Monday, January 27, 2014

Chicken Rigatoni and Family History

A while back, I became interested in researching my Father's family. My biological Dad passed away when I was 14, and I never knew his Father or his father's family, except for one great-aunt. I met my grandfather only once, when I was maybe 3 or 4 years old, I very vaguely remember him.I've never actually spoken to him, though my research leads me to believe he may still be alive, so I am contemplating writing a letter. Anyway, my Grandma had told me a lot about the family. When she spoke of my Grandfather, she usually talked about how he cooked. He is Italian and from New York City and she told me about how when he made pasta, he'd have a big pot of sauce simmering all day long, and he'd stir it and check the spices and season it. The first time I set out to make homemade sauce, I disregarded any recipe that took less than 3 hours to make. She talked about his brothers and how they dressed and how the whole family ate. I always romanticized it in my head, and when I would see a big Italian family gathered together in movies or on TV, I always imagined that's what it was like and being a part of it. I have an Italian friend who is also from NY, and her family IS that large, loud, gorgeous, loving Italian family you see in movies. I remember eating dinner with her family and imagining that my Father's family was just like them and I might one day be a part of something like it. Please don't get me wrong, the family that I do know was wonderful to grow up in, and we had many many happy dinners and holidays.

Anyway, through my research I discovered that my Grandfather lived at least part of his life in upstate/central New York. Through researching the town, I found that there is a regional dish that is very popular there, called Chicken Riggies. I'd never heard of it in my life, but the description of rigatoni pasta, chicken, and peppers in a tomato cream sauce sounded amazing. I looked up several recipes and found that the recipes vary drastically from family to family. The ingredients that all of the recipes contained were rigatoni, cherry peppers, chicken, and tomatoes. So, I chose 5 recipes and picked and chose what I liked from them, added my own ingredients and preferred tastes, and came up with my own recipe. I can't call it Chicken Riggies, because I've never been anywhere near NY and I would have no idea if it tastes anything close to their beloved dish. I can tell you, though, that what I came up with is delicious. My husband devoured it, talked about it for days afterward, and has requested that I make it at least once a month.


1 lb of Rigatoni pasta
2 lbs of boneless chicken, cut into bite-size pieces
5 cloves of garlic, smashed, grated, or minced
1 bell pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces, I used green
7 jarred sweet cherry peppers, seeded and roughly chopped (I plan to try with fresh when in season)
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 (28oz) can of whole tomatoes
1/2 cup sherry wine (cooking sherry is fine)
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried basil (can use fresh, just triple the amount)
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes, optional
olive oil, for sauteing chicken and garlic

In a large pot (I used a 5 qt nonstick dutch oven), place 2 TBS olive oil and 4 cloves of minced garlic (I grate mine on a Microplane) while the pan is still cold. Turn the heat on to medium and allow the garlic to heat with the oil, to infuse it with flavor and not burn and turn bitter, about 5 minutes. When the garlic is golden but not burned, add the chopped bell pepper and mushrooms. Allow to cook for 5 minutes, to soften. Add the tomatoes, cherry peppers, and sherry, bring it to a simmer. Cover and reduce heat to keep it bubbling but not boiling while you prepare the chicken.

In a large skillet, heat a little olive oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, when the pan is hot add the chicken and remaining garlic. Allow the chicken to get good and brown on both sides. This took about 15 minutes total for me. When the chicken is almost done, use a masher to break up the tomatoes in the sauce pot. Once the tomatoes are broken up, add the chicken to the pan. Use a splash of sherry to deglaze the skillet you prepped the chicken in. Add the deglazing liquid to the sauce. Put a large pot of water on to boil the rigatoni. While you are waiting for the water to boil, add the cream cheese and basil, stirring to fully incorporate the cream cheese. You could also use heavy cream, I chose cream cheese since the little grocery store I went to doesn't stock heavy cream. When the water is boiling, add 1 TBS of salt and the rigatoni to the water. Cook 1 minute less than the package tells you to. Continue stirring the sauce, making sure it is at a strong simmer, stir in the Parmesan cheese very well. When the noodles are done, drain them and toss them with the sauce in the pot. Serve with red pepper flakes and extra Parmesan.

I just love discovering regional dishes, local favorites, and I hope to visit many of the places I've read about and try the authentic versions myself. One of my favorites is the Moco Loco, which my husband ordered for breakfast in Maui at my brother-in-law's suggestion. It was so yummy and I've since made my own version at home. It's a bed of white rice, topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and brown gravy. It sounds weird, but it is super yummy.

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