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Blackened Chicken & Zucchini Carpaccio with a Butternut Squash Vodka Sauce

About a month ago, a foodie friend told me that he found an old recipe for a butternut squash pasta sauce, from back before tomatoes were available in January. Here at the Garlic Press we’re big fans of savory preparations of butternut squash, so a vodka sauce quickly came to mind when we were brainstorming what our “spin” on the sauce might be. The sauce turned out really well and required just a few ingredients.

This dish was born out of an interest in highlighting the sauce and making use of the test kitchen’s new Shun mandoline (which I endorse highly). Zucchini as “pasta” has been an idea that we’ve bounced around the test kitchen since well before the Garlic Press was formalized. Until the mandoline came into our lives, though, we had only experimented with zucchini as a substitute for lasagna, which is nice if you want a lighter dish. Recently, however, we’ve had the opportunity to slice the zucchini so thinly that it barely held together when handled. The result of a marginally thicker cut than this was a zucchini carpaccio similar to a pappardelle noodle or lasagnette. Pappardelle comes from the Italian verb “pappare” which means “to gobble up,” and it is typically paired with very rich sauces. The zucchini carpaccio’s texture and shape lined up nicely with this pasta and as a result worked beautifully with our rich butternut squash vodka sauce.

The zucchini carpaccio is not technically a carpaccio, as that is traditionally a term reserved for thinly sliced raw meat or fish. Carpaccio has only been around since about 1950, so it isn’t exactly stepping on anyone’s national or ethnic culinary tradition to use the term to refer to paper thin, raw slices of vegetables with sauce as a carpaccio. In fact it is an increasingly common appropriation on menus across the US and Europe. That being said, we wouldn’t advise going crazy with the term. Vegetables that are well-suited to this technique include zucchini, beets, and jicama, among others.

Ingredients

1 large zucchini

3 chicken breasts (butterflied)

Blackening Seasonings

  • 3 parts fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 part sea salt
  • 1 part paprika
  • 1 part garlic powder

1 medium butternut squash

3 cloves of garlic

1/4 cup vodka ( Svedka will do nicely)

1/4 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, freshly grated

chicken broth (amount variable based on size of squash)

1-2 tsp. sea salt

1-2 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

2 tbsp olive oil (alternatively, bacon grease, which is what we used)

Enough focaccia to make 6-10 toast points (you’ll ruin at least 3)

Method

Set the mandoline almost to its thinnest setting. Cut the ends off the zucchini and slice it on the mandoline (alternatively, use a wide peeler and a firm hand to slice the zucchini). Set the zucchini aside. Cover the chicken breasts in an even coating of the blackening mixture and place it on a covered plate in the refrigerator. Peel and coarsely chop the butternut squash. Boil the squash for 3-4 minutes, drain, and add to a blender or food processor. Add the 1/2 of the oil/grease and pulse. Begin adding stock and pulsing the squash until you reach the consistency of tomato sauce. Chop garlic and add it to a medium pot along with the other 1/2 of the oil/grease. Sweat the garlic on low heat for 3-5 minutes. Add the squash mixture to the pot. Grate  the cheese and add it to the pot, stirring until melted. Turn off the burner. Add the vodka, stir it in and turn the heat back on to medium-high. Add salt and pepper to the sauce and bring it to a boil. Stir, reduce to simmer, and cook covered for 30-45 minutes. Heat your grill or griddle pan to a high heat, about 350 to 375 degrees. While the sauce cooks, cut the focaccia into long 1/4-  1/2 -inch thick strips and brush lightly with oil. Cook the chicken for 3-4 minutes on each side or until the juice runs clear. Grill the bread lightly. Assemble 3 plates as shown in the photo above. Enjoy!

My thoughts on the dish

For me, this dish was a huge winner. The deep rich flavor of the sauce was perfectly complemented by the warm and peppery blackened chicken. The freshness of the zucchini carpaccio was an excellent contrast to the butternut squash and chicken. The overall dish had the comfortable, homey appeal of Italian and New Orleans cuisine but with a couple of surprising and contemporary (not to mention healthier) twists. Overall the Blackened Chicken & Zucchini Carpaccio with a Butternut Squash Vodka Sauce was a big hit both times that we tested it, and I hope to make it again sometime soon, perhaps with a Hennepin Farmhouse Saison.

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photo credit to luke.nicholas at Picasa

photo credit to luke.nicholas at Picasa

While working on a citrus-based marinade in the test kitchen last week, we accidentally made something so unbelievably thick and spicy that it couldn’t be called a marinade, but instead had to be named a hot sauce. The accidental dish was based primarily on thick pulpy orange juice, orange blossom honey, and my favorite pepper, the habanero. The habanero tips the scales between 100,000 and 350,000 Scoville units, so for those of you who can’t stomach Tabasco sauce (topping out at 5,000 SCU, max) it might be time to pack up and go home. This fiery chili, for those with the properly-suited palate, has a wonderfully fruity citrus flavor that absolutely sings in the presence of sweeter fruit-based flavors such as oranges or  honey.

Once we decided to develop a hot sauce, there were several things we needed to consider. Color, flavor, heat, and geschtalt are all crucial to concocting the perfect sauce. We proposed early on to avoid the use of vinegar in all of our sauces, as it is a poor excuse for an ingredient in hot sauces that is used more often to dilute than to flavor. Heat was an easy feat to accomplish – we just played with the number of habaneros and the use or exclusion of the seeds and veins (the spiciest part of a pepper). The orange juice , honey, and our ubiquitous garlic did the heavy lifting in the flavor department. Color was a bit of a trick, because at the Garlic Press, we don’t use food additives like coloring or dyes. The milky yellow that resulted from the blending of garlic and orange juice just didn’t cut it aesthetically-speaking, so we had to root around for something colorful, tasty, and subtly flavored. Ultimately, a container of paprika and a bag of organic baby carrots came to the rescue. The result was a pleasantly orange sauce that danced spicy-hot circles of fire around our mouths.

Ingredients:

2 habanero peppers, whole

1/2 cup orange juice

1/4 cup Orange Blossom honey

3 cloves of garlic

1/4 cup carrot, chopped

2 tsp. paprika

1 tsp. sea salt

Process

Combine all of the  ingredients in the blender and pulse until you have a thick but pourable consistancy. Use with caution.