Pasta, Chicken, Nuts And Apples

Chef on a shoestring, pasta
AP / CBS
Chef Scott Conant cooks up a delicious Italian meal for this week's Chef on a Shoestring challenge. His menu: Penne with Chickpeas, Rosemary, and Black Pepper; Whole Roasted Chicken with Oranges and Red Pepper Flakes Served with a Mixed Green Salad; and Warm Apples with Raisins and Pignoli.

We're cooking with chickpeas for our first course. Slightly larger than the average pea, these round, irregular-shaped, buff-colored legumes have a firm texture and mild, nutlike flavor.

Chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans and ceci) are used extensively in the Mediterranean, India and the Middle East for dishes such as couscous and hummus. They've also found their way into Spanish stews, Italian minestrone and various Mexican dishes, and are fast becoming popular in many parts of the Western and Southwestern United States.

Chickpeas are available canned, dried and in some areas, fresh. They're most commonly used in salads, soups and stews. (Copyright (c) 1995 by Barron's Educational Series, from The New Food Lover's Companion, Second Edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst)

We're using fresh rosemary in these recipes. Rosemary is a member of the mint family. Early on, it was thought to cure illnesses related to the nervous system. Rosemary's silver-green, needle-shaped leaves are highly aromatic and their flavor hints of both lemon and pine. You can find rosemary in whole-leaf form fresh and dried and sometimes powdered. Chef Conant says that you should use fresh ones if you can for these recipes, because the fresh ones really lend more flavor to the food.

Conant is using Granny Smith apples because they will hold up best to cooking. They will retain their firmness and also will add a nice tart flavor to contrast with the sweetness of the raisins.

Pignoli means "pine nut" in Italian. Pine nuts are also called Indian nut, pinon, pignoli and pignolia. This high-fat nut comes from several varieties of pine trees.

The nuts are actually inside the pine cone, which generally must be heated to facilitate their removal. This labor-intensive process is what makes these nuts so expensive. Pine nuts grow in China, Italy, Mexico, North Africa and the southwestern United States.

There are two main varieties. Both have a thin shell with an ivory-colored nutmeat that averages about 1/2 inch in length. The Mediterranean or Italian pine nut is from the stone pine. It's torpedo-shaped, has a light, delicate flavor and is the more expensive of the two. The stronger-flavored Chinese pine nut is shaped like a squat triangle. Its pungent pine flavor can easily overpower some foods.

Pine nuts can be found in bulk in nut shops and health-food stores, and packaged in many supermarkets. The Chinese variety will more likely be available in Asian markets. Because of their high fat content, pine nuts turn rancid quickly. They should be stored airtight in the refrigerator for up to 3 months, frozen for up to 9 months. Pine nuts can be used in a variety of sweet and savory dishes and are well known for their flavorful addition to the classic Italian pesto. Copyright (c) 1995 by Barron's Educational Series, from The New Food Lover's Companion, Second Edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst

If you can't find pine nuts, Conant says that you can use walnuts instead.

Conant was first introduced to the pleasures of good food as a boy growing up in Waterbury, Conn. His father's parents owned a potato farm in Maine, where Conant learned to appreciate simple, rustic New England cuisine. His mother's father spent afternoons with Conant cultivating his garden, and evenings sharing the authentic Neapolitan cooking of his heritage.

Beginning with cooking classes at a local community center at age 11, Conant enrolled in a trade school for culinary arts at 15, and was encouraged to further his education at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). On his requisite externship from the CIA, Conant went to work at New York City's famed San Domenico, where chef Paul Bartolotta's creative and classically rooted cuisine had a decisive impact on the young chef.

Upon earning his degree from the CIA, Conant was hired at the Hotel Bayerisher Hof in Munich, Germany. Though Italian cuisine was his first love, Conant took the opportunity to learn the patissier station, mastering the intricacies of German pastry. After a year abroad, he returned to San Domenico, where he went to work under new chef Theo Schoenegger. Conant spent two years there as sous chef, coming into his own as a leader in the kitchen, and served as part of a team that earned the restaurant three stars from the New York Times.

