For as long as I can remember, chicken Marsala has been one of my favorite dishes. I even named one of my hens Marsala (Marci, for short…and they’re all named after some type of chicken, not just her), but then she turned out to be a rooster and was subsequently renamed.
Chicken Marsala – the dish, not the hen – is earthy and fragrant, and to this day is one of the best comfort foods I can think of, so I came up with my own version. It’s a dish with few ingredients but loads of flavor. It uses less chicken, for two reasons. First, I don’t like to eat a lot of meat. Second, even organic, free-range chicken breasts seem to be getting larger, and two is PLENTY for this recipe. I rarely use recipes to cook, so the one I’m providing is based on how I cooked it last night. Everything about it can be altered to the way you like things. It could even be vegetarian. I like mine peppery to balance out the richness, so I add lots of black pepper at every step.
The real stars of my chicken marsala are the crimini mushrooms. They’ve got umami for days, and bring a wonderful texture to this dish. I’ve even read that criminis are a great food-source for Vitamin D, so that’s an added bonus.
Part of what makes my rendition so comforting is the pasta. It’s also why I make mine saucier than others, because it turns into a pasta sauce. For this, I like Orecchietti, the aptly named pasta shaped like little ears. They’re thick enough that they remain toothsome, which I love; they hold sauce like a little cup; and their shape causes some of them stick together and create delightfully chewy, saucy bites. Anymore, I only use 100% whole-wheat pasta. Every brand does it a little different, so find the one that works for you. Whole-wheat pasta not only brings a nutty aspect to any dish, but its lower glycemic index means it’s better for our bodies than white pasta.
When I cooked this dish last night, the produce I had on hand to make a vegetable dish turned into a wonderfully sweet and tart carrot salad. I’m not going to write out the recipe, but the basics are that I used my handy-dandy Cuisinart to shred some carrots and radishes, added some julienned raw chard and chopped parsley, and dressed it simply with honey, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. It was bright, and light, and the perfect pair with the richer pasta dish.
Here’s the pasta dish. It could easily serve four. We’re only two, but I still make the whole recipe and save leftovers for work lunches.
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced ¼-inch thick
1 pound crimini mushrooms, cleaned, halved, and sliced ¼-inch thick
1 tablespoon flour, slightly rounded
½ cup Marsala wine
½ cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
½ pound 100% whole-wheat pasta
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped, fresh parsley (optional)
1. Get all the chicken & mushroom slicing done, and set the mushrooms off to the side. Get a large pot of water working toward boiling. Tip: Chicken is easier to cut if it’s really cold, so sometimes I put mine in the freezer for 5ish minutes before I slice it. Lay the chicken pieces out in one layer on the cutting board. Uniformity is not necessary here, because they don’t finish cooking until later so it’s okay if they don’t get all the way cooked now. Liberally season both sides with salt and pepper. Get a large skillet going and coat the whole bottom with olive oil, it needs to be good and hot. Have two plates ready to go nearby, the same size as each other. Place as many chicken pieces as will fit in one layer in the hot oil. Usually, by the time I’m done putting them down, I wait about 15 seconds and go back the first one and start flipping. If little bits stick to the pan, it’s okay, they’ll just add flavor to the sauce. After the second side has cooked an equal time, place the chicken onto one of the plates. Remember, it’s okay if the chicken is a little pink inside. Repeat this process until all the chicken is browned on both sides, then use the 2nd plate to cover the chicken and set aside while you do other steps.
2. If your pan is too dry, add a little more olive oil. Add all the mushrooms in, and season them with salt and pepper. Stir as needed until the mushrooms start to get some color, scraping any chicken bits off the bottom. The salt will release some moisture in the mushrooms so you may have to wait for it to cook off before they start to brown, about 6-7 minutes on a pretty high heat. About halfway through cooking mushrooms, put a large handful of salt in your boiling water, and add the pasta. Tip: According to Italians, from whom I’ve taken cooking lessons, pasta should be cooked in water that tastes like the sea. Cook pasta according to the directions on the box for al dente cooking. It will cook a little more in the sauce.
3. When the mushrooms are ready, add the flour and stir to coat. Add the wine & broth to the mushrooms, stir, then add the chicken. Bring the sauce to a boil and boil it for about 4 minutes while it thickens, stirring occasionally. Add the pasta to the sauce, stir, and allow to cook a few minutes longer for the pasta to absorb the flavor, stirring occasionally. Tip: If your sauce is too thick, use a slotted spoon to move the pasta straight from the pasta water into the sauce. The little extra pasta water will thin the sauce without making it watery. If your pasta is too thin, strain the pasta and then add to the sauce.
There you have it. Once you’ve done this once you’ll find that it’s really simple enough to do as often as you want, depending on when you need a little comfort food.
Ingredients that came from Ag Connect: Crimini mushrooms, chard, carrots, honey, and parsley.