October 20, 2007

Rate the Hate Operation Get You Laid

Once upon a time, Mr Lady worked at a little Italian restaurant. It was kitchy and cheesy but every single thing in the place was made from scratch, fresh, every day. From the ravioli to the pizza crust to the salad dressing, it was all homemade. Now, some of it was average, some of it could've used some improvement, but some of it rocked. Hard. Of course, that place changed a lot shortly after Olive Garden waged full-out warfare on America's suburbs; they started ordering in pastas and cutting corners and then one day they closed shop and left Denver and I think that place is now a very depressing Mexican joint. There are still two locations in Nebraska. If you're ever there, check it out and let me know how it goes.

One of the cooks from there ended up staying my friend long after we left the restaurant. Many years ago I asked him if he knew the recipe for one of their signature dishes, the one that I can blame 20 pounds and the cottage cheese thighs on. He didn't remember the quantities of the ingredients, but he did recall the gist of what went in it. He gave me a shopping list and I went to work. Two years later I got it all right. And now, I share it with you.

If you ever come over to my house, and I am hoping to sleep with you, this is what I'm going to cook. If you have a date night coming up soon, print this recipe. You'll thank me in the morning.

I need to warn you that the amount of sauce you will make is grossly disproportionate to the amount of pasta you will have. The good news is that the sauce is almost better on day two, so save the leftovers.

First, boil some penne pasta.

While that's going, you need to make a Mornay sauce. Here's how you do that. Melt 2 1/2 tbsp butter on med-high heat. Add 3 tbsp flour to make a roux, stirring until the roux is pale yellow and frothy (about a minute). Grab a whisk and slowly whisk in 2 1/2 cups of warm milk. Continue whisking it until it comes to a boil (about 2-3 minutes). You use warm milk so it won't clump and you have to continually whisk it or, well, if you don't believe me, try it. You'll see. Once it boils, bring the heat down and add 1/4 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp pepper and a decent pinch of nutmeg. Let that simmer for 2-3 minutes and them add your cheese. Add 1 ounce (about 6tsp I think) grated Parmesan. And then you add 8 ounces of Gorgonzola cheese. Add it 4 ounces at a time, and taste it before you add more. It doesn't matter, really, if you get the crumbles or the wedge. It melts beautifully. Stir it, don't whisk it anymore, until the cheese melts. Cover it and keep it on a simmer, stirring occasionally so it doesn't stick.

Now that you've got the base of the sauce, you have to make the chicken. Melt 1/2 stick butter and 1/2 stick margarine in a saute pan (trust me on this). Once melted, add EITHER one small red onion, finely chopped, or 5 large cloves of garlic chopped with your handy-dandy chopper thingy your friend Hannah got you 10 years ago that you can never, ever live without. (I don't need to tell you the 'smack the garlic with the side of a wide knife to get the peels off' trick, do I? We all already know that one, yes?) I think the original recipe called for onion, but I've done it both ways and both are just as good. I go garlic, because I ALWAYS go garlic, but the onion does compliment the cheese well and looks really pretty in the sauce. Your choice. Either way, add that to the butter and saute until fragrant. To that, add a good pinch of parsley and around 3 tsps fresh rosemary. One stalk is about 1 1/2 tsps, so just chop up two stalks. (I don't have to tell you the 'pinch the top of the stalk and slide your fingers down to get all the herb and none of the stalk off' trick, do I? We all already know that, yes?) Be careful with the rosemary; if you add to much, you'll be eating a Christmas tree for dinner. Add the herbs to the butter and then add Worcester sauce. Usually, about 10 good shakes from the bottle will do the trick. Taste it after 10, and if you want more add it 2 shakes at a time. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool slightly.

Once it's a bit cool, whisk it up and then pour 2/3 of the pan into your Mornay sauce. Stir it up really well and re-cover the sauce. You want this to sit for a little bit so the flavors mesh. In the saute pan, add a pound of chicken breasts , sliced into strips (I buy them already in strips), to the remaining 1/3 rosemary butter. Toss the chicken around to coat with the butter and the saute that until the chicken is just done. In a mixing bowl, toss the penne pasta with enough of the sauce to generously coat it. Spoon the pasta onto a plate, top it with the chicken strips, top that with fresh diced tomatoes and garnish the whole thing with a bit of Parmesan. If you're going for pretty, throw a rosemary sprig on the plate. If you're going for 7 year old, you can skip it. This goes really well with steamed broccoli or sauteed green beans or even a thick, rustic, and perhaps rosemary bread. It sounds like a lot of work, but I timed it and the whole thing takes less than 30 minutes, start to finish.

Do not under any circumstances surprise your brother in law with this dinner until you've checked to make sure he is not deathly allergic to rosemary. You'll waste your time and annoy the pig brother in law.

The question is: Do you think they ate it? Or, to make it easier, on a scale of 1-10, how much do you think they hated it? 1 being Best. Dinner. Ever. and 10 being We're Called Child Services and the Food Network to tell on you, you horrible, horrible woman.

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