One of the hardest things to get used to when it comes to cooking is the variation from person to person with the same recipe. This recipe has taken almost a year for me to figure out, not because I lacked the skill (though some of it was me figuring out the skills), but because 1) there are very few “chicken pasta with herb cream sauce” recipes online, and 2) everyone has a completely different approach…to every. single. step.
I like simplicity. In fact, my main principle when it comes to food is, “Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS).” If I can take a recipe and simplify or omit a step without sacrificing quality, then you can bet I’ll do just that. Cooking should be accessible, simple, fun, and, most importantly, delicious.
But when you start asking your peers for advice about a recipe, be prepared for frustration and twenty different answers.
When I was figuring out how I wanted to make my chicken piccata, I found a process for doing chicken with a pan sauce that works for me, and they say, in cooking and baking, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” (though I am also the kind of person who will break something just so I can learn how to fix it. This was a mix of both.)
The basic outline is this:
There you have it: meat, aromatics, alcohol, sauce, cream, cheese, herbs, and pasta.
Next adventure? Pumpkin pecan chicken with sage browned butter.
other chicken recipes
pasta with chicken, herbs, and parmesan cream sauce
Note: When preparing pasta, bringing a full pot of water to boil can take a long time, but you really don’t need a full pot. You can cook pasta in a shallow pot of water, and it comes to a boil faster. Use a stockpot or large saucepan and about 1-2 quarts of water. This way, you can start the water boiling while you’re cooking the chicken and the pasta will be ready before the sauce is done.
8 oz pasta (pappardelle or fettuccine are best for this)
olive oil for sautéing
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast
4 cloves garlic
1/2 c dry white wine
1 c chicken stock
1 c heavy cream
1/2 c shredded Parmesan cheese
2 c mixed fresh herbs (I suggest 3 sprigs basil, 3 sprigs oregano, 2 large sprigs dill, and about 6 sprigs thyme)
parsley plus extra Parmesan cheese for serving
An hour before cooking, place the chicken breast on a plate between two paper towels to let it dry off and come to room temperature.
When ready to start cooking, place a large skillet or sauté pan on medium-high heat.
While the pan is heating, thinly slice the chicken breast and cut each slice in half so you have pieces about an inch wide and 2-3 inches long.
Once the pan is hot, add a splash of olive oil. While the olive oil is heating, continue prepping the rest of the ingredients: mince the garlic finely and set it aside in its own bowl; measure out the wine, chicken stock, and cream into separate containers; and chop, mince, or chiffonade the herbs, adding them all to one bowl.
Add the chicken to the hot pan and spread it out into a single layer. This might be a little difficult because the chicken will stick to the pan as soon as you add it, which it should: protein always sticks to the pan first before it sears. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and paprika, and let it brown on one side for a few minutes before sautéing.
After you start the chicken cooking, set a pot of water to boil for the pasta.
Alternate searing and sautéing the chicken until it has browned on almost all sides, you don’t see any pink on the surface, and there’s a nice layer of brown on the bottom of the pan (this is the fond, like a well of flavor that you’ll mix back into the sauce.) Once the chicken is cooked on the outside, remove it from the pan, set it aside, and lower the heat a little bit for the garlic. Your chicken probably won’t be done on the inside, but that’s okay because you’ll braise it in the sauce and it’ll cook all the way through.
Add another splash of olive oil to the pan and let that warm for a minute.
Once the pasta water is boiling, add 1-2 Tbsp salt to the water and let it dissolve. Then, add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions (about 5 minutes.) You’ll want to remove the pasta from the water early, because it’ll cook a little in the sauce. If you cook the pasta all the way through in the water, it’ll become soft in the sauce.
When the pasta’s done, drain it in a metal colander and quickly toss the drained pasta with a splash of olive oil to keep it from sticking together as it drains.
While the pasta is cooking, add the minced garlic to warmed skillet and sauté for about a minute. Once you can smell the garlic, it’s time to add the next ingredient. If you leave the garlic too long, it’ll burn. You can let the garlic brown a little bit, too.
Add the white wine and turn up the heat a bit so it simmers. While the wine is cooking, use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan (the fond), and mix it into the reducing wine.
Let the wine cook down by about 1/3 – 1/2, then add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer or boil. Let the mixture reduce again by about 1/3 – 1/2.
Whisk in the heavy cream and bring the sauce to a simmer. Let the sauce simmer and thicken for a few minutes, tasting and adjusting with the salt, pepper, and smoked paprika.
Add the chicken back into the sauce (and any juice or oil that accumulated from the chicken), and let the mixture simmer gently for about 3-5 minutes, so the sauce thickens and the chicken finishes cooking through.
Turn off the heat and whisk in the Parmesan until it melts and is fully mixed in.
Add the herbs and pasta and toss everything together.
Taste the sauce and adjust by adding more salt, pepper, smoked paprika, Parmesan cheese, or fresh herbs.
Serve and garnish with fresh chopped parsley or extra shredded Parmesan.
See ya, summer!
previous monthly muffins
It’s cherry season, y’all!!
