I have been food obsessed my entire life, and, as a result, I have lots of little notebooks full of thoughts, recipe ideas, flavor combinations, and doodles. I found one the other day where I had scribbled “Mushrooms+marsala=Love.” It made me laugh and shake my head at myself, but it’s so true. They are such complimentary flavors; they belong together.
Mushrooms are one of those things… I know many people who don’t love them, but I am a long time mushroom lover. I was the weird child who begged my grandmother to make homemade cream of mushroom soup. I grew up within walking distance of a river, and my dad used to take me mushroom hunting along the mossy fern-covered trails that led to it. He even had a little mushroom field guide to make sure we weren’t coming home from our adventures with a bundle of poisonous fungi. I loved it, and I always felt like we were being sneaky and living dangerously…
So last night, I came home and assessed what I had in the fridge. I had three chicken breasts that I pulled out of the freezer the night before, not knowing what I would use them for, and two containers of cremini mushrooms. I thought “hmmmm…. chicken marsala?” I love good chicken marsala. (Isn’t it silly when people say things like that? As if anyone would ever love bad chicken marsala.) But, anyway, I love it. It is such a flavorful dish, made up of just a few simple ingredients that work harmoniously together. Knowing I had a bottle of marsala in my trusty pantry, my mind was made up (I keep an inexpensive bottle around, just for cooking, it comes in handy). So, I started to wonder what I would serve it with, and pasta was the obvious choice, as you need something to soak up the yummy juices. Then I decided I would combine them, rather than cook the chicken and serve it atop the pasta.
It was a really good idea… Here’s how I made it.
- 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 to 1 1/2 lbs worth) cut into bite size chunks
- two 8 oz containers of cremini mushrooms cut into quarters or slices (I keep them in quarters because, sadly, I live in a house divided. Two mushroomers and two anti-mushroomers, they can pick around them if they’re bigger)
- sprig of rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
- A few sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and chopped (about 1/2 tablespoon)
- 1 garlic clove, finely minced
- 1 cup marsala wine
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 1 cup of heavy cream
- salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (Which usually ends up becoming a cup when I start grating…)
- few tablespoons chopped parsley (optional)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- olive oil
- 1 lb of your favorite pasta
Get a large pot of salted water boiling for your pasta of choice. You can use any kind you like, I used penne, but I would also love this with a long, flat noodle like fettuccine or linguine (mental note!). Begin preparing the recipe, and when the water boils add your pasta and cook for the recommended amount of time while you finish the sauce.
Generously season your chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet (mine is 12″) with two tablespoons of butter and a few swirls of olive oil until the butter has melted and foamed and it’s HOT, it’s fine if the butter browns just a little, this will help the chicken get nice and brown, (get your pans hot before you add meat! Don’t be afraid of the sizzle!). Add chicken to the properly heated pan, in a single layer and allow to brown on all sides, tossing as needed to get even browning, about 7-10 minutes. Remove to a plate or bowl.
Lower heat to medium, add another tablespoon of butter, and swirl of oil to the pan. Add the mushrooms, cook until they release their juices, become soft, and begin to brown, about 5 minutes (I sometimes cover my skillet to speed up the softening process, then uncover to get them browned).
Add the garlic and herbs to the mushrooms, stir and cook for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add marsala to the mushrooms and scrape the bottom of the skillet to release all the good brown bits. Reduce the marsala by half.
Next, add chicken stock and cream and allow to thicken slightly for 2-3 minutes before adding the chicken back in. Cook for a few more minutes to get all the flavors re-acquainted.
With the pan still over medium heat, add your cooked pasta and toss to combine, coating the noodles in the creamy, mushroomy sauce (this will not, and should not, be thick like an alfredo sauce but will thicken up with the pasta, as well as when you add the cheese). Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water if it seems too thick, this is really a matter of preference. When the sauce clings to the noodles, add the cheese and parsley off the heat, toss to combine, and serve!