Last night’s dinner was an oldie but a much MUCH improved goodie. A long time ago, I’d eaten at Johnny Carino’s (now just known as Carino’s) and had a dish called Chicken Florentine. It was essentially grilled chicken strips in a cream sauce with herbs and on top of pasta. There was spinach and mushrooms in the sauce and the whole dish was topped with diced tomatoes. It was a meal fit for the gods. Fat Italian gods, mind you, because it was a rich and luscious meal. But because I loved that so much, my ex learned how to make a similar cream sauce, though he usually didn’t add spinach or mushrooms unless we just had them. The tomatoes are an essential ingredient though. Must have the tomatoes.
About a week or so ago, I bought some shallots. I’d been wanting to try to cook something with them, but I hadn’t known what. I got it in my head to make the Chicken Florentine with shallots for some reason, so the roommate and I went off to the store to buy fresh spinach and some mushrooms, and then I came home and cooked. This came out so tasty, so savory and so rich and yum that I’m pretty certain I was feeling quite like one of those fat Italian gods myself by the time I finished eating.
2-3 chicken breasts, cleaned of fat and cut up in bite-sized pieces
2-3 cups milk/heavy cream
3-4 tbsp butter (you can use margarine but real butter is better)
4-6 tbsp flour
1 shallot, chopped up
2-3 baby portabello mushrooms, sliced
5-8 leaves of fresh spinach, cleaned, cut from the stems and sliced
1 1/2-2 tbsp Italian seasoning (thyme, oregano, basil and rosemary)
1-2 Roma tomatoes, diced
Now for anyone who is curious, THIS is a shallot:
Now a shallot, as described on Kitchen Dictionary is “A member of the onion family, but formed more like garlic than onions. Shallots are favored for their mild onion flavor, and can be used in the same manner as onions. A shallot looks like a small, elongated onion with a copper, reddish, or gray skin. When peeled, shallots separate into into cloves like garlic.” Let me tell you that it is a tasty thing. Kind of like a baby sweet purple onion. I didn’t notice cloves when I cut it up, but then, I just chopped it up like an onion.
Before you start cooking, cut up and prep all of your ingredients. Once you’ve cut up the chicken, sauté it in a separate pan with only a little bit of oil or spray with Pam (or equivalent). While the chicken is cooking, melt your butter in the pan that you’ll cook the sauce in (and eventually add in the chicken and cooked pasta to mix together). Add in the shallots and sauté until clear but not brown. The aroma of this is amazing!
Add the flour into the butter and shallots to make the roux. You might need more or less, depending on the thickness of the sauce you want. Once you’ve mixed that in until it is smooth, add in the milk/heavy cream (you can use just milk or just heavy cream or a mixture of both; for this batch, I had to use both of what I had because I didn’t have enough milk or enough cream to use just one or the other) and whisk until the sauce is completely smooth. Add in salt and pepper to taste and keep stirring. Also add in the Italian herbs, which you can usually get as a blend, or you can always blend up your own. You can lower the heat now from high to medium because you don’t want to scald your milk/cream.
Now is a good time to get your water boiling for your pasta, and once it is, toss the pasta in. For this dish, it’s really best to use a pasta like farfalle or penne, something that won’t be long and stringy and clump in the sauce. Normally, I use the mezzo penne, which is small penne, but this time, I wanted to use farfalle, also known as bowtie.
While the pasta is cooking, add in the spinach, mushrooms and chicken, stirring after each one so that they’re all integrated into the sauce. The aroma by now will bring you to your knees!
When the pasta is Al dente, strain it in the sink to get out all the excess water. Add the pasta into the sauce (this is the reason for making the sauce in a bigger pan — you need to room to mix everything together!) and stir until all of the farfalle is coated. You can set the heat on low or completely turn it off at this point as it’s ready to serve.
When you’re ready to eat (and by this point, you will be SO ready!), divvy up the Chicken Florentine into your pasta bowls (or onto plates) and top liberally with your freshly diced tomatoes. By this point, you will want to shovel everything into your mouth until it’s gone and hope that there’s more! Lucky for me, last night’s batch yielded enough to put aside a container for today’s lunch (which I’m currently eating as I finish typing this up).
Now, as a parting note, you might ask “Why is this dish called Florentine?” Well, I’ll tell you. Or rather, I’ll let Mr. Breakfast tell you:
“Relating to or characteristic of Florence, a city in the center of central Italy’s Tuscany region.
For our purposes, Florentine refers to foods that are cooked in the style of Florence… specifically egg, meat and fish dishes that contain spinach and, most often, a creamy Mornay-style sauce.”
Hope you enjoy this one! I certainly have — twice!