Honey Nut Goat Cheese Balls

Okay, I realize that if it wasn’t for the title y’all probably would have no clue what those little balls lined up oh-so-perfectly (maybe due to a mild case of OCD) are.  Let me introduce you to honey nut goat cheese balls.  I promise that if you’re entertaining they’ll become one of your best friends.

These little babies are super decadent, and just the right balance of salty and sweet.  Pop one in your mouth and you’ll be in heaven for a moment.  Besides tasting amazing, though, their true beauty comes from the fact that they require no cooking, come together quickly, and, best of all, can be made in advance and chilled in the fridge until party time.  They’re perfect for supper club, drinks and hors d’oeuvres before an event, or just a casual hang-out.  And, so far, I’ve only found one person who didn’t love them (sorry Mom!).

Due to the aforementioned reasons (can you tell I’m in law school?) Because of all this, they’ve definitely become a staple at all of our gatherings.  Try them out–I think you’ll have a new favorite once you do.

Honey Nut Goat Cheese Balls

Only slightly adapted from The Deen Brothers

1/2 cup honey-roasted peanut and cashew mix, finely chopped
8 ounces goat cheese
Honey, for drizzling

Keeping the goat cheese in the fridge, finely chop the nut mixture.  Have a little patience–this can take a tad longer than you think (I’ve started keeping chopped nuts in a zippy bag in my pantry so I can make these even faster).

Next, take the cheese out of the fridge.  If you have a melon baller, scoop out balls of cheese.  If you don’t, section the package of cheese with a knife (see picture below) and use a spoon to remove each section.  Roll the cheese quickly in your hands to form a ball, then roll the ball in the nuts.  Arrange balls on a serving platter and drizzle with honey.  Sprinkle pepper lightly over top (if you’re making these ahead of time, cover with plastic wrap after arranging on the platter, and do the honey and pepper immediately before serving).

Even if you’re not making these in advance, it’s a good idea to chill these in the fridge for a few minutes before serving.

Serve with toothpicks.

Chocolate Nutella Cups

Last post I told y’all that despite the irregularity of my posting, I had still been cooking for the blog.  I didn’t tell y’all why, though, because I was waiting for certain recipes to tell you about my girlfriends’ and my new favorite thing–dinner club!  About once a week, usually on Sunday evenings, we’ll all cook something and get together for a group dinner.  It’s the perfect way to take a breather at the end of the weekend and relax before a stressful week of all things law school-related.

The first week we had dinner club Meagan and I hosted the girls at our apartment, so we provided the main course (recipe coming soon!).  Last week, though, Kacie had us over, which meant I got to cook something else.  I was super excited to make a dessert after seeing this recipe on Cupcakes & Cashmere.  While I’ll sneak a Reese’s Cup if there is a bowl of miniatures, I’m not really the biggest fan of peanut butter in desserts.  After looking at the recipe for a little while, though, I knew exactly how I wanted to adapt it.

I swapped out the peanut butter for that other nut butter that’s soo sinfully delicious–Nutella!  The company has been advertising it as a breakfast food, so it can’t be that bad, right? And Europeans have been eating it for years, and they all manage to stay skinny.  Mixing it with anti-oxidant rich chocolate practically makes it health food, so go ahead and have some fun with these.  I promise they’ll make you happy.

Chocolate Nutella Cups, Two Ways
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

I made this two ways after making really big cups (read: a lot of chocolate) for first half of the batch.  One half was all milk chocolate, and the other half was milk chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate with espresso powder.  The recipe is really incredibly adaptable–you could use any combination to make the kind of chocolate Nutella cups you want! :)

For the filling:
1 cup Nutella
¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup powdered sugar

For milk chocolate cups:
4 cups milk chocolate chips (two 11.5-oz bags)
¼ cup vegetable shortening

For milk chocolate and semi-sweet chocolate with espresso cups:
1 11.5-oz bag of milk chocolate chips
1 11.5-oz bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ cup vegetable shortening, divided
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

Line a mini-muffin tin with paper liners and set aside.

