The pot thickens

My love of creamy pasta-chicken dishes all started with my mother's soup.

Pasta311 (photo credit: .)
(photo credit: .)
Having grown up eating my mother’s Ashkenazi chicken-noodle soup, I’ve liked the combination of chicken and noodles since my childhood.
It is not surprising, therefore, that one of the most memorable dishes I’ve ever tasted featured delicious chicken and noodles prepared in a lavish, Italo-French fashion. It was at a Parisian restaurant called Au Chateaubriant, which was considered the best Italian restaurant in France during the late 1970s and early 1980s – the years my husband and I lived there. Their creative dish featured fresh white and green fettuccine moistened with a creamy chicken sauce and topped with a small piece of foie gras – a French touch on an Italian masterpiece. The foie gras melted into the sauce before our eyes and the pasta tasted heavenly.
Of course, you don’t need foie gras to make sensational chicken and pasta dishes. When you cook chicken, the cooking sauce gains a wonderful flavor and is a natural partner for pasta, whether the chicken is stewed with tomatoes and saffron or is baked, as in the recipe below, with 40 cloves of garlic.
Chicken is a good substitute for the veal that Italians often use in their pasta sauces just as it is in schnitzel. In Israel, schnitzel is so commonly made with chicken that we often forget that classic schnitzel is made with veal.
Ground chicken works well in a dish of pasta cartwheels with veal sauce created by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman, authors of Pasta Fresca; the ground meat is sauteed with onion and thyme, then heated with lemon zest in a creamy tomato sauce and mixed with the wheel-shaped pasta. In the ragu sauce that Micol Negrin, author of Rustico, makes with veal, dry marsala, tomatoes and a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg, chicken makes a tasty variation.
Chicken is a fine alternative in Italian and French pasta sauces made with duck. To sauce pasta ribbons, Negrin cooks duck pieces with white wine, tomatoes and fennel seeds. The bolognese sauce in the fettuccine recipe below, which I make with chicken, is quite similar to her Tuscan sauce.
To simulate the richness of duck, it’s best to use chicken legs or thighs rather than breasts. This guideline holds true whenever you want a richly flavored chicken sauce.
Try the following recipes to add Riviera flair to your chicken-noodle dinners.
If you’re imagining the work of peeling 40 garlic cloves – look again! In this pasta version of a Provençal classic there is no need to peel the garlic before cooking; and it pops right out of its skin once cooked. Although there is so much garlic, it is not overpowering – its taste mellows during the slow cooking, and its texture becomes meltingly tender. Fresh rosemary, sage and thyme flavor the rich chicken cooking liquid along with the garlic, and it becomes a savory sauce for the pasta and the chicken. Tomato noodles fit the Provençal theme but white noodles are fine too.
Makes 4 servings
4 A 1.3- to 1.4-kg chicken, cut in 8 pieces, or 1 kg. chicken pieces, patted dry
4 Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
4 2 celery stalks, cut in thin slices
4 3⁄4 tsp. fresh thyme leaves or 1⁄4 tsp. dried,     crumbled
4 3 Tbsp. chopped parsley
4 40 medium garlic cloves, unpeeled (about 3 heads)
4 3 fresh rosemary sprigs
4 10 large sage leaves
4 1 bay leaf
4 1⁄4 cup brandy
4 250-350 gr. fresh tomato noodles or  225-280 gr. dried tomato or tri-colored noodles
Preheat oven to 175ºC. Choose a large deep heavy casserole or oven-proof stew pan with a tight-fitting cover. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in casserole over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces in batches and lightly brown them, taking about 5 minutes per batch and removing pieces to a plate with tongs as they brown. Pour off any oil in pan. Let pan cool.
Add remaining olive oil, celery, thyme, 1 tablespoon parsley and a pinch of salt to casserole and mix. Add chicken pieces and stir well to coat them with oil.
Separate garlic cloves from heads and remove any loose skin. Add garlic, rosemary, sage, bay leaf and brandy to casserole. Cover tightly. Bake chicken about 1 hour or until leg pieces are no longer pink when cut. Remove chicken. Cover and keep warm.
If largest garlic clove is not tender enough to crush easily, cover and bake garlic about 10 more minutes; check again.
Remove garlic cloves with slotted spoon. Press each clove between your fingers over a small bowl to remove pulp from skin; it pops out easily. Mash garlic in a bowl with a fork. Discard bay leaf and any large pieces of rosemary from chicken juices but leave in the sage leaves. In a small saucepan whisk garlic pulp with chicken juices to make sauce.
Cook noodles uncovered in a large pot of boiling salted water over high heat, separating strands occasionally with fork, for 1 to 2 minutes for fresh noodles or 2 to 5 minutes for dried, or until tender but firm to the bite. Drain well and transfer to a large heated bowl. Meanwhile, reheat sauce. Stir in remaining parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning.
To serve, transfer chicken to a platter or plates. Reserve 1⁄3 cup sauce; pour remaining sauce over pasta and toss. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve pasta next to chicken. Serve reserved sauce separately, for spooning over chicken.
Classic Bolognese sauce is usually made with meat in northern Italy, but this is a lighter version made with chicken and seasoned liberally with fresh basil and garlic. You can keep the sauce, covered, up to 2 days in the refrigerator; or you can freeze it.
Makes 4-5 main-course servings or 6-8 first-course servings
4 3 or 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
4 1 large onion, minced
4 1 small carrot, diced
4 1 large celery rib, sliced
4 450 gr. ground chicken or turkey
4 700 gr. ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, or an 800-gr. can tomatoes, drained
4 4 garlic cloves, peeled
4 1 bay leaf
4 1 tsp. dried leaf thyme, crumbled
4 Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
4 Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 450 gr. fettuccine or medium-wide     noodles
4  2-3 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil plus 3 Tbsp. finely shredded basil (to finish)
Heat oil in a heavy medium stew pan. Add onion, carrot and celery and cook over medium heat, stirring, for 10 minutes or until onion is soft but not brown. Add chicken and saute over medium heat, crumbling with a fork, until it changes color.
Puree garlic and tomatoes in a food processor and add to pan. Add bayleaf, thyme, nutmeg, salt and pepper and bring to a boil, stirring.Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes oruntil well flavored. Discard bay leaf.
Cook pasta uncovered in a large pot of boiling salted water over highheat, stirring occasionally, about 1 to 2 minutes for fresh or 3 to 5minutes for dried fettuccine, or until tender but firm to the bite.Meanwhile reheat sauce if necessary in a covered saucepan overmedium-low heat, stirring occasionally.
Drain pasta well and transfer to a large heated bowl. Add sauce andtoss. Add chopped basil and toss lightly. Taste and adjust seasoning.Sprinkle with shredded basil and serve.
Faye Levy is the author of Sensational Pasta.