April 8, 2010


Since my return from 'across the pond' to visit my Italian friend, I've had pasta on the brain and in my veins (probably literally). I felt like eating something spicy today and had some sugo alla puttanesca (whore's sauce) in the pantry. There are several stories as to how the sauce got its name and various restaurateurs who claim to be the first to make it. No one really knows, but everyone knows it's delicious! In any case, it seems to have first appeared in the 1950's. My favorite story concerns the state-owned Italian brothels in the 50's. The brothels were called case chiuse, or "closed houses" because the shutters always had to be closed, to avoid offending the neighbors and passers-by. The 'civil servants' of the brothels were only allowed only one day a week to do their shopping. I suppose because their clothing, or lack thereof, would also offend? When ingredients ran short, this sauce was made from what could be found in the kitchen. Lucky for me, I didn't need to make my own today, or I'd have had to change my outfit to something more ... harlot-y.

1 lb. penne rigate pasta
1 25 oz. jar puttanesca sauce (I used Trader Joe's brand)
1 lb. hot Italian sausage
Extra virgin olive oil, about 1/3 c. total
8 large crimini mushrooms, quartered
1/2 of a large onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 c. dry white wine
1/2 t. black pepper, freshly ground
1/4 t. red chile flakes
3 c. grated parmiggiano reggiano (the real stuff!)
6 slices provolone cheese

Heat oven to 400 F. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add 1 T. salt, then pour in penne. Cook until still quite al dente, then drain and pour back into the pot. Add the puttanesca sauce and stir to combine. In a large skillet, heat 3 T. or so of olive oil over medium high heat. Add mushrooms, sauteeing until browned. Pour in 1/2 cup of the wine and cook one minute longer. Add mushrooms to pot. In same skillet, in 2 T. olive oil, saute the onions and garlic with the pepper and red chile flakes until onions are just beginning to brown. Add them to the pot. Again in same skillet, brown the sausage, breaking up into pieces, but not too much. Add rest of wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add sausage to the pot. Gently combine all the ingredients in the pot. Pour half of the pasta mixture into a 9 x 13 baking pan. Sprinkle pasta with half of the parmiggiano. Cover with the rest of the pasta, then the rest of the parmiggiano, then lay the cheese slices on top. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven until cheese is browning. Let stand a few minutes before serving.
Serves 8



It's finally SPRING! Which means we can all find lively, green, FRESH things at the market again. I mean, I love squash and cabbage, roasts and stews as much as the next person, but it's time again for bright flavors that give a taste-tease for summer bounty to come. Right now, there are young mesclun salad mixes, tiny artichokes, fresh peas and white or green asparagus vying for attention over the tulips and daffodils of springtime.

Here is a recipe I came up with after I bought some of the first local asparagus of the season. I used green, but I'm awaiting the delicious purple-stemmed asparagus we get here in Washington a bit later in the year. White asparagus would also work fine, but the flavor will be more subtle. Contrary to what most people think, thicker stalks of asparagus have more flavor and are just as tender as thin asparagus if trimmed correctly. The best way is to bend the stalk near the base and the stalk will naturally break at the division between woody bottom and tender top. So, don't be afraid to buy those thicker stalks! Assert your asparagus love and get the big ones :-) Either chicken breast or thighs can be used in this recipe. I am a dark meat girl (hey, I'm talking about chicken!) so I prefer thighs. But, for company I would use the breast, as the result is prettier, and I'd also use regular lasagna noodles and precook them the old-fashioned way, but that's just me. I know many people prefer white chicken meat, so make your own call.

1 cube (1/2 c.) butter, divided
6 large scallions, cut on diagonal into 1/2 inch pieces (both green and white parts)
1 lb. green asparagus, trimmed and cut on diagonal into 1 inch pieces
2 t. fresh thyme leaves, rubbed or chopped
2 T. fresh basil leaves, chopped
3 1/2 c. chicken broth
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
1 bay leaf
4 T. flour
2 large, boneless chicken breasts, boiled and cut into 1/4 inch strips OR use 5 boneless chicken thighs
1 9 oz. pkg. no-cook lasagna noodles
2 c. fresh, finely grated Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese (or Grana Padano)

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add scallions and cook until wilted, stirring often. Transfer to a bowl. Melt 2 more tablespoons butter in same pan and add asparagus and thyme. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Saute about 4 minutes, until asparagus is crisp-tender, stirring often. Add to bowl with the scallions, then add chopped basil leaves to the vegetable mixture and toss gently to combine. Into a large saucepan on medium heat, put remaining 4 tablespoons of butter and melt. Add 4 tablespoons flour and stir with whisk until bubbly. Gradually add the chicken broth, stirring constantly, then add cream. Bring to a low boil and cook for about three minutes. Sauce will be thickened, but not too thick. The lasagna noodles need the moisture to cook. Remove from heat and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9 x 13" pan. Pour 1/4 of the white sauce into bottom of pan. Lay lasagna noodle sheets on the sauce, breaking gently to fit closely, if necessary. Scatter 1/3 of the vegetable mixture over the lasagna, then top with 1/3 of the cooked chicken, making sure each future piece will have some chicken. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the cheese on the layer, then repeat with noodles, veggies, chicken, cheese two more times. Finish with lasagne noodles on top. Pour remaining white sauce over the noodles, then top with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Cover pan tightly with foil. Bake 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until top is bubbling and beginning to brown, about five minutes. Let stand a few minutes before cutting into serving pieces.


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