In 1995, chef Cesare Casella tapped him to be chef de cuisine at Pino Luongo's Il Toscanaccio. Casella, widely considered a master of rustic Tuscan fare, helped to further develop and simplify Conant's cooking. At the same time, Conant paid close attention to the owner, learning the details of running a restaurant from the famed restaurateur.

In 1996, Conant took on the task of revamping and redirecting Soho restaurant institution Barolo. He was then asked to help recreate Chianti on the Upper East Side. Conant immediately focused on upgrading the entire operation, from the quality of the ingredients the restaurant purchased to the service in the front of the house. The "new" restaurant earned glowing praise from New York Magazine and the New York Times, and Gourmet Magazine went one step further with a feature on Conant by writer David Rosengarten.

Next, Conant became the opening executive chef for City Eatery, where he further refined his trademark Italian-inspired style and earned an overwhelmingly positive two-star review from the New York Times. Conant then worked as a chef-consultant on a range of projects, including the Gotham Restaurant Group, Bar Veloce and Luna Park.

He opened L'Impero in 2002 to great reviews. He earned a glowing 3-star review in the New York Times. He has certainly become of THE chefs to know right now. His food and boyishly good looks certainly have gotten lots of press. He is currently writing the first of two cookbooks for Random House.

RECIPES:

Penne with Chickpeas, Rosemary, and Black pepper
1 lb. Penne pasta (or similar shaped pasta)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 15 ounce can of chickpeas
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 1/4 cup chicken broth
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
approx. 1/4 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano
salt and black pepper to taste

Method: Heat a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil in a sauté pan on medium heat. Add the chopped fresh rosemary and heat until fragrant. This should take about a minute or two. Then add the chickpeas with their liquid, the chicken broth, and a pinch of the crushed red pepper flakes. Cook until the chickpeas are heated through which will take about three minutes. Season with salt to taste.

Meanwhile, cook the penne pasta in boiling salted water until about three-quarters of the way cooked. This should take about nine minutes. Reserve about a cup of the pasta's cooking liquid before draining the pasta. Toss the drained pasta with the chickpeas. Turn the heat up to medium-high and continue to toss the pasta until the pasta is al dente. This should take another two minutes or so. Add some of the pasta's cooking liquid if you think the mixture has become thick. Divide the pasta among bowls and top with grated parmigiano-reggiano and ample freshly ground black pepper.

Whole Roasted Chicken with Oranges

1 4 lb. Roaster Chicken
1 medium yellow onion, quartered
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 medium oranges
3 Rosemary sprigs
1/4 cup olive oil

Chef's Note: There is no need to truss the chicken. You may do so if you wish, but there is no need to for this recipe.

Method: Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash the chicken and pat dry. Season well inside and out with the salt and pepper. Stuff the cavity of the bird with the oranges (you will not peel them), the quartered onion, rosemary sprigs, and a sprinkle of the red pepper flakes. Rub the exterior of chicken with the olive oil.

Place the chicken in a roasting pan or a saute pan and roast in the oven for 45-50 minutes, basting with the juices of the oranges and the chicken. Be cautious that the chicken does not become overly dark from the sugars in the orange. You will not cover this chicken. The basic idea for this is to create a chicken that is moist, sweet and spicy with an herbal undertone that has a beautiful balance. Remove from the oven and let the chicken rest for about five minutes before serving.

Serve with mixed greens

Mixed Greens
3 handfuls of fresh mixed greens. washed and patted dry
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
salt and pepper to taste

Method: Place the mixed greens in a bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and the balsamic vinegar just enough to coat the greens. Toss well. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange greens to one side of plate. Serve with the chicken.

Sauteed Apples and Raisins
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and medium dice
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon raisins
1 Tablespoon Pignoli or walnuts (optional if you're allergic)
1 pint vanilla ice cream

Method: Place large saute pan on medium heat. Add the butter and saute the apples over medium heat with the sugar and raisins. Add the pignoli or chopped walnuts if you please. Divide among four plates. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.