortunately Sobeys has a large selection of gluten-free flours to choose from.  Just remember, however, when you’re baking with gluten-free flour, such as a rice flour, you still need a thickener, such as a starch, and a binding agent to replace the gluten.  Usually the binding agent is something called xanthan gum.

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So to make this pasta, I had to do some mixing.

In a bowl, mix 1 1/3 cup brown rice flour, 2/3 cup arrowroot starch, 1 teaspoon xanthan gum, and 1 teaspoon fine sea salt.  Whisk that together thoroughly.

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In a smaller bowl, whisk together 2 large eggs and 2 large egg yolks.  Save the whites for an omlette or meringue or something.  Add in 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons water and mix again until it’s fully combined.

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Now comes the fun part.  You can simply pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredient bowl and stir, or you can do it on the counter in the old fashioned way.  Dump the dry stuff carefully out on your work surface.  Using a scraper, make a deep well in the centre.

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Carefully pour in the egg mixture.

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Using the scraper again, and your hands, start mixing the flour into the egg.  Work quickly, or your egg may form a river that will wind its way off your counter top.  The scraper, I found, is handy for cutting through the dough to make sure it mixes properly.

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It should be cohesive but not tacky. Feel free to add more flour or water if you’re not getting the right consistency. Form the finished dough into a long cylinder and cut it into four sections.

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Flatten those sections, wrap them tightly in plastic, and refrigerate them until you’re ready to make pasta.

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You have a few options in how to make your pasta.  You could roll it out by hand and then cut it into long strips, but there is so much room for error in that, especially if you are working with a gluten-free pasta that barely sticks together on its own.

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I opted to use a pasta maker.  This one here seems to be the standard one.  My parents own the same one so I know how to use it.  Most people who have a pasta maker own this one.  You can find them pretty cheap in second-hand stores.  I guess people get them as wedding presents and then never use them.  That’s where this one came from, and it had never been used before we busted it out.

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So we used our awesome machine to thin out and cut our pasta into linguini.  We were originally going to go with spaghetti but we were concerned the pasta wouldn’t hold together all that well if it were smaller.  I recommend using two people to operate a pasta maker.  It may be awkward trying to figure out whose arms go where, but it’s handy to have one person operate the crank while the other feeds the dough through the machine and pulls it out the bottom to prevent tangling.

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We laid the cut pasta out for a few hours to dry a bit, just to make sure it wouldn’t completely dissolve when we cooked it.

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To cook, add a pinch of salt and a few drops of olive oil to your water before you boil it.

Fussellette said that this pasta was better than the stuff she finds at the store, because once the gluten-free pasta is dried it is hard to cook it all the way through and she says it’s often chewy on the inside.  Because this stuff is fresh it takes only about 6 minutes to cook and you know it will be nice and tender throughout.

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Stay tuned on Wednesday to see what we did with it!