Tuesday, June 26, 2012

gnocchi alfredo with chicken and asparagus

When mid-June treated us to a massive heat wave, it was pretty clear that use of the oven for dinner making was completely off limits. Bunny can BBQ up some delicious things, but he's busy and tired and cooking is my job, not his. (He gets to do heavy lifting and moving and all these things that I can't or won't do. I get to own the kitchen. Which works, because I have no intention of ever giving up kitchen control, in all honesty.) So I had to figure out ways to cook, with what was in my mother's fridge, without using the oven.

After sifting through the fridge I came up with a package of gnocchi that she'd picked up when Bunny and I mentioned how much we love it, as well as a bunch of asparagus, some chicken breasts left over from earlier in the week, the parmesan I'd brought from Toronto, and coffee cream. I was pretty sure I could turn that into dinner.

Usually when I do pastas, I make a pasta and then have my accompaniments on the side. That gets a little boring, though, a little uninteresting. Plus, all the amazing pastas that I have at all these great Italian places in Toronto mix everything in, and it works well. So I decided to give it a whirl.

Like most of my pasta dishes, this one is pretty adaptable. Swap out the gnocchi for a more traditional pasta (or get adventurous and make the gnocchi from scratch this is on my to-do list for the future, by the way), asparagus can be switched out for any other vegetable (and a frozen one is even easier), chicken was what I had on hand, but I'm sure other proteins would work.

However, I have to tell you that this dish, just like I made it, turned out pretty awesome. it was just enough to feed three people (normal sized portions for my mom and me, larger for Bunny) and we had nothing left over. It was utterly delicious, and Bunny went so far as to compare it to a dish from my favourite Italian eatery. The creaminess of the alfredo sauce matches well with the density of the gnocchi and gives some punch to the chicken and compliments the fresh crunch of asparagus.

As with all alfredos, though, this is a heavy dish. Don't count on wanting huge portions when the weather outside is hot and humid. This is filling, and rich.

Ingredients
  • 2 cups cooked chicken
    • This is a great use for almost any leftover chicken, but if you have raw chicken, just cook it simply. I let my breasts marinade in balsamic and lemon before putting them on the Foreman grill for about 10 minutes, but you could cook them in a pan or the oven as need be. They also sell packs of pre-cooked, pre-sliced chicken at the grocery store, and this is a good use.
  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus
  • 1 small package gnocchi
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 2/3 cups cream
    • I used a 5% coffee cream, but if I were using a heavier cream I'd probably use closer to a 1/2 cup
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cups freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • salt & pepper, to taste (use freshly ground pepper, if possible)
Directions
  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil.
  2. For the asparagus, break off the woody bottom parts. You can cut them, but the easiest way is to snap them between your hands; the stem snaps higher than I might like, but exactly where it naturally should. You'll also want to wash them thoroughly, as sand gets trapped easily around the heads and around those little daggy bits on the spear.
  3. Cook your asparagus!
    • I did mine on the Foreman grill, for 10 minutes, without adding anything.
    • If you have a stovetop grillpan, lightly oil that and cook for about 10 minutes.
    • Also feel free to boil or steam them - this bit isn't fussy. You just want some cooked asparagus. Again, about 7-10 minutes.
  4. After the asparagus has finished cooking, chop the stems into rough thirds. This makes it way more fork-ready.
  5. When your pasta water comes to a boil, cook the gnocchi according to package directions. As a general rule, gnocchi will sink to the bottom of the pot when it is uncooked and floats up top when it's cooked. Depending on whether you are using fresh or a dried variety, this can take between 2 and about 10 minutes.
    • If you're using fresh gnocchi, start making your alfredo (next step) before you begin boiling the gnocchi.
    • If you're using dry gnocchi, start making your alfredo once you have the gnocchi in the water.
    • When done, if your sauce isn't done yet, just let it sit to the side in the strainer. It's not a big deal.
  6. In a large saute pan, melt butter over medium high heat.
  7. Once butter has melted, add the cream to the saute pan. Wisk the cream into the butter. They don't come together too easily, so you'll want to wisk a fair bit.
  8. When the cream-and-butter mixture starts to bubble and thicken a bit, add your parmesan cheese. Again you'll want to wisk well to incorporate the cheese.
  9. At this point, taste your sauce. Add salt and pepper as needed. (You don't need too much salt, since a good parmesan is salty to begin with, but if you're like me and Bunny you will want to add a good dose of pepper.) Wisk again.
  10. Add your drained gnocchi, your sliced chicken and asparagus to the sauce. Stir things around, so everything gets evenly covered in the sauce and well distributed.
  11. Spoon out your yumminess and eat and enjoy it.
  12. Grate some more parmesan on the top if you feel like being decadent.

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