Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Feeding Unexpected Company is Easy with a Well-Stocked Pantry: Baked Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta with Chicken {recipe}



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Weekends or mid-week, a good friend drops by and you get to talking and talking and talking and the next thing you know, it’s dinner time. Uh-oh! You haven’t been grocery shopping yet. What to do? Don’t upset the rhythm of your lovely leisurely visit by leaving the comfort of your home and heading to a restaurant (especially if that talking included sipping on wine or cocktails). Instead, if you have a well-stocked pantry with essential easy to throw together ingredients, simple, yet satisfying dinners are a snap such as this Baked Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta with Chicken & Ricotta.

I’ve written about pantry staples before but part of the fun of having this site is the joy in sharing ideas on what to include in a well-stocked pantry and then what to do with those ingredients.

My previous list of must-haves included:
  • long grain white rice
  • pinto beans
  • canned stewed tomatoes
  • peanut butter
  • eggs
  • white flour for tortillas
  • masa harina for corn tortillas
  • frozen chicken breasts
  • butter
  • milk
  • canned albacore
  • olive oil
  • onions
  • seasoning including Knorr's chicken bouillon, dried oregano, dried basil, ground cumin, California chili powder, Spanish paprika, kosher salt, black pepper
I had a “Duh!” moment when I went back and read this list from last year. I realize it was meant as a sampling of the staples I try to keep in my pantry and not a complete list. Some of the items that I left out – most of which are in today’s recipe – include:
  • Trader Joe’s jarred sauces including basil pesto, sun-dried tomato pesto, masala and korma
  • assorted Italian pasta shapes with an emphasis on penne and thick spaghetti
  • cheese including parmesan, ricotta, mozzarella (usually fresh such as ovoline or buffalo), shredded mild or sharp cheddar, jack cheese and cotija (a Mexican hard, aged cheese)
  • pine nuts
  • chicken
  • vinegars including balsamic, red wine, apple, rice and white
Now, let’s get cooking!

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Boil pasta in salted water to al dente. Drain, rinse under cold water and add to a large bowl. Tip: To prevent the salt from staining your pans with that hard to remove white ring, don't add salt to water until it's already reached a boil.

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Add leftover cooked chicken, jarred pesto and pan toasted pine nuts. Stir to combine. Personalize it: Any leftover cooked meat will work. I've made this with both chopped steak and even chopped leftover pork chops. Or leave the meat out altogether and use canned beans – or not. The point is, don't be afraid to customize to your taste. As for the pesto, I've also used basil pesto and it's just as tasty.

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Turn oven on and preheat to 400 degrees F. Coat the inside of your casserole dish with olive oil. Place a layer of the pasta to just cover the bottom. Sprinkle with parmesan.

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Use a spoon to add dollops of ricotta.

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This is olovine. It's a fresh mozzarello made from cows milk and comes packed in a brine. It's soft and has a creamy, milder taste taste than it's semi-hard counterpart that most people are familiar with. And even considering that it sits in a salt solution, it's actually less salty than it's counterpart as well.

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Hand shred some olovine over the ricotta.

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Add another layer of pasta and repeat the parmesan, ricotta, olovine steps.

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Add the last layer of pasta, sprinkle with more parmesan and add the last of the olovine.

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Bake in a 400˚ F. oven for 15-20 minutes until the cheese has melted and the top has a golden crust.

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Let it sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!

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