Friday, August 10, 2007

Gnocchi with Chicken in Vodka Florentine Sauce

Okay, this doesn't really count as cooking. It's more heating and assembling pre-made ingredients. But it's tasty and a heck of a lot classier/more impressive than a frozen pizza. We had a friend coming over for dinner and I needed to use the leftover chicken breasts from the Cordon Bleu. There was not enough chicken to base a full meal around and I didn't have a lot of time anyway.

Oh, and despite having a B. Fine Arts in Photography, I am not a food photographer. The result is actually a very attractive pink and green. The big beige thing to the left is a hunk of Tuscan bread with the fava bean bruschetta.

My new thing last night was learning to use the broiler in our new gas Jenn-Air. This one is a little different than those in other stoves I've used; the broiling unit is on the top of the main oven compartment, rather than the shallow drawer below. The upside is that you can adjust the rack if you want to play with the distance of food from the flames. What I can't figure out is, in turning on the broiler, the digital panel asks for a heat level. I played with every button on the panel, but couldn't figure out how to change it. Of course, being a guy, I can't look at the manual. Fortunately, the default is High, which is what I wanted anyway.

I used this to broil the chicken breast, rather than take the extra time to go out to the porch and grill them. It seemed a waste to fire up the whole Weber for only two breasts and it is really, really hot outside these days. In addition to the time savings, I think that the flavor and texture of broiled chicken is better for this semi-creamy sauce. The crispiness and smokey taste of grilled chicken works better for oil-based or marinara-type sauces.

I broiled the breast for five minutes per side, about 3 inches from the broiler flame. I then diced the chicken, which worked out fine, but my friend Joe suggested that shredding it would work even better, as there would be more texture to pick up sauce.

I plan to take the leap and my own gnocchi soon, but the packaged stuff is quite good. Here's something interesting: Gia Russa make a whole wheat gnocchi (which has sweet potato in it), but if you look the nutritional information is actually less healthy than the regular counter part. For example, the Dietary Fiber is about half. Why would you bother? Also, I've been taught that you're supposed to boil gnocchi in small batches. Maybe this brand stinks or I'm using an extra wide mouthed pot, but I've done it both ways several times and I can't tell a lick of difference.

Brands that I used are noted in the ingredients, but obviously not required. Instructions are in sequence for prep and cooking of all ingredients.

Gnocchi with Chicken in Vodka Florentine Sauce

Serves 2 (heartily)

1 16 oz pkg gnocchi (Gia Russa)
1 jar Vodka Sauce (Bertolli)
1 10 oz pkg frozen spinach (Jewel house brand)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Grated Parmesan (for topping)
Ground black pepper (for topping)

Start the water (with dash of olive oil and salt) for the pasta on high flame. Place chicken 3" under broiler flame. Thaw spinach in microwave. Pour vodka sauce into saucepan on high flame - reduce to a simmer and cover when sauce begins boiling. Turn chicken at 5 minutes. Squeeze water from spinach and set aside. Remove chicken after another 5 minutes (10 total). Shred chicken and set aside. When water hits a boil, open gnocci package and spoon the pasta into water.

Note: unlike other pastas of similar sizes, gnocchi splashes when it hits the water. You do NOT want to just dump it in as you would rotini or the like, as you will burn your hand. Use your slotted spoon.

Stir spinach into vodka sauce and re-cover. As gnocchi float to the top of the water (~2 minutes), spoon them out into a colindar to drain. Once all gnocci is done, take the pasta pot off the flame, discard water and pour gnocchi into empty pot. Stir in sauce and shredded chicken. Serve into bowls, top with parmesan and pepper to taste.

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