In a small or medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter and brown sugar until melted and just starting to bubble, stirring constantly.  Add the Nutella and stir to combine, keeping on the heat until melted and incorporated.  Do not burn.  Remove from the heat, and add the powdered sugar, stirring until completely combined.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, place the chocolate and shortening in a bowl and microwave on half power in 30-second increments, stirring after each round.  If using different kinds of chocolate (such as the half milk chocolate and half semi-sweet), add only 1/8 cup vegetable shortening to the chocolate, and microwave only the portion you want to use as the base of the cups (microwave the other chocolate after chilling the chocolate and Nutella).

Using a spoon or a small cookie scoop, place chocolate into the bottom of the paper liners.  Gently tap the sides of the paper liners to settle the chocolate and remove any air pockets (see picture above).  Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Using two teaspoons, spoon the Nutella mixture on top of the chilled chocolate.  Return to the refrigerator and chill for another 30 minutes.

If using different kinds of chocolate, heat the chocolate with 1/8 cup of shortening.  For the semi-sweet and espresso chocolate, add the espresso powder to the melted chocolate.  If using the same chocolate for the base, and if the chocolate firms up, microwave again for 30 seconds at half power.  Add more melted chocolate to the top of the Nutella mixture (if you want to decorate the cups with anything, such as sprinkles or edible pearls, add them now).  Refrigerate again for 30 minutes.  Remove from the refrigerator and enjoy!

Fig and Prosciutto Pizza + Arugula Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Hi friends! It feels like it’s been forever since I’ve posted, and well, honestly, that’s because it has.  I’ve become so wrapped in law school things that unfortunately I haven’t been able to post as often as I would like.  The good news is that I’ve still been cooking, and will hopefully be posting quite a few recipes soon!

For my first post back I thought it would be best to share this amazing pizza with you.  Not only is it absolutely delicious and decadent, but you can cut a lot of corners with this one and still end up with something that’s just fabulous.  The level of homemade-ness is completely up to you!

I found this recipe and it reminded me of a dish at a wonderful place that used to be in Winter Park called Urban Flats.  I melded the two inspirations and put my own twist on it–I hope y’all enjoy!  Also, I loved the Pioneer Woman’s topping of the pizza with arugula, but decided to mix it up a little and make it a separate side salad with homemade dressing.  Yum!

 Fig and Prosciutto Pizza + Arugula Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

I decided to make my own fig spread and use fresh store-bought dough.  You could use a jarred fig spread and make your own dough, or any combination of the options!

Fig Spread
Tweaked from About.com

20 fresh, ripe figs, stems removed and quartered
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a food processor (or blender).  Pour mixture into a small saucepan, and over medium heat bring to a low boil.  Cover, reduce to medium-low heat, and simmer for approximately 20 minutes, until the spread has thickened and color becomes a deep red (see picture above).  Be extremely careful and keep covered until you remove it from the heat–the mixture will bubble and splatter out of the pan until it has cooled.

This will make a lot more spread than you will need for the pizza–you could halve the recipe or save it for other uses.

For the pizza
Inspired by Urban Flat’s Fig and Prosciutto Pizza; guided by (and adapted from) the Pioneer Woman

Fresh dough (store bought is totally fine and such an easy “cheat”)
Fig spread (see recipe above)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Garlic salt
1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed from stem (I didn’t use this, but I wish I had!)
1 package fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
1/4 pound  sliced prosciutto
Bleu cheese crumbles
Balsamic glaze (optional; this is store-bought too–going for easy here!)

Pre-heat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough as thinly as you can.  Brush lightly with olive oil, and season with salt.  Spread the fig spread over the dough (as much or as little as you would like).  Sprinkle with salt, garlic salt, and rosemary leaves.  Top with sliced mozzarella and shaved parmesan.  Season again with salt and pepper.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until crust is golden and cheese is melted.  Remove from oven and top immediately with prosciutto and bleu cheese crumbles.  Slice and drizzle with balsamic glaze, if using.  Serve immediately.

Arugula Salad with Shaved Parmesan and Balsamic Vinaigrette
Barely adapted from Emeril Lagasse

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
12 ounces fresh arugula, washed and dried
2 ounces shaved Parmesan cheese

In a glass bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt, pepper, and garlic until the sugar and salt are dissolved. While continuing to whisk, add the olive oil in a thin, steady stream until emulsified.

