When the temperature hovers at -10 degrees outside, with wind chills pushing that down to -30, the last thing one wants to eat is rabbit food. ‘Rabbit food’ is what my father called healthy, low-fat diet food, usually associated with salads. No, during these bitterly frigid periods, we turn to warm, comforting foods, which tend towards the fattier side. It’s really hard to get excited about a chilly, crisp pile of veggies when it’s a struggle to keep warm. This brings me to a weeknight dinner dilemma – fresh zucchini, a couple of ripe tomatoes, and a couple of defrosted chicken breasts stared back from the opened refrigerator. What to do? What to make?
Many times when searching for a meal to make, I get inspired by a quick google recipe search, or a ‘mental walk’ through my pantry.. After so many years of experience, I can usually spot a dud recipe vs a winner just by reading and envisioning how it would taste. One of the advantages of keeping a well stocked pantry is the ability to create a meal without having to dash out to the grocery.
This meal is a product of a decently stocked pantry, freezer and fridge.
*From the Pantry: Noodles, canned evaporated milk, cayenne, tomato, garlic, olive oil. (keep tomatoes & garlic at room temp, they lose flavor in the fridge.
*From the Freezer: Boneless/skinless chicken breasts, roasted red peppers, parmesan cheese. (peppers are cheap in late summer. Blacken them on your grill, sweat in a ziploc bag, peel-seed and freeze individually before packing into ziploc bags for long term storage. Parmesan can be bought in bulk at the wholesale club and stored in the freezer)
*From the Fridge: Butter, milk, zucchini, parsley, thyme
Below is the recipe I came up with. As you have probably noticed, I am not a formal recipe writer. I lay out the process as I do it, so read through the entire recipe before starting. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section and I’ll do my best to resolve them.
I tried to make this as easy as possible. I hope you enjoy it. This is an easy, healthy and flexible dish when you have the whim for ‘rich’ comfort food. An added bonus is you only dirty one pot, one pan and a cutting board!
(This recipe can be made with wheat or gluten free noodles)
Protein Packed Veggie ‘Light’ Alfredo (serves 4)
4 Zucchini, 2 sliced in half longways, then sliced in to 1/2in half medallions, 2 julienned (long thin strips like spaghetti)
1 whole Roasted Bell Pepper, sliced in to ribbons
1 Tomato peeled and chopped in to 1 inch dice (peeling is not necessary)
2 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts, pounded to even thickness (put chicken in between 2 layers of saran wrap and use a rolling pin), seasoned with salt and pepper
Fettuccini (GF) Noodles- 1 small handful uncooked, cooked al dente in boiling salted water. (Cooked equivalent of a generous 2 cups cooked. Make a circle out of your index finger and thumb, the pasta should fit in that circle)
1/2 cup Non-Fat Evaporated Milk
3/4 cup Low-Fat Milk
1 tbsp GF Flour (or all-purpose wheat)
1 tbsp Unsalted Butter
2 Tbsp chopped Italian Parsley
1.5 tsp fresh Thyme
3-5 cloves of Garlic (depending upon your taste)
grated Parmesan Cheese
Put a 4-5 quart pan of water on to boil. Cook pasta to Al Dente according to directions. While GF noodles benefit from a rinse, in this dish you need them hot to ‘cook’ some of the ingredients.
1. In a small bowl combine milks, add flour, and whisk to blend evenly.
2. While water is heating, begin by heating your large skillet over a med-high heat. Peel and mince all but one clove of garlic. When the pan is hot, add approximately 2 tsp of olive oil to the pan, then garlic and immediately layer zucchini medallions in the pan and season with salt and pepper. Toss and flip over to brown both sides as best as possible. Do not overcook and do not burn the garlic. This will take about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, put zucchini on a plate and set aside. 3. Return skillet to heat, but reduce to medium heat, add another tsp of oil. Swirl pan. Season the chicken breasts on both sides, and brown, cooking until just done. (about 5-8 minutes, depending upon how thinly you pounded them) Remove pan from heat and transfer chicken to a plate that will hold any juices that accumulate, and set aside to rest. When chicken has rested for 3-5 mins, slice and chop in to bite sized pieces.
4. There should be a ‘fond’ or browned bits in the bottom of the pan from the chicken. Add butter to melt, add last clove of minced garlic and briefly cook until fragrant. Add any juices released from the chicken. These are tasty and will help loosen the fond on the bottom of the pan. Add milk/flour mixture and whisk to combine, scraping up any remaining browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Taste for seasoning and sprinkle in cayenne to taste. Bring to a simmer, then add noodles and let cook in hot sauce for 1 minute. Then add chicken, both cooked and uncooked zucchini, pepper and tomatoes. Heat to warm, tossing with tongs gently. Add herbs and parmesan to taste. (about 1/2 cup)
5. Toss and serve warm.
I pared this recipe down to serve 3, two portions to eat plus leftovers for Big Man to take to work for lunch. Wintertime produce brings lovely, cold-sweetened beets, which is what I made into a side salad to accompany the creamy pasta. I dressed the greens with a simple dressing made from fig vinegar and grape seed oil and added some goat cheese.
***Note: Recipe Modifications
If you don’t have fresh herbs, you may substitute dried. Other herb alternatives are basil, oregano, marjoram or thyme. Don’t have garlic? Substitute shallots or diced yellow onion. Need to feed hungry teens? Add more pasta and double the sauce. Need to cut carbs? Use very little pasta and add in another julienned zucchini. Don’t have a handy little tool? Hone your knife skills or use a mandoline. Don’t be limited by the recipe, use your imagination and personal tastes.