Penne Cardinale perfect for a night with Soprano family
by Alan Reed
Feb 06, 2008 | 0 0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Now we’re into the home stretch with our viewing of HBO’s “The Sopranos” on DVD. Hawkins and I are down to the final five episodes and, though a touch bittersweet, anticipate moving on to other series.

What’s next? I really couldn’t say. He is the one with the rental account. I’ve heard we might watch another critically acclaimed HBO series, “The Wire,” or perhaps “Big Love.” My vote is for one of his Christmas presents to himself, the complete, two-season volume of “Twin Peaks,” popular when I was in Grade 10. I missed that show something fierce.

With Sopranos coming to an end, I decided we needed some Italian food last Wednesday night. I spent a little time contemplating recipes and went with something called Penne Cardinale to fit the bill.

The recipe began, as so many do, by seasoning the pot with onions and garlic. This time, I started with a bunch of green onions. I hear most vegetable-borne food poisoning cases seem to start with green onions, so wash and dry them well. When dried, cut the roots from the onions and then trim the stalks into short strips. Place them in a skillet with three tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and two heaping teaspoons of minced garlic. Cook the onions until they start to wilt.

This is another chicken dish, so I’ll come to the point quickly. This time, take a good pound of raw chicken strips and cut them into bite-sized pieces. Place them into the pan with the onions and garlic. I hate bland chicken, so I seasoned them with a teaspoon of oregano, half a teaspoon of basil, then sprinkled the chicken-bites with salt, pepper and some Hungarian paprika.

While the chicken cooks, add two-and-a-half teaspoon of red pepper flakes to the pot and stir well. When the chicken was fully cooked, I added a good four ounces of sherry to deglaze the pot. Pour in the wine, and stir well, gently scraping the skillet’s bottom with a spatula for all of the flavor.

The recipe I modified needed a few more “zingers” to get it to a point of flavor I was comfortable with. With the chicken cooked, add a drained can of artichoke hearts and stir well to heat them up. I think artichokes and capers must be good friends because I see them often sharing a recipe. Three tablespoons of drained capers went into my pot, along with a half-pint of cream. Stir the cream until it starts to thicken and add a quarter cup of Parmesan cheese.

At this point, we were ready for pasta. I boiled a full pound of whole-wheat penne pasta and tossed it with the chicken and creamy sauce and a tablespoon of butter. It wasn’t a bad pasta at all. The next night, Hawkins and I enjoyed the leftovers as our favorite show ever, “Lost,” returned to television. That was maybe the biggest treat of the week.

Though unusual for me to critique my performance, this is the “What I would have done differently” part of the column. The pasta and gravy had plenty of flavor with red pepper and a nice texture from the cream. With anything with cream, though, I wished I would have sautéed some mushrooms with the chicken. Also, a few tablespoons of tomato sauce would have given the sauce a pinkish tinge, and a little unexpected flavor. Truthfully, I think it would have merited the name “Cardinale” a bit more with some reddishness in it.

Aaron joined us Friday night requesting eggplant. I went back to my favorite ratatouille for that evening. Other than that, I did little special for the evening. We watched the beautifully filmed documentary “Planet Earth” and caught up on old times.

Sunday brought the Super Bowl. Even if Richard and Scott did not visit like they did last year, Hawkins and I enjoyed the game. I think Hawkins was a little surprised by the drama of the game and took delight in the upset of the Patriots. Personally, I was glad to see those “uppity” Patriots return back to Earth. Rich spent the game in Las Vegas. I wanted to go, but decided work took precedence.

Super Bowl meals left a little extra meat on both Hawkins and me, but it is a tradition. I made red beans and rice for our main course, and an appetizer of beer-batter onion rings.

I wrote about the beans and rice this time last year, so I’ll take a minute on the rings. I really like beer batter, as it makes for a light and crunchy ring, with a little bit of flavor. They are quick and easy to make, and taste as good as anything in a steakhouse.

Start by mixing a cup of beer and a cup of flour together. Beat out as many large lumps as possible. By itself, it would make for a light batter, but I like spice. Add a teaspoon of Cajun seasoning, a quarter-teaspoon of salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Blend it all well. For best results, I use a Vidalia or other sweet onion, sliced thin and pressed out into rings. Batter the rings and drop them into a skillet or pan with an inch to inch-and-a-half of hot oil. Flip them over midway through frying and allow them to drain on a plate lined with dry paper towels. I served my rings with ranch dressing. If the rings need more flour for thickness, salt or pepper, add them to the batter. A little more beer thins things out nicely if the batter is too thick and caked on your rings. Because there is a bit of trial and error, fry a few test cases for “quality control.”

Last week was a good week for my stomach. Starting with “The Sopranos” and pasta, “Lost,” a visit from Aaron and ending with the Giant’s victory in the Super Bowl, red beans and rice and some crunchy onion rings, a good time was had by all. Good eating.
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