A few weeks ago, I decided to finally treat myself with a trip to Arjuna, a whole foods store in Cambridge, to get a few of the more unusual ingredients that I’ve been wishing for. In particular, I was looking to expand my whole-grain horizons beyond brown rice and porridge oats (which are okay, but I miss the cups of chewy, delicious steel-cut oats from Collis that were a post-training breakfast staple for me in undergrad). Amazingly enough, given how frequently we’d eat it at home, I haven’t made a tomato-based pasta sauce yet in Cambridge. When I saw a recipe for arrabbiata sauce (which I was not familiar with…apparently it means “angry” in Italian, referring to the heat of the chili peppers) on the BBC Good Food site, I thought I’d give it a whirl.
I made some changes to their recipe, of course. I swapped the chicken thighs for chicken breasts because it’s what I have, and decided to shred the meat after poaching in the tomato sauce for easier storing in old yogurt containers (my go-to cheap Tupperware). For some extra color and nutrition, I added some zucchini and bell peppers. I tried browning my zucchini a little bit with the other vegetables first, then took them out for the long simmer so they wouldn’t over-cook, and added them back in at the end; you can skip this part if you don’t feel like it. Finally, I added some sun-dried tomatoes (jarred in oil, drained and rinsed) for a little extra punch of flavor, and I used some of the oil from the jar as my olive oil for the initial vegetable saute.
The results: Okay, first of all, don’t do what I did with the zucchini. It took forever and some burnt fingers to remove the zucchini pieces, and they didn’t brown anyway. I’ve updated the recipe to include a browning method that should actually work.
In terms of actual tastiness, this was really good! I added 2 tsp of crushed red chilies in addition to 5 fresh jalapenos, and I still didn’t think it was terribly spicy, but there was a bit of a slow burn when I took a bite. The amount of wine seemed overwhelming when I added it, but it works quite nicely with the tomatoes here. I’m so used to having fennel seeds in my tomato sauce (my Dad’s go-to addition) that I missed them here, and I’d probably add them next time I made this, but that’s probably a matter of personal preference more than anything else. My only other issue with the recipe was that it took a really long time (about 20-30 minutes at the end, not 15) to reduce to what I felt was a reasonable consistency, but that’s something that could easily be solve with a roux, some cornstarch, or an immersion blender…
Anyway, don’t overcook your pasta (like I did), try this sauce, and don’t forget the cheese and/or fresh herbs on top!
Yield: 6+ servings
Adapted from: BBC Good Food.
1.5 Tbsp olive oil, divided
2 onions, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
1 garlic bulb, separated into cloves (slightly smashed)
2-3 zucchini, cut into small chunks
3-5 chilies, de-seeded and sliced
1.5 c red wine
1.5 c chicken stock (used 1/2 chicken stock cube)
2 cans chopped tomatoes (800 g total)
2-3 Tbsp tomato paste
1/4 c sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chopped
2 tsp mixed herbs or thyme
2 tsp crushed red chilies (or to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 chicken breasts (defrosted)
Pasta or grain and fresh chopped parsley to serve
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add the onions, bell peppers, and whole garlic cloves. Cook, stirring frequently, for 10 mins, adding the zucchini chunks* after a few minutes and the chilies in the final few minutes of cooking. Remove the zucchini chunks and set aside. *You can skip this step if you feel it’s too much work.
Pour in the wine, turn up the heat and allow it to bubble for 5 minutes to cook off the alcohol. Stir in the stock, chopped tomatoes (pour off about 1/3 of the liquid if possible), tomato paste, sun-dried tomatoes, mixed herbs, crushed chilies, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken breasts, pushing them under the liquid, then part-cover the pan and leave to simmer gently for 45 mins.
Remove the lid and take out the chicken breasts. Shred or cut the meat into bite-sized pieces and return to pot, along with the zucchini chunks. Cook for a further 15-30 mins until the chicken is tender and the sauce has reduced to the desired consistency, adding a generous splash of pasta cooking water if it is too thick.
Serving suggestion: over pasta (such as penne, rigatoni, or macaroni) or a grain of your choice (brown rice, oat groats, wheat berries), scattered with fresh chopped parsley if you have it, with a grating of Parmesan or other hard Italian cheese (I’ve been trying Grana Padano because it was cheap at Sainsbury’s…).