07 June 2010

Family recipe Monday: chicken and pasta

Left to right: Vada Brooks Johnson, unknown child, Coy McLean Brooks, Mary Marcella Walker Brooks, Lubbock, 1940s. Daughter, daughter-in-law and mother.

We hit the Farmers' Market in Founders Park on Saturday, the first one of the summer. It's still a bit early in the produce year up here, but not too much so. Results: rhubarb, asparagus, radishes, a nice Hutterite chicken, and two triple-berry cinnamon rolls for breakfast. The rolls were on sale at a place that primarily sells fresh produce, therefore they were automatically health food by association. Honest. The tamales on sale will also be pure health food, for the same reason. Now we're trying to figure out if we make the resultant rhubarb pie with peaches and/or blackberries included, or if we leave the rhubarb in splendid isolation. That'll be health food, too, as it contains fresh fruit. We are practically exploding with health around here.

This particular chicken will be roasted to save all that free-range goodness, but the Simple Gifts files are full of other suggestions. Pairing chicken and pastry or pasta is especially frequent. Here is the classic family recipe that no one ever wrote down until Shirley and I sat down and pieced it together.

Chicken and dumplings
Boil 1 chicken (pieces) in 3 gallons water. Remove chicken and shred meat from bone. Reserve meat and discard bone and skin.

Make the dumplings by cutting Crisco into flour with pastry cutter until it looks like coarse meal. Add just enough ice water to make dough stick together and roll into ball. Roll out thin and cut into strips with knife. Cut strips into squares (about 2”) and add to boiling broth. When done, add 1/2 gal. milk to broth. Serve hot.
--Mary Marcella Walker Brooks, Vada Brooks Johnson

Another classic of country cooking and a comfort food without equal. This recipe was never really written down; it was one of those things that was just passed down. You're supposed to know this stuff genetically, I think.

Note: we usually leave the chicken meat on the side so that people can add as much as they like (or don’t). It can just as easily be added back to the broth before serving. The only other spices added to the broth might be salt and pepper to taste, and that is often left out of the cooking and placed on the side instead. I don't add milk to the broth, personally. You may, if you are not a strict traditionalist, prefer fresh or dried herbs in the dumplings; I can recommend lemon thyme highly.

This recipe makes Gene and me nostalgic for the Delaware diner we frequented. Sunday mornings featured all-you-can-eat chicken and dumplings starting at 10, a special not listed on the menu.You just had to know about it. Gene makes careful note of whether dumplings are floaters or sinkers, as good Pennsylvania Dutch cooks prefer the former. I can't say I ever noticed that there was a difference, possibly because this recipe makes sinkers and that's all we knew. There are slippery dumplings, too. Who knew? Shirley notes that, in her latter years, Vada substituted strips of flour tortillas for rolled-out dough dumplings as a work- and time-saver.

Here is a great crypto-classic. This makes a casserole, in case you're curious what the outcome is.

Chicken tettrazini
1 large chicken, cook and remove from bone
1 large package spaghetti or macaroni
1 lb. cheese
1 can pimiento
1 can mushrooms
1 can mushroom soup
½ can ripe olives
1 large onion, celery and 1 bell pepper, cooked in bacon drippings

Cook spaghetti in chicken broth.
--Vada Brooks Johnson

That's it. Those are the directions. What are you waiting for? This one practically needs a full concordance, doesn't it? You are going to cook the chicken in water until it is done and leaves you with a lovely stock/broth. After removing the chicken to cool and debone, you are going to use the stock to cook the pasta. Strain the pasta from the stock and save the stock for another day. Its job is done for now. Layer the ingredients with pasta first, then everything else in order, repeating as needed, with a layer of cheese on top. Bake the casserole at 350* for 30 minutes or so, until the top is nicely golden. This is enough for two casseroles, in accordance with the casserole rules.

The cheese is your call; I'd use a nice white cheese like a Gruyere or buffalo Mozzarella, but I'm sure that this recipe originally used a Cheddar more on the mild side than the sharp side, affectionately known as rat trap cheese. Obviously, you can use something other than bacon drippings to saute those vegetables. The can of mushroom soup puts this recipe firmly in the 1950s, as does the "pimmento," as does the pasta itself, which arrived relatively late in West Texas. This is a good solid Sunday night supper. Remember, dinner is at noon; supper is at night.

The third and final recipe today is another winner from our wonderful Aunt Coy. You can tell by the various cards' condition just how popular it has been. It has those 1950s ingredients, too.

Aunt Coy’s chicken spaghetti
1 fat hen
1 green pepper, chopped
3 stems celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 boxes spaghetti
1 can pimientos
1 can mushrooms
½ lb. cheese, grated
1 can mushroom soup

Cook chicken until tender in chicken broth salt and pepper to taste. Cool chicken, then remove from bone and cut into small pieces. Remove 1/4 cup fat from chicken broth and fry pepper, celery and onion in it until it is tender. Cook spaghetti until tender in chicken broth (add more water if needed) add chopped chicken and pre-cooked pepper, celery and onion. Place in casserole, cover with grated cheese, heat in slow oven until cheese is melted. (Good made day before and warmed on serving day.)
--Coy McLean Brooks

Happy Monday. Remember to keep one and share one.

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