I have been blessed to have lived in several countries throughout my youth and in those key formative years, I was able to experience plenty of travel, particularly throughout Europe, leaving beautiful memories. These memories have constantly inspired me to go back, culinarily-speaking, to two countries that have shaped my palate to what it is today…France and Italy. Dare I say, my top two favorite cuisines!

What’s on the Menu

Serves 4

Appetizer

Bruschetta with Sicilian Castelvetrano olive salad and extra virgin olive oil

Main entrée

Seared chicken with mustard-cognac cream sauce & Sicilian busiate pasta with goat cheese, spinach, and hazelnuts

Dessert

Lemon olive oil ricotta cake with lavender

Wine

2018 Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé – Chardonnay (France)

Authentic Italian Ingredients

Produced by the Asaro Brothers Company in Partanna, Sicily, the extra virgin olive oil I used is a first cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil, but it is also an early harvest (October), single-olive varietal (Nocellara del Belice), unfiltered oil. When the tin is first opened, the oil is cloudy with a green hue, herbaceous aroma, and pizzicante flavor. Pizzicante is an Italian phrase that describes the strong flavor that grips the back of your throat and is characteristic of most Tuscan olive oils.

Wikipedia identifies busiate (or busiati) as a type of long macaroni pasta, originally from the Trapani province, and typical of Calabria and Sicily. They take their name from busa, the Sicilian word for the stem of a local grass, which is used in preparing them and gives them their helical shape.

Busiate pasta
Busiate. Photo: Andrea Critti, Flickr CC

Mustard Cognac Chicken with Goat Cheese Pasta and Bruschetta

Mustard Cognac Chicken and Busiate Pasta
Photo: Carlos Sarmiento

Ingredients

Bruschetta

  • Crusty French baguette bread, sliced thinly and lightly toasted
  • Sicilian Castelvetrano olive salad with extra virgin olive oil

Mustard-Cognac Chicken

  • 4 boneless chicken breasts
  • 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • Sea salt & cracked pepper to taste
  • 4 teaspoons of mustard seed
  • 4 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup of cognac
  • 1/3 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream

Goat Cheese Pasta

  • 1 1/2 cup of Sicilian Busiate (long macaroni) pasta
  • 1/4 cup of Sicilian Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 small package (4 or 5 oz package) of goat cheese, softened at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup of finely chopped baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup of finely chopped Italian parsley
  • 2 tablespoons of freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1/3 cup of coarsely chopped roasted hazelnuts *I recommend roasting whole hazelnuts on a frying pan on low heat for approximately 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then letting them cool off before chopping them in a blender.

Instructions

For the Bruschetta

  1. Since the imported olive salad came in a small jar the only preparation needed is to lightly toast thinly sliced crust French baguette bread.

For the Mustard-Cognac Chicken

  1. Place the chicken between 2 sheets of waxed paper. Using a meat pounder or the flat bottom of a heavy pan, lightly pound the chicken until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Season generously with salt and pepper.
  2.  In a large pan or cast iron skillet, over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add 4 chicken breasts and cook, turning once, until golden/seared on both sides, 8 to 10 minutes total. Transfer the chicken to a plate and let cool. If the pan is too small, cook in two batches and set chicken aside.
  3. Return the pan to medium-high heat and stir the mustard seeds into the pan drippings. Cook, stirring, for about 15 seconds. Add the cognac and broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring, until slightly reduced, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the cream and mustard and cook for 1 minute to blend the flavors.
  4. Return the chicken breasts and any accumulated juices to the pan, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.

For the Goat Cheese Pasta

  1. Cook pasta for approximately 12-14 minutes. If Busiate pasta is not available other shapes pastas such as: orecchiette, farfalle or even penne will work fine.
  2. In a large bowl, mix goat cheese, lemon zest, parsley, spinach, hazelnuts and olive oil until a smooth, paste-like consistency is formed.
  3. Once pasta is cooked, drain but save cooked pasta water. Gently toss the pasta with the goat cheese mix, stir and slowly add water to loosen the sauce and continue to mix (add more water if necessary until you find your preferred consistency). The pasta and sauce should not be runny.
Bruschetta
Photo: Carlos Sarmiento

Lemon Olive Oil Ricotta Cake with Lavender

Lemon ricotta cake
Photo: Carlos Sarmiento

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups of ricotta
  • 2/3 cup of olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups of sugar
  • zest of 2 lemons
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup of almond meal/flour
  • 1 tbl baking powder
  • 1/3 tsp soda
  • ¾ salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon or two droplets of lavender oil
  • 1/3 cup of powder sugar (enough to cover the top of the cake)
  • 1 small lemon cut in thin half or quarter round slices
  • 1 small bunch of fresh small mint leaves

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl whisk the ricotta, olive oil, sugar, and zest until completely combined.
  3. Next, add in one egg at a time until they are completely mixed in.
  4. In a separate large bowl whisk together the flour, almond meal baking powder, baking soda, and salt until combined. Whisk well to ensure and clumps are removed.
  5. Transfer the dry ingredients into your wet ingredients and whisk together just until everything is combined. Add lavender oil. Mix well.
  6. Pour the batter into a 9″ spring form pan and bake for 60-70 minutes or until browned on top and firm in the center.
  7. Place the cake onto a cooling rack and let it cool to room temperature (could take up to two hours) before decorating and serving.
  8. Once cake has cooled off, dust generously with powder sugar.
  9. On one side of the top of the cake, arrange lemon halves or quarters, layering them up and inserting fresh mint leaves in between.

Serve it up!

Bruschetta: In a shallow bowl or dish, add a generous amount of olive salad and include a small spoon for serving. Place olive salad plate in the center of a large serving tray, cutting board or plate with the toasted bread all around it. Serve.

Cognac-mustard chicken and goat cheese pasta: On each individual dish, scoop a generous amount of pasta one side of the dish. Place one chicken breast next to the pasta and spoon extra mustard cream sauce on top of the chicken. Serve.

Cake: Slice cake for individual servings. Cake decorations are only for garnishing.

Pouilly-Fuisse and Chicken
Photo: Carlos Sarmiento

Wine Pairing

Pouilly-Fuissé

Produced in the Mâconnais region of Burgundy, this famous wine is partially barrel-fermented with six months of ageing in French oak casks. The judicious, subtle use of oak allows Louis Jadot Pouilly-Fuissé to retain its complexity and structure. 100% Chardonnay

This wine has aromas of fresh red apples, honey and white flowers with elegant and rich flavors of toasted nuts and citrus. One of the purest expressions of this typical Burgundian grape.

This wine is available online and at fine grocery and liquor stores ($15-34).

A tavola tutti! Buon apettito. Mangia!

A table tout le monde! Bon appetit. Manger!

To the table everyone! Enjoy! Eat!

Salute! A votre santé! (Cheers)

Author

Carlos Sarmiento is an award-winning filmmaker & public relations professional as well as a food & wine aficionado. He first discovered his passion for cooking when he was in his early teens, to the point where he was aspiring to go to culinary arts school and become a chef. Life, however had other plans for him. Carlos ended up studying film-making and pursuing a career in film/TV. After a few years, he made a career change and has since established himself as a seasoned public relations & communications professional. The one constant factor throughout his life’s travels and professional experiences has always been and continues to be his love and appreciation for cultures, cooking, and wine.

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