Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chicken Pepper Rigatoni - Pasta with Personality!

Here's a real "feed the crowd" kind of meal that goes beyond the same old pasta and meat sauce dish. Chicken Pepper Rigatoni has it all: a bright, flavorful sauce with a silky texture and a little zip, chunks of tender, juicy chicken and pasta that easy to manage! When I have a crowd coming over, Italian food is always a good option, as most people like it - and what's not to like?? Once you have all your ingredients, this dish comes together well, and  you can double it if you're expecting a big crowd.

This dish has some history in the Utica-Rome area of New York state. Called "Riggies" in its native area, I understand there is an annual festival that celebrates this dish and the local restaurants and bars compete for the "best" title. While I've never had it in New York, a wonderful aspect of cooking is that you can bring any part of the world to you by preparing certain foods.

A key ingredient is cherry peppers - either hot or sweet depending on your taste (or what you may be able to find at your local market). You actually use some of the brine from the jar of peppers in the sauce and as a marinade for the chicken. If you can only find sweet cherry peppers (that's all I could get up at the cottage, where I made this dish), then you can heat things up by adding some crushed red pepper flakes to the sauce (or not - your choice!).

Bring a big platter of this pasta to the table along with some good bread and a big salad and there will be smiles all around. If anyone leaves hungry then it's their own fault!!

Chicken Pepper Rigatoni
1 1/2 - 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast (cut into bite-sized cubes)
1 tsp. salt
1 TBSP olive oil
3 TBSP brine from jar of sweet or hot cherry peppers

Combine the above ingredients in a zip storage bag and refrigerate 30mins to 1 hour.

In a large saucepan:

2 TBSP olive oil
12 oz fresh mushrooms, quartered
1 large sweet red pepper chopped into large pieces (1 inch or so)
1 large onion, chopped into large pieces (1 inch or so)
1/2 cup diced and seeded sweet or hot cherry peppers
5 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp dried oregano
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
3/4 cup heavy cream
marinated chicken
1/2 cup kalamatta olives (sliced lengthwise)
1-2 TBSP brine from sweet or hot cherry pepper jar
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (if desired)
salt and pepper to taste
Grated cheese (Parm or Romano)

Heat 2 TBSP olive oil in large sauce pan. Put in mushrooms and sweet red pepper and saute until soft and brown, about 8 minutes or so. Remove mushrooms and peppers and set aside. If pot is dry, put in a little more olive oil and then add onions and cook until soft and translucent. Once onions are looking good, put in cherry peppers, oregano and garlic and stir constantly for about 30 seconds. Then add can of crushed tomatoes and heavy cream. If you are putting in crushed red pepper flakes, put them in now. Stir to combine. Once sauce is together, put in chicken that had been marinating. Bring sauce to a simmer and cover pot. Chicken will take about 25 minutes to cook. Once chicken is cooked, add olives and brine from the pepper jar. Taste and add salt and pepper accordingly. Cover pot and keep sauce warm.

In another pot, bring at least 3 quarts of water to a boil and drop in your rigatoni (a one pound box). Cook according to instructions of box or as you like. Drain pasta and transfer to large platter or bowl. Add sauce to top of pasta and top with as much grated cheese as you like. Tuck a napkin into your collar and dig in!!

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