Place arugula in a large salad bowl and toss with some vinaigrette (recipe will yield more than enough for the salad; it keeps for approximately 2 weeks under refrigeration).  Divide into individual bowls, top with Parmesan, and serve immediately.

xx Allison

Caprese Salad with Pesto

I’ve been on a bit of a caprese kick lately.  To me, the flavors of caprese–fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil–compliment each other perfectly and just scream summer.

Most caprese salads I’ve had are pretty standard, with tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella, and balsamic vinegar.  I had never seen one with pesto, until I went to Bern’s with my parents to celebrate their anniversary.  Whenever I go to Bern’s, my order is pretty standard.  I have my go to item in the dining room, and a different go to in the bar.  I’ll still open the menu, but generally don’t deviate too far from the usual.

This last time, though, I spotted something that I just had to order.  It was a caprese salad with pesto–yes, pesto!  I adore pesto, but have never seen it, or thought to put it, on a caprese salad.  My family has a wonderful pesto recipe, and typically I put it over pasta, but I though re-creating the Bern’s salad would be the best way to showcase it.  Enjoy!

Caprese Salad with Pesto
My Aunt Linda Brown’s Recipe

For the pesto:
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
4-5 sprigs parsley
3 cloves of garlic, minced
A handful of fresh basil leaves

For the salad:
2 ripe tomatoes
1 package fresh mozzarella
Salt and pepper
Reduced balsamic vinegar or balsamic vinegar glaze

Combine all ingredients for the pesto in a food processor or blender, and pulse until blended.  Slice the tomatoes and mozzarella, and season with salt and pepper.  Alternate tomato and mozzarella slices on the plate, and spoon pesto over top.  Drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Shrimp and Tomato-Herb Cream Sauce Pasta

Anyone who know me understands how much I adore Giada de Laurentiis.  Love her food, love her style, love her fabulous life.  I’ve made quite a few of her recipes, and I have to say, they are among the best.  They need little modification and deliver perfection.

I first saw this recipe, which she calls Penne with Shrimp and Herbed Cream Sauce, while browsing on FoodNetwork.com.  It looked fresh, comforting, and delicious.  I made it soon after, and absolutely fell in love with the recipe.

The recipe is great.  But the real reason why I fell in love with it was because it tasted like something from one of my all-time favorite restaurants in Tampa, Bella’s.   A few months ago my mom and I went to dinner there one evening, and when we were standing outside, a couple came up to me and asked if the restaurant was any good.  They had pored over the menu, trying to decide if it was going to be dinner that night.  I told them I had grown up going to Bella’s and never had a bad meal at the restuarant.  I also added that it had been around for 25 years–a restaurant that isn’t good just doesn’t last, especially not on South Howard, aka Tampa’s Restaurant Row.

My mom and I went inside right after the conversation with the couple, and I’m not sure what they decided.  I had hoped that they came in, but honestly quickly became distracted my our own delicious dinner of pasta with a roasted tomato cream sauce.

Their roasted-tomato cream sauce is amazing, so when I made Giada’s pasta and it tasted remarkably similar, I knew I had found a winner.  It has big flavors in a beautiful sauce, and is great for any season.  Make it tonight–I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Shrimp and Tomato-Herb Cream Sauce
Barely adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

1 pound bowtie pasta
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Maldon salt, or 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian leaf parsley (flat-leaf)
1 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup clam juice (in a pinch, you can use liquid from a can of tuna)
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add salt.  Add the pasta and cook until tender yet still firm, about 8 minutes.  Drain the pasta and set aside.

Heat the oil over medium high heat in a large skillet.  Cook the shrimp, garlic, salt, and pepper together, stirring frequently, until the shrimp turn pink, about 3 minutes.  Once the shrimp are cooked through, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the tomatoes, 1/4 cup basil, and 1/4 cup parsley.  Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add the wine, claim juice, and heavy cream.  Bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes, allowing the sauce to thicken.  Add 1/4 cup parmesan, the shrimp, pasta, and remaining herbs.  Toss together to incorporate, until all ingredients are coated.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve in bowls, sprinkling with the remaining cheese.

Toasted Caprese Couscous

When I first started my blog (and cooking for that matter), I always worked off recipes.  Writing my own recipes just seemed too foreign, too difficult, and way too risky.  Using recipes was a safe bet, and I figured I could always adapt them to my tastes.  The more that I’ve cooked, though, the more I’ve learned about ingredients, their properties, and putting together dishes.

