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‘Araby’

My friend Steve and I met while working at Tower Theaters in South Hadley, MA, about four years ago, when I was still at Mount Holyoke. Although he was my manager, the two of us quickly became the fastest of friends, and he’s one of the people closest to me in the world, even though he’s currently in New York City and I in Boston. Steve is a  fabulously talented musician and equally an adroit writer. We share a number of “traditions” to keep in touch, including a yearly pilgrimage to see the Nutcracker with our respective girlfriends. The four of us more often end up doing something centered around food; whether it’s lunch at Fitzwilly’s in Northampton, or cooking for each other. This is my favorite recipe of Steve’s. Called “Araby” after the short story by James Joyce, published in Dubliners, this cheesy tortellini-and-chicken dish is filling, and will warm you to the core! In Steve’s own words:

You need: 1 pound of boneless chicken breast

3 tbsp of flour

1 cup of Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper

Garlic powder

A whole bulb of garlic

Butter

Olive oil

1/2 pint of heavy cream (there’s a big one, a small one, and one in the middle…you want the middle-sized one)

A bag of microwaveable peas [They don’t have to be microwaveable, but it’s easier. Look for flash-frozen organic peas. – Hannah]

2 bags of cheese tortellini

Cook the chicken first in a large pan. Start by cutting up the chicken into bite sized pieces. Place the chicken into a large tupperware container with a lid (don’t put the lid on yet). Add 1 cup of flour, pepper, and salt to taste, and garlic powder to taste (more is usually better!) Put the lid on the tupperware and shake it like a Polaroid picture. You may have to remove the cover and mix the chicken and the flour by hand until all the chicken is coated in the mix.

Next, and this will take a long time, separate all the cloves of garlic from the bulb, strip them, and mince them. Yes, all of them. [It won’t take so very long if you use this. I swear by it. – Hannah]

Over medium heat, heat the pan and then add the olive oil. Once or twice around the pan is usually good. Add the garlic first, careful not to burn it. After about a minute or two, add the chicken. Cook the chicken until it is lightly golden on all sides and is cooked all the way through. Remove from heat and set aside. Maybe cover with a lid or tin foil so it stays hot, and remember, meat keeps cooking even after you remove it from heat.

Next, boil a large pot of water. Since the pasta takes about 5 minutes, you can wait to do this and the peas at the last minute.

While the water is boiling take another large pot…I mean, big…the bigger the surface area the better. Heat up the pot and add the heavy cream. With a whisk, stir the cream. You want to keep it from bubbling up too much. After a long long time of stirring the cream will start to appear translucent in places — you’ll see little holes, almost.  Remove from heat.

If you haven’t already, microwave your peas and add your pasta. In the interim, add the cup of cheese to the cream slowly and whisk in. Add more pepper and garlic powder to taste.

When the pasta is done, strain it, open the bag of peas and mix everything together.

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Ryan’s Stuffed Peppers

I was in western Mass. this past weekend visiting my ex-girlfriend and a couple very good friends from college. On Friday night, Kristie and I got invited to a small dinner party thrown by my friends Ryan and Caroline at their home. It was a cool evening, so we ate inside. Ryan and Carlo created an amazing spread of spicy Swedish meatballs, homemade tomato sauce, and insalata caprese (complemented by basil from the Mount Holyoke College student garden), to name just a few. Oh yes, and plenty Merlot!

Ryan is one of the most cooking-fluent women I know, and we exchanged our best Julia Child impressions over her now-famous stuffed peppers. I remember asking her where she got the recipe, and she made a reference to some index card or other. I spotted it later in her kitchen while her boyfriend and I were doing dishes (as well as singing a rousing rendition of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ which did not go over very well to those in the living room reading Leonard Cohen poetry aloud)—a stained, damp, wrinkled piece of paper covered in notes and exclamation points (“Cook rice—DO THIS FIRST!!!”), the way I imagine all good recipes start.

This is my version of Ryan’s stuffed peppers. The modifications for this dish are endless. Add white rice, tomato sauce, and chili peppers, and you have a Mexican meal perfect for a summer night. Sub squash and carrots for an early autumn plate. It’s also a great alternative to a stir-fry when you have a ton of random vegetables…anything works, really.

A quick note about heirloom tomatoes (this recipe calls for a Hungarian Oval). Heirlooms have been classically bred and passed down (usually via the family garden) for decades to preserve their rich taste rather than their abilities to withstand harsh pesticides or conform to what we think a tomato “should” look like. Many variations get lost in the folds of time. Become a part of the revival! Ask for them at your grocery store, and keep an eye out for them at your local farmers market. Also, check out the Heirloom Tomato Cookbook for some great ideas. (Recipe after the jump).

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