I’m still working through about a pound of black cherries that I bought a week ago, even after making 48 ounces of cherry jam and many, many batches of these muffins. Half of my shirts are stained from pitting the cherries, I almost ruined a kitchen towel crushing the pits (to get the kernels out for the jam), and I’m bursting with roasty, toasty, hazelnutty goodness.
Hazelnut is one among my favorite flavors, but as much as I love it, hazelnut will never surpass almond. What’s more, almond is a more traditional companion for dark cherries. In fact, the kernels inside the cherry pits taste and smell like almond (and my cherry jam has heaps of Amaretto and Cognac.)
That being said, I used almond in my blackberry almond muffins, and I wanted to venture a little outside my comfort zone. Meaning, I wanted to buy hazelnuts for the first time.
I had actually found a bag of whole hazelnuts at my grocery store a month ago and I couldn’t resist buying them and storing them in the freezer. When I decided on this recipe, it was the perfect opportunity to start digging into the bag of nuts (and an excuse to buy Frangelico.)
The sweetness and tartness of the cherries is naturally complemented by the Kirschwasser, a German black cherry liqueur (the name means “cherry water”), and it pairs well with the sweet nuttiness of the hazelnuts (which are accented with the Frangelico, an Italian hazelnut liqueur.) You can swap out Cognac, another popular cherry companion, for either of the other flavors, but I recommend keeping the Frangelico for an extra hazelnut boost in the muffin batter. Lightly toasting the hazelnuts really intensifies their flavor. When using raw nuts in pastries, I almost always toast them first.
black cherry hazelnut muffins with kirsch and frangelico
based on my whole wheat rhubarb muffins
4 oz hazelnuts
4 oz all-purpose flour
4 oz whole wheat flour
3 oz almond flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
5 oz granulated sugar
4 oz canola oil
7 oz milk
1 tsp Kirschwasser (black cherry liqueur; can also substitute Cognac or Amaretto)
1 tsp Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur; can make the same substitutions as above, but the Frangelico is strongly suggested for more hazelnut flavor)
8 oz dark cherries, pitted and cut in half (pitting cherries and olives is easy with the right tool!)
Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C and line a muffin pan with paper muffin liners.
Place the hazelnuts in a single layer in a small skillet or on a baking sheet, and toast them lightly on the stove or in the oven for about 5 – 7 minutes, shaking them around occasionally, until they start to brown a little bit and you can smell them.
Transfer the toasted hazelnuts to a cutting board and let them cool while you prepare the rest of the batter.
In a small bowl, combine the all-purpose, whole wheat, and almond flours, and the salt and baking powder.
When the hazelnuts have cooled down, coarsely chop them. They don’t need to be too small, but they should be smaller than a whole hazelnut. Cutting them in half is fine. Add the chopped toasted hazelnuts to a bowl with the pitted and halved cherries.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, oil, milk, Kirschwasser, and Frangelico.
Add the dry mixture to the wet and quickly mix together. Mix in the cherries and hazelnuts.
Using a cookie scoop or large spoon, divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups and bake 30 – 35 minutes, until the tops spring back when pressed down lightly in the center or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.
Let the muffins cool for a few minutes in the pan, then transfer them to a wire rack to continue cooling.
Muffins last up to 48 hours wrapped individually in plastic. If they start to go a little stale, you can microwave them for about 15 seconds.
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love almond (and also hazelnut, for that matter.) Whenever I go out for coffee, I always ask for an iced (soy) almond latte, or hazelnut if they don’t have almond. Almond is, without a doubt, one of my top 10 favorite flavors (also: cardamom, blackberry, lemon.) During the holidays, I like to treat myself to fancy marzipan candies.
And I don’t share. (That’s totally a lie. I share almost everything.)
And then there’s lemon, another one of my Top 10 Favorite Foods. I published another lemon cake a couple months ago, a layered sponge cake with honey and lemon. I’m actually, surprisingly, not a big cake person usually. It used to be that the only cake I liked was lemon cake (like birthday cake but lemon-flavored). As much as I love sweets, my sweet tooth isn’t always the sweetest: sometimes I need bitter or sour, and lemon always provides the perfect amount of tartness. No matter how much sugar you add to something lemon-flavored, that bit of brightness will always balance it out, in my opinion.
Orange, however, is a different story.
This cake is one that I’ve been wanting to master and publish for probably a year now. I wanted something light and almond-y, something kind of snack-y that would go well in the morning with coffee, or after dinner…with coffee…or really any time of day…with coffee. The thing about this cake that makes it both difficult and easy to learn at the same time is that it’s a common Italian cake: there are hundreds and thousands of recipes online, from Italian and Italian-American sources (not all great sources), but at the same time, they’re all family recipes, which tend not to translate well when transmitted to other families. But one of the great baking mottos is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”: find a recipe that works for you or that you can adapt and then stick with that.
We all know what it’s like to learn to cook from our families. I’ve only just started moving away from strict recipes and measurements, but when I tried making my mom’s special pot roast for my dad’s birthday last year, I was indescribably frustrated by her “recipe” that had no measurements (“Oh, I don’t know. I just add stuff and hope the pot doesn’t boil over. You just cook it until it’s done cooking.”)
