You’ve heard me say it before and I’m sure you will it again, many times, from me, but great food does not always have to be complicated. Oftentimes all that great food requires is starting with a great product and using good technique. A perfect example of this is a very simple and straightforward roast chicken. With just a few, simple ingredients and good technique one can turn the ordinary into something sublime. Just ask most chefs and they will tell you that a perfectly roasted chicken is a thing of beauty and one of their favorite dishes.
This recipe kind of falls into the same category although it does have a few more ingredients than roast chicken, but not many more. Many people are not familiar with fennel, the vegetable. Sure, most everyone has fennel seed sitting in their spice draws (usually collecting dust) but not everyone is familiar with the vegetable, which is too bad as fennel is one of the most flavorful vegetables out there. The flavor is a very subtle anise flavor that pairs well with everything from chicken to fish to pork to pasta. I often shave the raw fennel bulb and add it to a salad for a nice crunch and vibrant flavor, but, by far, my favorite way to prepare fennel is to slowly caramelize it. Like onions and other root vegetables, caramelizing fennel brings out its inherent sweetness, while creating a rich, deep flavor that I find irresistible.
Simply add some leeks and a little garlic, along with some cream and you have a wonderful, cool weather sauce for pasta. Pair with a sauteed chicken breast and you have a meal that is warm and comforting enough for simple meal and yet, sophisticated enough to impress your favorite foodie.
Sauteed Chicken Breast with Fettuccine and Fennel
1 bulb fennel, tops removed and some of the fronds reserved
1 medium leek, julienned, white and light green parts only
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. butter
2 cups cream
4 each chicken breasts, boneless, skinless
2 tsp. fresh thyme, finely chopped
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 pound fettuccine
1/4 cup chopped parsley
To cut the fennel, slice in half from top to bottom, cutting through the core. Remove the core and julienne like you would an onion. In a large saute pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the fennel. Slowly cook for 15-20, stirring regularly, until the fennel is a uniformed medium brown.
Meanwhile place the leeks in a strainer and rinse to remove any grit and dirt. Once the fennel is done, add the leeks and garlic to the pan, along with some salt and pepper. Cook for 3 minutes making sure that the garlic does not burn. Add the cream and reduce by half. Taste for seasoning.
Meanwhile, while the fennel is cooking, season the chicken breasts with salt, pepper and the fresh time. Also bring 1 gallon of salted water to a boil. Once the fennel is half way done, and the water is boiling add the fettuccine and cook per the package directions. In another large saute pan, heat the 2 Tbs. olive oil, over high heat. Add the chicken breasts and cook until done (length of time will be determined by how big and how thick the breast are).
When the fettuccine is done, drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water, and toss pasta with the sauce. If sauce is too thick add some of the reserved pasta water, a little at a time, until you achieve the consistency you desire. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Divide the pasta among 4 plates and mound just above the center point of the plate. Slice the chicken breast, on a bias, into 7-9 slices and fan out, leaning against the pasta. Sprinkle with the parsley and a little of the fennel frond you reserved and chopped up.