I’m happy to say that I have now gotten over the fear of cooking without a recipe, and instead am writing my own!  My last post was my first original recipe, and now I’m happy to bring you my most recent: Toasted Caprese Couscous!

I was inspired after watching Giada de Laurentiis make a fried couscous salad, and loved the idea of using toasted couscous as a base.  I’d been toying with the idea of a caprese pasta with tomatoes, cheese, and basil, and when I saw her make the salad, I went to work drafting my recipe.

I’ve had a fascination with Israeli (also called pearl) couscous since reading multiple recipes using the ingredient, and knew that it was exactly the kind of couscous I wanted to use.  I also knew I wanted to keep the dish simple and fresh, so I thought shallots, garlic, tomatoes, cheese, and basil would fit the bill.

A big thank you everyone who has been supporting my blog, and a special shout out to Amanda, Julia, and Kayla! Also, big thanks to my “sous chef” Meagan!

Toasted Caprese Couscous

1 cup Israeli couscous
1 shallot, diced into small cubes
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 cloves of garlic, whole
1 15-oz can of diced tomatoes, drained slightly (anything but Heinz)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon onion powder
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
Handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
Fresh mozzarella cheese, for garnish
Small basil leaves, for garnish

Place 1 and 1/4 cups water in a medium saucepan over high heat.  When water comes to a boil, add couscous, cover, and reduce heat.  Simmer for 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat in a large skillet.  Add shallots, and cook until just translucent.  Next add minced garlic, and saute for approximately 1 minute.  Add tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir in oregano and onion powder.  Add wine, and cook until alcohol cooks off.  Reduce heat to low and simmer.

Next, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the whole garlic cloves, and cook until golden, 1 to 2 minutes, then remove cloves and discard.  Add the couscous, and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes.  Continue to cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the tomato mixture, and stir to incorporate.  Remove from heat and place the mixture in a large bowl.  Add the grated cheese and basil, and toss to incorporate.

For garnish: slice the fresh mozzarella and then cut slices into quarters; add small basil leaves.  This would also be delicious with a drizzle of reduced balsamic vinaigrette.

xx Allison

Mayo-Free Deviled Eggs

They say necessity is the mother of all invention.  That, and realizing what’s actually in a dish.  Well, maybe they don’t say that, but learning that mayonnaise and mustard go into traditional deviled eggs inspired me to write my own recipe.  It all began when I had some extra time before grilling with friends and decided I wanted to whip up another dish.  After realizing the few items I had in my fridge included eggs, I went to the great storehouse of Food Network’s website for a deviled eggs recipe.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit I pretty much had no clue what’s in deviled eggs.  I was pretty shocked to learn that mayo and mustard are a large part of the recipe, especially since I usually like deviled eggs but will never put mayo or mustard on a sandwich.  This would not have been an earth-shattering problem, though, except for the fact that I didn’t have either in the fridge.

I started looking through the fridge to see what could make up for the lack of the recipe ingredients.  Luckily, sitting on the shelf was the perfect item–hummus!  I went to work boiling, peeling, and slicing the eggs.  Adding the hummus, I realized I was going to need a little more to get the flavor and texture where I wanted them to be.  A couple pantry staples–olive oil and onion powder–rounded out the recipe perfectly.

Mayo-Free Deviled Eggs (my first original recipe!)

12 eggs
1/2 cup basil-pesto flavored hummus (if not available, you can use other flavors)
1 scant teaspoon onion powder
1 and 1/2 teaspoons olive oil

Arrange eggs in a single layer in a large saucepan and cover with water so there’s an inch and a half of water above the eggs.  Heat on high until water begins to boil, then cover and reduce the heat to low.  Cook for one minute.  Remove the pan from heat and keep it covered for 14 minutes to finish cooking.  Remove the eggs using a slotted spoon and rinse under cold water for 1 minute.

