By Nancy Caivano
I have always thought March is a strange month. You never know exactly what the weather will do. Will it stay cold? Will we get our first taste of spring? Here in New York, we have had both snowstorms and 75-degree weather in March. You just never know. It's hard to pinpoint a specific type of food for this "transitional" month. So what I decided to do is to focus on a specific ingredient, and make that the focus of this month's column.
I was speaking with some friends the other day, and one of them was voicing a complaint, that I'm sure many people will identify with—"I have chicken to make for dinner, but I don't know how to make it different!" We all get into cooking ruts sometimes, weather it is the same old roasted chicken or beef or pork. Chicken seems to be the ingredient people want to learn new ways for the most. So, the recipes in this month's column will be with chicken—and one with it's good friend, turkey.
Chicken, to me, is the most versatile of meats. It has such a delicate flavor that it takes on the characteristics of any dish that it is in. But, it isn't so delicate that it can't stand on its own. During the summer, a beautiful, plain grilled chicken breast can be simply outstanding. Either combined in a complicated dish, or simply cooked on its own, chicken is one of our most popular, most healthy and most favorite of foods.
I have come up with seven different recipes so that you can vary the way that you serve chicken. They all call for boneless chicken breast, but you can always substitute boned thighs if you prefer the taste of the darker meat. You can also substitute leftover chicken that you might have, say, from a previous evening's roast chicken. Leftover chicken (and turkey) adapt well for risotto and pasta dishes. I used different combinations of vegetables, cheeses and nuts to give the same old chicken a glorious new taste each time you prepare it.
We start with the pastas. First up, we have Cannelloni with Chicken, Sausage and Almonds. This is a lovely dish. The cannelloni are stuffed with a mixture of sautéed chicken, savory Italian sausage, spinach and crunchy toasted almonds. They are blanketed with a rich cream sauce made with both Provolone and Romano cheeses and baked until golden and bubbly. A great make-ahead dish to keep in the freezer for unexpected company!
Then we have Pasta with Chicken, Broccoli and Garlic-Dried Tomato Cream Sauce. This is a simple, but delicious dish that you can put together when you get home from work. Sautéed chicken is combined with steamed broccoli and white wine, plus a fabulous cream sauce flavored with lots of garlic and tangy dried tomatoes.
Tortellini with Sautéed Chicken and Basil-Almond Pesto, is a different way to serve tortellini, other than by itself. The pesto is a snap to make and the almonds give it a slightly more delicate flavor than the more traditional pine nuts. They combine perfectly with the chicken and fresh tortellini.
Last of the pastas, we have Chicken Stuffed Shells with Tomato Cream Sauce. This is another great make-ahead dish. The shells are stuffed full of sautéed chicken, many different aromatic vegetables, spinach, and the kick of crushed red pepper flakes. They are covered in a luscious tomato cream sauce and lavished with provolone cheese. A wonderful change from regular cheese-stuffed shells.
The risotto recipes this month are varied, but wonderful. The first, I is a delicious and beautiful dish. It combines golden sautéed chicken, red and yellow roasted peppers and a splash of balsamic vinegar, for a dish that is a perfect first course or entree.
Next, we have a turkey recipe, Risotto with Turkey, Mozzarella and Almonds. This uses ground turkey, but you can substitute leftover turkey here. The turkey is spiced with a different combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and thyme that really complements the flavors of the mozzarella and almonds.
Last up, Risotto with Chicken, Wild Mushrooms and Spinach, takes advantage of the exotic mushrooms that are so readily available. They are combined with spicy crushed red pepper, mozzarella and a little lemon juice for a fabulous dish that would also do well as a first course or an entree.
Whether this March finds you huddling from the cold, basking in the sun, or somewhere in between, these recipes will keep you and your family happy—and asking for more!
Enjoy them, and I will see you next month.
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