Mediterranean Medley


I like to cook, though I don’t have much time to focus on it. I usually have one or two dishes that I’m working on, and since Jim Carson has been putting recipes on his blog, I figured I’d do one on mine as well. This one is pretty good if you use fresh ingredients.

Mediterranean Medley

Quantities are estimates, as I don’t typically measure any of this.

Ingredients:

  • 10 ounces good pasta.
    I like Barilla, which is good without being too expensive. Something small and chunky, like rotini, radiatore, route, or farfalle. Last time I used the red/green/white version.
  • 1 chicken breast
  • 4 slices proscuitto
    Domestic is cheaper, and works well. Proscuitto de Parma is wonderful, but a bit pricier. Don’t get freaked out by the $15/pound price – you’re only using 4 very thin slices.
  • 20 medium-sized white mushrooms
  • 1/2 jar roasted red bell peppers
    you can do this yourself, but it takes a gas flame (or a grill), and isn’t really worth the effort. You can’t get the right flavor from fresh red bell peppers.
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 roma tomatos
  • 20 greek olives
    You need real olives for this, the american black olive won’t really work. I like kalamata olives, and sometimes I get the mixture instead.
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 8 large leaves of fresh basil
    You can omit this if you must, but it helps the dish a fair bit.

Directions:

  • Fill your pasta pot with water, and put it onto boil.
  • Slice the chicken breast into cubes of about 1 cm on a side. Spread out on a plate and sprinkle with a few pinches of salt. Mix so the salt is distributed evenly. This draws some fluid out of the chicken, which will then carmelize when you fry it.
  • Either wash your cutting board and knife or switch to a different one, to avoid those raw chicken nasties.
  • Stack up your proscuitto, and cut lengthwise into 1/4″ strips. Put them together, and cut those so that you have little 1/4″ square pieces of proscuitto. Set aside.
  • Dice the mushrooms, peppers, onions, and tomatos. I try to get them to the “uniform but still recognizable” stage, something around 3/8″ max on a side.
  • Pit the olives (you *do* have an olive pitter, don’t you?), and chop them. I don’t go for much uniformity here – I like big chunks and small chunks, but you can do as you wish. Make sure they aren’t whole, as their flavors won’t mix as well.
  • Either put the garlic in your garlic press (the Zyliss Susi is the best), or chop and smash it really fine.
  • Stack the basil leaves on top of each other, slice them lengthwise into quarters, and roll them together and slice them into 1 cm strips. (If you didn’t slice them lengthwise first, this would be a “chiffonade”, but I think those strips are too long for this dish)
  • Okay, so now you’re done with all the chopping, and like stir fry, that’s where all the work is in this dish. Presumably along the way your pasta water boiled and you added the past with it. It will usually take about 7 or 8 minutes to finish the meal, so you’ll want to make sure you get your pasta al dente at a reasonable time. The dish will hold for 4 or 5 minutes if you need to wait for the pasta.
  • Heat a 10″ nonstick skillet over high heat. You want to get it pretty hot, but not “smokin hot”. You may want to add a bit of cooking oil, but it will increase the mess slightly. Add the chicken. Your goal is to let the chicken sit on each face for a little while so that it will carmelize a bit, but make sure you give a stir every minute or so. I like to do the “toss move” where you tilt the pan down, slide the food to one end, get it to flip off the curved edge of the pan, and then catch it, because it gives you better mixing, but you may stir if you want. After you don’t see any more raw chicken edges, try pushing your wooden spoon or spatula through a large piece – if it’s cooked through, pull it off, and put the chicken on a plate. Return the empty pan to the heat.
  • Add the proscuitto to the pan. No oil will be needed. You’re trying to get a little crispness on the proscuitto, both to improve the flavor, and to break the pieces apart (Proscuitto de Parma is stickier than most domestic versions). This should only take a minute or two. You don’t want all of it to look “bacon crisp”, but it’s good if some of it does. Put the cooked proscuitto on the same plate as the chicken. If you have young kids, you might want to pull some of the chicken off so it doesn’t get all “yucky” when you finish the dish.
  • Return the dish to the heat, and add a little olive oil. Don’t scrape off the proscuitto parts that are left in the pan – that’s the good stuff. Reduce heat to med-high. Add in the mushrooms, peppers, onion, and tomato. This is a pretty big amount for a 10″ pan, so you’ll need to keep it moving to keep it cooking well. Toss only if you’re confident, or perhaps if you have a dog waiting for scraps. Cook about 4 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender but not too tender (the mushroom equivalent of al dente for pasta). Somewhere in this time period, you should add the garlic. Add it early if you want it to be somewhat muted, later if you want it to be brighter (I add it later). Make sure you get it mixed well into the dish. You’ll start to accumulate a little liquid – that’s a good thing.
  • Add the chicken and proscuitto back to the dish, and mix. Cook until heated. I do “the toss” here, but it’s getting pretty heavy.
  • Remove from heat, add the basil, and mix.
  • Spoon over cooked pasta. You can decorate with some basil leaves if you’d like.
  • Serve with a nice rustic Italian bread.