Crack the shells and peel the eggs under cool running water.  Slice the eggs in half lengthwise.  Remove the yolks, placing all but two in a bowl, and set aside whites on a serving platter (discard the other two or save for another use).  Using a fork, break apart the yolks.  Mix in the hummus and then the onion powder.  Add the olive oil (if the mixture looks too dry, add more oil, 1/2 teaspoon at a time).  Spoon or pipe the mixture into the egg whites.

xx Allison


Drunken Pasta

Have you ever watched a TV chef cook a dish that just makes you think Must. Cook. Now.? Such was the case this weekend when I flipped on the Cooking Channel and began to watch David Rocco’s La Dolce Vita.  Among other mouth-watering dishes he was serving up on Sunday’s show was this amazing pasta that called for 2 cups of red wine to be reduced as the sauce (I may or may not be easily persuaded to cook something if wine plays a large part.  I’ll plead the Fifth.)

I had never seen so much wine used as the base for a pasta sauce, and the color was just incredible.  The noodles became enveloped in a gorgeous purple sauce that seemed to infuse itself into the noodle.  Yep–all of that did it for me.

It didn’t matter that I was making other food for a great cook-out with my friends Toni and Stephen; all we were talking about in the kitchen was this dish.  We looked up the recipe, thought of ways to play around with it, and basically couldn’t get it out of our heads.  So, even though I’ve got a whole list going of things to cook, the Drunken Pasta pre-empted my programming line-up.

Drunken Pasta                                                                                                                                     Almost completely true to David Rocco’s original recipe

I honestly didn’t change this dish all that much.  My only tweaks were upping the garlic, removing the chili peppers, and changing the noodle (just because I like a little more texture than your standard spaghetti brings).  I think this dish would a fabulous complement to a filet with some caramelized onions on top.

1 pound long pasta, such as pappardelle or long fusilli
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic
4 anchovy filets, chopped (don’t worry about the tiny bones)
2 cups red wine
Small bunch of Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino-romano cheese
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just before al dente, approximately 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil.  Add the garlic and saute for about a minute.  Next, add the chopped anchovy filets and cook for two more minutes.  Add the noodles to the skillet, and toss to coat.  Add the wine and cook until it is reduced and the pasta is done cooking.  Sprinkle in the parsley and cheese, and toss to incorporate.

Remove the skillet from the heat and transfer the pasta to bowls (unless you’re serving it as a bed for steak; a plate might be more appropriate then).  Top pasta with more freshly grated cheese.

Lemon-Garlic Shrimp and Grits

I love being able to whip up a meal out of things I already have in my pantry and fridge and not having to run to the grocery store to get everything for dinner.  It’s even better when that meal tastes great and comes together in about a half an hour.  Enter: shrimp and grits.

The first time I tired shrimp and grits was during college at Hot Olives, an amazing restaurant in Winter Park.  It was a special on the night I had it, and actually my mom ordered it and I tasted a bite.  When she ordered it I remember thinking it was an odd dish.  Grits?  Like the breakfast food?  For dinner?  I’m adventurous when it comes to food, and I could eat bacon, eggs, and waffles at just about any hour of the day, but grits for dinner just seemed wrong.

After trying that bite, I realized that I was the one who was wrong.  It was an amazing dish, full of great flavors and textures.  The shrimp were pink and plump, and the grits were the perfect complement, soaking up all of the flavors of the dish.

Visiting Charleston, South Carolina, the home of Low Country cooking and shrimp and grits, inspired me to try to make this dish myself.  The first recipe I tried was just about perfect, and I only tweaked it a little bit.  Besides being delicious and easy to make, this dish is great because it only requires a few ingredients, the majority of which can be kept on hand.  The next time you think you have nothing to cook, think again and head to the pantry.
Lemon-Garlic Shrimp and Grits                                                                                                       Adapted, just barely, from Food Network Magazines

Serves 2, with a little extra

3/4 cup instant grits                                                                                                                           Salt (I love Maldon flakes, but Fleur de Sel or Kosher salt work well too) and freshly ground black pepper                                                                                                                           A heaping 1/4 cup parmesan cheese                                                                                               3 tablespoons unsalted butter                                                                                                         3/4 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined, with tails removed                                          2 large garlic cloves, minced                                                                                                             2 tablespoons wine                                                                                                                      Juice of half a lemon, plus wedges for finishing                                                                              2 tablespoons torn fresh parsley

Begin by boiling 3 cups of water in a medium saucepan, covered.  Once water breaks into a rolling boil, uncover and whisk in the grits, 1 and 1/2 teaspoon salt flakes (1 teaspoon if using Kosher salt) and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Reduce the heat to medium and cook, whisking occasionally, until thickened, about 8 minutes (the original recipe called for cooking for 5 minutes, but I like them to thicken up a little more).  Stir in the parmesan and 1 tablespoon butter.  Remove from the heat, season with salt and pepper, and cover to keep warm.

