Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rigatoni with Chicken Ragu

This might be the most awful picture I've ever posted on this blog. Ever. It's blurry, the lighting is terrible, and I was balancing the bowl on my arm when I snapped it with my cellphone trying to avoid a shadow casting over it.

I'm not sure why I even bother using my cellphone to take pictures like this because they never turn out well. I inherited my grandfather's shaky hands and can rarely keep them still enough to take nice photos. Oh yeah...that and I was completely unprepared to take a picture. Probably because this entire meal became a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants creation in the first place.

Having not made a proper visit to the grocery store, but being hungry and wanting dinner (and having a sudden craving for pasta), I just started pulling out whatever I had. It wasn't much. Usually, if I make any kind of sauce from scratch, I prefer to make A LOT of it, but sadly all I had in my pantry was one can of crushed tomatoes. Lord, how did that happen?? But veggies came to my rescue and bulked it up nicely. See, veggies are good stuff...

What else did I have? Chicken breasts! I know many people get bored with chicken, but not me. I seriously never tire of the old bird. You can eat it a million different ways and it's good for you. Hurray! But rather than throwing some cooked, diced chicken on top of some pasta smeared with sauce, I wanted to take my efforts just a wee further. Far enough that the rather unimaginative combination of chicken and pasta resulted in something much richer and satisfying. Hence, chicken ragu...

A ragu is simply a meat-based sauce that you serve over pasta. Most people use beef, otherwise known as Bolognese Sauce (declicioso in its own right!), but any meat can be used--chicken, pork, duck. In this case, chicken was what I had, so that's what I used. I needed tender chicken that I could shred easily. In my opinion, if you're going to use a white meat in a ragu, shredding the meat is key because it melds with the tomatoes, creating a rich, thick blanket of sauce, rather than sparse chunks of meat scattered throughout. A quilt of marinara, if you will...

If you've got the time, a crock pot is of course a great way to achieve those juicy, succulent results you're looking for, but if not, poaching works too--which is what I did. I simply filled a saucepan with some water and heated it to a gentle simmer. I plopped the uncooked chicken breast into the water and let him hang out for a while. When it was cooked all the way through, I took two forks and gently shredded the meat apart into stringy strands, which I then added to my simmering sauce to soak into.

With a bowl of cooked pasta, add as much or as little of this sauce as you'd like and prepare to coat your tummy with one delicious, yet simply made, meal! Enjoy!

Rigatoni with Chicken Ragu
Serves: 4-6

-1 20 oz. can crushed tomatoes
-a splash of Burgundy (or any red) wine, about 1/4 cup
-1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
-1 celery stalk, finely chopped
-half of a large onion, finely chopped
-3 mushrooms (any variety--I used cremini), sliced with stems removed
-1 large garlic clove, minced
-1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
-1 tbsp. dried oregano
-1 tsp. salt
-2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
-1 lb. pasta (any kind you like)
-1 large, or 2 small, poached chicken breast(s)

Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. When hot, but not smoking, add onions, mushrooms, and garlic and stir 2-3 minutes until cooked and fragrant. Add carrots and celery and stir until cooked and soft, 5-6 minutes.

Add crushed tomatoes, the wine, oregano, salt, and pepper, and stir till combined with all of the cooked vegetables. Lower heat to a simmer, cover, and let gently cook for 30-40 minutes. Let the sauce simmer while you prepare your chicken and pasta, but don't forget to stir occasionally!

Heat a stockpot filled with water to boiling.

In the meantime, while waiting for that to boil, fill another saucepan with water and heat to a simmer (you will see a few bubbles). Add your uncooked chicken to the water. The water will gently cook the chicken through till no longer pink, about 20 minutes (but be sure to check for proper doneness).

By now, your stockpot should be boiling. Add as little or as much salt as you'd like to flavor the water. Add your pasta and let cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain in a colander.

Using an immersion blender, blend the tomato sauce till the vegetables have pureed. It doesn't have to be perfectly smooth. The mushrooms will remain slightly chunky. If you don't have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender and then add the sauce back to the pot. Or you can leave out the blending all together if you prefer an all around chunkier sauce.

On a plate or cutting board, shred your chicken and add to the pureed sauce. Stir to combine and simmer a few minutes longer.

Fill a bowl with pasta, spoon your ragu on top and enjoy!

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