Thursday, May 8, 2008

Oven Roasted Cauliflower with Chicken and Pasta

I discovered a recipe last year for oven-roasted cauliflower so now I keep my eyes open for a good price on the vegetable every time I am at the produce store. It was reasonably priced the other day ($1 per head) so I picked up two. Since cooking time is over 30 minutes, I start prepping this first. I first turn the oven onto bake at 475 degrees. The cauliflower will be cut into wedges so that it roasts more evenly so carefully remove the leaves and cut stem flush with bottom. You can cut into 8-12 wedges so that the core and florets remain intact (as much as possible at least because you will still have some that fall about). I take out a cookie sheet (with sides; mine are about 1/2 deep) and lightly spray it with olive oil cooking spray. I then carefully toss the cauliflower in two tablespoons of olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper. Once coated I place the cauliflower on the prepared cookie sheet in a single layer; cover the whole thing with aluminum foil; and place in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. (Total cooking time will be around 30; after the first 10 minutes you will remove the foil and cook for another 8-12 minutes on one side; flip the cauliflower over; and then cook for another 8-12 minutes.)

Next I whisk one egg with a scant 3 tablespoons of milk (you can substitute water as well I just prefer milk for a bit more coating of the chicken). Then I take the chicken breast tenders (one package gives me about 10-12 tenders, which is equivalent to slicing one to two whole breasts into tenders) that I defrosted and rinse them before placing them in this egg mixture. I then put approximately 1 to 1 1/2 cups of breadcrumbs in a flat dish, add 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese, 1-2 teaspoons of salt and pepper and a heaping teaspoon of dried tarragon (you can substitute any dried herb you want here; basil, oregano, thyme, sage, or even just nothing). I then take each breast tender individually out of the egg mixture and coat it with breadcrumbs and set aside on a sheet. The longer you let the breadcrumbs dry on the chicken, the crispier it will cook up; if you transfer the chicken from the breadcrumbs right to the hot oil most of your crumbs end up stuck to the bottom of your skillet.

I have since removed the aluminum foil from the cauliflower (which allowed the vegetable to steam a bit) so it is roasting now on one side for 8-12 minutes. Now I set a large pan of water on the stove to boil for pasta. I am repeating my ricotta sauce recipe with the addition of some tomato sauce (and deletion of peas) for variety. In bowl large enough to add the pasta later combine 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, 1/2 tablespoon butter(optional but per the recipe it adds richness to the sauce), 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup of pasta sauce, salt and pepper to taste. When the 1/2 pound of pasta is almost cooked, add a scant ladle of water to this sauce and whisk it all together. Then toss the pasta in the sauce before serving.

I wait to start cooking the chicken until the cauliflower has been flipped and roasting for the last 8-12 minutes. I then heat approximately 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter in a large skillet on medium to medium high. When the butter starts bubbling, I add about half of my prepared chicken tenders. As the chicken starts to cook and you see a bit of white around the edges it is time to flip over. If you have your pan hot enough it shouldn't take more than 3-4 minutes on each side to fully cook the breast tenders. As I am cooking the second batch of chicken tenders, I finish the pasta sauce with the addition of the ladle of hot water, drain the pasta and toss it in the ricotta mixture. I flip the chicken tenders over and remove the cauliflower from the oven. Then I turn of the burner under the skillet cooking the tenders and serve pasta and cauliflower and a few of the tenders of the first batch. Voila! Dinner is served.

Notes: Unfortunately, I am not too excited about the addition of tomato sauce to the ricotta cheese sauce. It tastes good but isn't so photogenic and you notice that I ended up just putting some on top of the pasta versus tossing the pasta with the sauce. I think the pasta is better off being tossed with the sauce as it coats it more evenly. In addition, I will stick to doing this sauce with the peas and fresh tomato salad on the side that was much more satisfactory both visually and in taste. The fresh tomatoes add a nicer contrast to the overall palate.

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