A good simple recipe that is ideal for the penny-pinching college student; keeps well in the fridge for weeks to come and makes an excellent meal, be it straight from the cold or topped with fresh feta and microwaved to warm, cheesy goodness. It doesn't look particularly appetising, I know, but I've been surviving on this for months and my friends quite enjoy it as much as I do. Give it a shot and let me know how it turns out for you: I love feedback!
Step 1: Ingredients
1kg worth of fusilli pasta
2 to 3 onions
2 slices of chicken breasts
Half a lemon
Ground black pepper
Red wine vinegar
Feta cheese (optional)
Step 2: Cooking the Chicken
Set the pot to boil water enough to hold 1kg of pasta. That's a LOT of pasta, so fill her up!
In the mean time, cut up the chicken breasts into managable bits. We'll be shredding them later on when they're cooked, but we're cutting them up here so as to let them cook faster and more evenly. What I usually do is tear the meat as opposed to actually using a knife on it: not only does it reaffirm my manhood, but also ensures that you don't end up with a piece of rubbery chicken because you accidentally cut across a muscle instead of along it.
Once done, rub vigorously with black pepper and a fair amount of salt, maybe a tablespoon and then some for the whole lot, and a dash of red wine vinegar if you like. The trick here is to get the salt and pepper rubbed in good and proper. Don't be afraid to use your hands and really massage the chicken; you've got the time, the water takes forever to come to a boil. Just make sure you don't have any small cuts on your hands when you're working the chicken, the salt and vinegar can really sting.
Once the water actually comes to a boil, throw the chicken in but don't cover the lid. Just wait about five to seven minutes and lift the biggest piece of chicken you have out of the pot. If you can stick it all the way through without any tangy resistance, and the fluid that leaks out from the meat is clear, the whole batch is cooked. Lift the chicken from the water and drain it dry, but keep the pot boiling still; we'll be using that next.
Put the cooked chicken aside and let it cool.
Step 3: The Pasta
Let the water come to a boil again: this is important, as throwing pasta into water that isn't boiling is a sure recipe for unevenly cooked fusilli with a weird texture. You won't need to add any more oil to the water, as the chicken we cooked earlier has already left a film of oil in the water that will coat the pasta. If you like, you can add more salt, but that's a matter of personal preference: I don't usually add anything else to the water.
Upend the whole packet of pasta into the water and make sure it's fully covered. Now just wait for it to bubble again before stirring gently, to spread the heat around a little. You won't want to keep stirring it because it's a waste of energy; wait for it to bubble again before you stir. Depending on the type of pasta you use, it may take anything from five to fifteen minutes for the pasta to be done. Try to cook the pasta a little bit beyond al dente ("to the teeth", describing how the core of the pasta is still slightly uncooked and provides a little resistance) for a few reasons: one, it's a big pot of pasta, some parts may not be as evenly cooked as we like to think it is. Two, we won't be finishing the whole lot at one sitting, so perfectly al dente pasta may end up tasting too tough a few days in the fridge.
For fusilli pasta, you'll know it's getting cooked when the pasta begins to expand and "fluff" up slightly. Scoop a piece out and take a bite; if it's still hard and has a biscuity-floury taste to it, it's not done yet. Some people advocate throwing the pasta against the wall to see if it sticks, but that makes cleanup a chore; stick to biting the pasta. ;) Just make sure you don't overcook the pasta, to the point that it tastes wet and limp. The moment bits of pasta start breaking off, it's been sitting too long in the water!
Drain the fusilli dry with a strainer. You'll want to be through in this step, as having too much water in the pot will make the resulting dish taste damp and bland. Despite what some people might tell you, do not rinse the pasta; in my opinion, you'll be washing away some of the best flavours the fusilli has to offer.
Now throw the drained pasta back into the pot.
Step 4: Prelimary Dressing
Now that you've gotten the pasta back into the pot, you'll want to quickly sprinkle feta cheese and drizzle olive oil into the pasta while it's still piping hot. Cold oil with cold pasta will not produce that wonderful aroma that I have come to love whenever I cook pasta. When the pasta is still hot, it also "bites" into the oil better.
Now, add the garlic, "Italian herbs" and chilli flakes to the pasta. You'll want to be generous with the herbs, but add the chilli to taste. Some people (like yours truly) like it hot, so I'm especially free with the chilli. Then again, I grew up in Singapore, so I'm used to eating spicy stuff. Regardless...
Mix well. At this stage, the pasta is really good to eat as it is, but it still lacks a certain je ne sais quoi to it. We'll rectify that soon. But let's get to our onions first.
Step 5: Onions
Peel and dice the onions you have into fairly large slices.
Once done, pour some olive oil into a frying pan (enough to completely grease the pan, but not so much that you'll deep fry the onions!) and heat the oil up. You'll want to make sure that the oil is completely heated before you proceed; one way to do that is to throw just one small slice of the diced onions into the pan. If it spits and sputters like you just insulted its mother, the oil's ready.
Empty the diced onions into the frying pan. Be careful here, it will spit and sizzle! If you're afraid of getting burnt, lower the flame a little (but not too much) before emptying the onions. Also try to ensure that your onions are as dry as it is humanly possible before throwing it in: the sizzling comes mostly from water touching the hot oil.
You'll want to move the onions around constantly, either with a spoon or any other utensil, to prevent them from getting burnt. Once you can smell the delicious flavour in the air, you may then lower the flame to a medium fire, all this while still stirring. Add to the pan the following: more olive oil (just a drizzle, really), a healthy dash of red wine vinegar, some pepper and half a lemon's worth of juice. The smell should now get more complex and (obviously) sour, which is what we want here.
Cook on a medium flame till brown and soft. Then, upend the whole thing into your pasta pot.
Step 6: Finishing Touches
Shred the chicken breasts into thin strips and toss into the pot, in addition to the smoked salmon (drained of oil if you're using canned salmon) that we had earlier. On top of that, top with some more feta and the coup de grace- the dijonnaise mustard. Upturn the whole bottle into the pot on top of the chicken strips. Now, mix well.
Mixing the pasta evenly is hard work and tiring, so it's usually more fun if you have someone to chat with while you're doing the mixing. Taste your handiwork: ohhhh yes! If you've followed all the steps correctly so far, you should have on your hands your very own Mustard Pasta for the College Student. Let me know if you liked it and if you have any other variants on this recipe.