While the water is boiling and the grits are cooking, season the shrimp with salt and pepper.  Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the shrimp and garlic, and cook, tossing for about 3 minutes.  Add the wine and continue to cook until the alcohol evaporates.  Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice and parsley.  Stir to coat the shrimp with the sauce and season with salt and pepper.  Divide the grits among bowls and top with the shrimp and sauce.  Serve with lemon wedges.

Only 367 calories per serving!

Chicken and Mushroom Marsala → Penne Marsala

You know when there’s that one item on the menu at a favorite restaurant that you just order again and again?  That’s how it is for me–times three–at Ciccio’s in Tampa.  I will literally order anything with their Marsala sauce, whether it’s the wrap, the pizza, or the pasta.

Such was the case when I joined some friends for dinner a couple weeks ago.  Unfortunately, I had previously made an appointment to have the carpets in my apartment cleaned, and the technician arrived at the last possible minute within his scheduled time frame.  As soon as I could, I made a break for it and headed to Ciccio’s, knowing immediately that there was no possible way I would make it to the restaurant on time.  Naturally, since we were eating at Ciccio’s, I already knew exactly what I wanted, and texted my friend Carly to ask her to place my order for me.  A few minutes after I arrived, a gorgeous plate of Penne Marsala was placed in front of me.

My only complaint with Ciccio’s Penne Marsala is that it seems like it gets spicier and spicier each time I have it.  When I got home, I started thinking about how I could make it on my own.  However, this is no ordinary Marsala sauce.  It’s rich, creamy, and chock full of mushrooms, but all blended with rich flavors and suspended in olive oil.  I headed to one of my favorite blogs (and inspiration for my own blogging) to begin the process of re-creating the Penne Marsala.

Using Deb’s recipe on the fabulous Smitten Kitchen, I first made chicken marsala.  The recipe yielded a classic, flavorful dish which I had for dinner that night, and then packed up the leftovers to make the penne another night.

In preparing to convert the Chicken Marsala to Penne Marsala, I decided I would need to amp up the flavors to mimic Ciccio’s version.  To do so, I added a few finely minced, sautéed garlic cloves to the mix.  I’ll definitely be making this whenever I get a craving for Ciccio’s Penne Marsala.

Chicken and Mushroom Marsala                                                                                           Smitten Kitchen

Penne Marsala                                                                                                                                Inspired by Ciccio’s

3 whole boneless skinless chicken breasts, halved
1 1/2 tablespoons + 1/2 cup (approximately) olive oil
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, sliced thin
1 pound mushrooms, sliced thin (I used button mushrooms, but I plan on using wild mushrooms the next time I make this recipe)
1/2 cup Marsala
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves                                                                                     6 large cloves of garlic                                                                                                                        1 pound penne pasta, cooked                                                                                                              Parmesan cheese, to taste

Using paper towels, dry chicken and season with salt and pepper. In a large skillet heat 1 and 1/2 tablespoons oil and 1 1/2 tablespoons butter over moderately high heat and brown chicken in 2 batches.  As chicken browns, transfer to a plate.

In the same skillet, begin by sautéing garlic for approximately one minute.  Add sliced onions and cook until just softened.  Next, add mushrooms and cook until liquid mushrooms give off is evaporated. Add Marsala and cook mixture, stirring, until Marsala is almost evaporated. Add broth and chicken with any juices that have accumulated on plate and simmer, turning chicken once, until cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove chicken and set aside.

Simmer mushroom sauce until liquid is reduced to about 1/2 cup. Remove skillet from heat and stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter, stirring until butter is just incorporated.  Add parsley and salt and pepper to taste.

Transfer mushroom sauce to a blender, and pulse until barely blended (mushrooms should not be smooth).  Pour blended mushroom mixture into a bowl, and whisk in remaining olive oil, 1/8 cup at a time, until sauce becomes liquified (I ended up using 1/2 cup, but this can be adjusted to your tastes).  Pour sauce over pasta, and toss to coat.  Thinly slice chicken and add to pasta.  Top with parmesan cheese.