In this hot, humid weather all I’ve wanted to do is settle in the shade and read books. A lovely book I’ve just finished is one called Nutmeg by Maria Goodin. It’s about a woman called Meg who’s growing up in a world of food-filled fantasy; where her first tooth was so sharp her mother used her as a can opener, and eating too many apples once left her spitting pips. Then, age five, she is humiliated in front of the other children at school and turns her back on the world of fiction, deciding to let logic rule her everyday thoughts and deeds. Years later, Meg’s mother falls ill, and as she struggles to deal with the situation in an orderly fashion, her mother remains cocooned in her obsession with cookery, refusing to face up to her illness.
It’s a beautiful book – I adored it, particular as it’s full of references to food. There are no recipes, but that doesn’t matter. Here’s Meg and her Mother talking about what heaven might be like:
“There are clouds made of marshmallows and the rivers of wine, baked apples grow in the fields and the air is scented with spice. The ground under your feet is soft and bouncy like sponge cakes, and your favourite lemon bonbons grow from the trees, lightly dusted in icing sugar which drifts down in a powdery haze when you pull the bonbons off the branch. Beautiful swans lay chocolate eggs, whilst bees buzz amongst the flowers making the sweetest honey. In the meadows grow the most delicious delicacies – apricot turnovers, strawberry tarts, raspberry meringues – all just waiting to be picked.”
Anyway – back to the recipe for this week is Chicken Puttanesca! I love Puttanesca sauce. It’s gutsy, robust and full of flavours. I normally cook this to eat on its own with spaghetti but I decided to try this Delia Smith recipe which has chicken simmering in the puttanesca sauce which you eat with tagliatelle. Spaghetti would be too thin a pasta for this dish.
- 4 skinned chicken breasts
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin oil
- 2 gloves garlic, crushed
- 1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
- 1 x 400g tin Italian chopped tomatoes
- 1 rounded tablespoon tomato purée
- 175g pitted black olives, roughly chopped
- 1 heaped tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
- Salt and pepper
- 350g spinach or ordinary tagliatelle
- Extra sprigs basil
- Heat the oil in the frying pan until it's very hot.
- Wipe the chicken breasts with kitchen paper, season them with salt and pepper, then add them to the hot oil and fry them over a medium heat until they are a rich golden colour on both sides. This will take about 5 or 6 minutes.
- Transfer the chicken to a plate and add the garlic and chilli to the pan and fry these briefly for about 30 seconds.
- Add the tomatoes, tomato purée, olives, capers, chopped basil and some seasoning. Stir everything well, bringing it up to a gentle simmer.
- Add the chicken breasts to the pan, skin side up, pushing then well down into the sauce and basting a little over the top.
- Simmer for 40-45 minutes, uncovered, until the chicken has cooked and the sauce has reduced and thickened.
- About 15 minutes before the end of the cooking time, put a large pan of salted water on to the heat and bring it up to the boil – this will take about 10 minutes. Then boil the tagliatelle according to instructions on the packet.
- After that, quickly drain and serve the chicken with the sauce spooned over, the tagliatelle on the side, and garnish with fresh sprigs of basil.