Serves 2-3


Comments (13)

  1. matthew says:

    that sounds nice. There is nothing nicer than a good plate of ham or salami, and they are good to cook with too.

    But dried pasta?

    What’s the point of using nice ham and then sticking it on dried pasta? Maybe things are different in the US, but here in the UK fresh pasta is relatively cheap (obviously more expensive than dried but not expensive for anyone other than a student used to eating ramen noodles). Is it not obtainable in normal US supermarkets?

    Also about the garlic, I recommend that you use about 6 cloves. Garlic is wonderful stuff and the more the better. I don’t think I have ever put only 1 clove of garlic in anything.

    But please don’t use a garlic press.

    There is a great procession of culinary experts from Elizabeth David onward who counsel against the slime-creating horror that is the garlic press. The process of releasing oils from garlic and spices is a complex one, and garlic presses simply create water and mush.

    PS. Can I recommend a trip to your local oriental store to buy the largest wok you can find (which should cost you about $10). They are all-purpose wonders and are much better than a 10" pan for cooking.

    I also have a large rather frightening looking cleaver from the same place, which will do a much better job of mashing garlic (as well as peeling it), simply by beating the garlic with the flat side of the knife. Or failing that a pestle and mortar is also good (I personally use a traditional Indonesian spice stone, but you will probably not find such a thing).

  2. Eric Gunnerson says:

    Matthew,

    These are interesting comments.

    On the fresh vs dried pasta, while we do have dried pasta available, I haven’t been overly impressed by it and – last time I checked – it wasn’t available in shapes that worked well for what I wanted to do. I’ve tried "chunky" dishes with fresh linguine, and the result was pretty bad, as the two never really mixed.

    But, if it’s available, by all means use it.

    I find it a bit strange to say that a garlic press isn’t good, but using the side of a cleaver is. Or a mortar and pestle, which will give you something that’s absolutely mush. Is there more information you can point me to on this?

    My reason for using a press is that I want something that is very finely divided, as I don’t want big chunks. I do slice at other times.

    3 cloves per serving is a little much in the way of garlic. Perhaps if it were cooked more, but I was looking for a brighter flavor.

    I do own a steel wok, but I don’t use it very often. My gas range really doesn’t put out all that much heat (consumer rather than professional), and when the food hits the thin hot wok, it cools down very fast. The pan I use is thicker so it holds a little more heat and I get better results, and I’ve been considering a nice cast iron skillet to hold even more heat.

  3. matthew says:

    here are some threads (none all that definitive) on garlic presses

    http://groups.google.co.uk/groups?hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&c2coff=1&safe=off&threadm=95j440%24jl7%241%40possum.melbpc.org.au&rnum=6&prev=/groups%3Fq%3Dgarlic%2Bpress%2Bbad%26ie%3DUTF-8%26hl%3Den

    http://groups.google.co.uk/groups?hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&c2coff=1&safe=off&threadm=2b2a5dfd.0212091524.5686691d%40posting.google.com&rnum=11&prev=/groups%3Fq%3Dgarlic%2Bpress%2Bbad%26ie%3DUTF-8%26hl%3Den

    I believe the issue with garlic presses are due to the way that the oils are released. In general pounding spices in a pestle and mortar is exactly right for releasing the essential oils. My Indonesian mother-in-law will tell me when a curry does not taste as good as it should because the cook made the curry paste (from fresh chilis, spices, etc.) using a blender rather than by hand. I must admit I can taste the difference (and I guess similar things apply to garlic presses as to blenders).

    Garlic presses extract (to my mind) rather too much of the water from the garlic. According to one of the threads above, this will result in a poor flavour. Also there is no need to peel garlic even if you don’t use a press, since the side of a cleaver will neatly split the skin for you. Finally, although I’m sure the modern garlic presses are better, they are a pain to clean, and it’s always obvious to me that you are wasting some of the goodness of the garlic.