As with the sponge cake, I tried pulling from a few different recipes and adapting the flavors as I went. I had a lot more success initially than I did with the lemon-honey cake: almond is far easier to incorporate than honey. The question then was, what exactly was I looking for?
What I ended up with was perfect: a single-layer cake, with enough moisture from the ricotta cheese without actually tasting like cheese (one batch did taste like cheese) and just the right amount of the ricotta texture, plus some richness from the butter and almond meal, nuttiness from the almond extract, almond meal, and toasted sliced almonds, and tartness from the lemon. Light, but rich, sweet, but tart, nutty, and even kind of refreshing. I experimented with adding in chopped almonds but I actually prefer that the cake itself not have anything inside (the sliced almonds on top are heaven, though.) I couldn’t decide if I needed something more for a topping, so I played with glaze (meh), powdered sugar (not bad), whipped cream (eh), and fruit compote (a nice, bright counterpoint to the sweetness and nuttiness of the cake.) I settled on the sliced almonds and macerated berries.
The cake itself is best cold and it lasts for a while in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic.
lemon almond ricotta cake
adapted from Bon Appetit, raspberry ricotta cake
makes one 9″ cake or two 6″ cakes
Note: Using 3 whole eggs made the cake slightly wetter than I wanted, but splitting eggs evenly is difficult. I normally prefer, if I need to split an egg, to separate the white and the yolk (it’s just simpler.) One whole egg is 1.8 oz on average, and 2 parts white to 1 part yolk. Two yolks, then, is about 1.2 oz. Another reason I prefer to separate the eggs and use the yolks instead of the white is that the whites can be aged or frozen for a really long time, and used in a ton of other recipes. Yolks don’t last as long. Plus, yolks are richer than whites. Finally, because this recipe fills two 6″ cake pans, and I use an even number of whole eggs and egg yolks, it’s easier to make a half recipe (I always use half recipes for testing.) If you haven’t figured this out already, you’ll see in my recipes that I’m obsessed with evenly-measured ingredients that can easily be divided in half.
~1/2 c sliced almonds, for topping
4 oz all-purpose flour
2 oz almond flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
7 oz granulated sugar
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
12 oz ricotta cheese
zest and juice of 2 large lemons (not baby lemons)
1/2 tsp almond extract
4 oz unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Serving suggestion: macerated seasonal fruits*, plus your favorite coffee or wine
Macerating basically means softening fruit with sugar and acid. It’s a common first step in making jams and compotes, but it can even be as simple as dusting fresh fruit with sugar right before serving. The sugar, which is hydrophilic, draws out some of the water from the fruit, making the fruit softer and then dissolves into the water to form a fruit syrup. If you let the fruit macerate for at least a few hours (like at least 3 hours), you’ll have plenty of syrup and very soft fruit. You could simmer or boil the mixture for a few minutes to thicken it into a compote, or serve as is.
For an extra kick, add a splash of your favorite liqueur (Amaretto might be too much to serve with this cake, but limoncello-macerated strawberries is a great combination.)
Macerating is something you can start ahead of time. In fact, so is the cake: make the cake and combine the fruit mixture the day before so you don’t have to do any work the day you’re serving everything.
Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C. Grease a 9″ or two 6″ cake pans and line the bottom with a parchment circle (How To Make a Parchment Circle.)
Using a skillet on the stove or a clean baking sheet and the oven, lightly toast the almond slices for about 2 – 5 minutes, until they brown a bit, tossing them occasionally to prevent burning. You don’t need any oil for this. Pour the toasted almond slices into a bowl and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, almond flour, baking powder, and salt.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, and egg yolks vigorously until the mixture starts to turn a little paler and fluffier. You’re not really making a sponge, but you do want a bit of air in the batter.
Add the ricotta, lemon zest, lemon juice, and almond extract and whisk until smooth and fully combined.
Fold the dry ingredients into the wet batter, and once the batter is fully combined, whisk in the melted and cooled butter. I find it easier to incorporate melted butter at the end to prevent the butter from chilling or breaking.
Scrape the batter evenly into the cake pans, scatter the tops with the toasted almond slices, and bake for about 50 – 60 minutes (regardless of the width.)
The cake will be a little bit wetter than you’re used to with other cakes, muffins, or cupcakes, but it will still feel springy and foamy. For this cake, the best indicators of doneness will be the edges and the color: the edges of the cake should pull away completely from the sides of the cake pans (there shouldn’t be any of the top outer edge of the cake still touching the pan), and the surface of the cake will be golden brown.
Remove the cake(s) from the oven and let cool in the pans for about 5 minutes. Gently run a flat knife or offset spatula around the sides of the cake to make sure it’s loosened from the sides of the pan. Place a flat, wide plate over the top of the pan and invert the cake pan so that cake falls out onto the plate, then place a cooling rack on top of the cake and invert the cake back onto the cooling rack, so the almond-topped surface is right-side up. Repeat with the other cake (if you made two small ones.)
Make sure you peel off the parchment round before cutting and eating the cakes.
La bella mandorla!