    Here is a quote from Elizabeth David

    Elizabeth David: Against the garlic press

    "I regard garlic presses as both ridiculous and pathetic, their effect being precisely the reverse of what people who buy them believe will be the case. Squeezing the juice out of garlic doesn’t reduce its potency, it concentrates it and intensifies the smell. I have often wondered how it is that people who have once used one of these diabolical instruments don’t notice this and forthwith throw the thing into the dustbin."

    From Tatler, February 1986

    It’s also mentioned a couple of times here in this review of her book

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/014200166X/102-6284384-3020933?v=glance

  4. matthew says:

    here are some threads (none all that definitive) on garlic presses

    http://groups.google.co.uk/groups?hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&c2coff=1&safe=off&threadm=95j440%24jl7%241%40possum.melbpc.org.au&rnum=6&prev=/groups%3Fq%3Dgarlic%2Bpress%2Bbad%26ie%3DUTF-8%26hl%3Den

    http://groups.google.co.uk/groups?hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&c2coff=1&safe=off&threadm=2b2a5dfd.0212091524.5686691d%40posting.google.com&rnum=11&prev=/groups%3Fq%3Dgarlic%2Bpress%2Bbad%26ie%3DUTF-8%26hl%3Den

    I believe the issue with garlic presses are due to the way that the oils are released. In general pounding spices in a pestle and mortar is exactly right for releasing the essential oils. My Indonesian mother-in-law will tell me when a curry does not taste as good as it should because the cook made the curry paste (from fresh chilis, spices, etc.) using a blender rather than by hand. I must admit I can taste the difference (and I guess similar things apply to garlic presses as to blenders).

    Garlic presses extract (to my mind) rather too much of the water from the garlic. According to one of the threads above, this will result in a poor flavour. Also there is no need to peel garlic even if you don’t use a press, since the side of a cleaver will neatly split the skin for you. Finally, although I’m sure the modern garlic presses are better, they are a pain to clean, and it’s always obvious to me that you are wasting some of the goodness of the garlic.

    Here is a quote from Elizabeth David

    Elizabeth David: Against the garlic press

    "I regard garlic presses as both ridiculous and pathetic, their effect being precisely the reverse of what people who buy them believe will be the case. Squeezing the juice out of garlic doesn’t reduce its potency, it concentrates it and intensifies the smell. I have often wondered how it is that people who have once used one of these diabolical instruments don’t notice this and forthwith throw the thing into the dustbin."

    From Tatler, February 1986

    It’s also mentioned a couple of times here in this review of her book

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/014200166X/102-6284384-3020933?v=glance

  5. Corrado Cavalli says:

    Eric,

    The correct name is Prosciutto not Proscuitto.

    Greetings from Italy… 😉

  6. Keith Patrick says:

    I like garlic presses if I want to extract the garlic oil and reducing over low heat(concentrated flavors are NOT univerally bad, little is; it’s just a matter of picking your battles) and get a general garlic pervasion, but otherwise, I like slicing for texture. I’ve heard and read chefs scream in horror at using a press, but IMO, it has its uses, just like the knife. Watch Molto Mario…the Emeril "50 cloves of garlic" thing is overdoing it; nouveau cuisine isn’t necessarily "garlic braised/emulsified/etc." It’s just an enhancing flavor.

    Re: roasted peppers, you can roast your own pretty easily. Put the oven on broil and put the peppers on the highest oven rack or just set them on your oven burners (gas or electric both work) and let them char and turn. When you’re done, but them in a paper bag (or equiv.) to steam and then peel. If you get *all* the seeds out, not only are you doing it correctly, but you’re also doing it better than the store brand.

    Re the whole "fresh vs. dried pasta" stuff…if the intent is to get dried to the same state as the fresh, fresh is ALWAYS better, but jeez, it ain’t the end of the world if you have to use dried pasta. If you can hear 28Kbps vs. 14Kbps, and it makes life unbearable, fine, but if you spend $.50 on dried pasta, is it unbearable when compared to handmaking or buying fresh pasta? If so, buy the fresh stuff (or make it yourself), but convenience has a cost. This century (or really, decade), though, the diff for me, when factoring ease-of-manufacture to taste to all the other factors, the difference is just not enough to justify the trouble.