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October 13, 2003

Small Time Cooks: Cappellini Pomodoro

It was a perfect day; the kind of weather baseball was made for. I had finished a rough week that had left my body aching. Running around was tough on my feet, but a surly gorilla I met in the wrong alley was even tougher on my ribs. Luckily I was cooking with Maria that night. She was my one case that didn't get on my case.

Nothing soothed my nerves like my old friend Jack. Unfortunately, the last of my good friend Mr. Daniels and I had parted ways the night before, so I'd have to make do with a nice Italian dish. Cappellini Pomodoro is quick, fast, and always tastes great. I told Maria I'd make her some zucchini, but she told me she hated the stuff. I said this was different; people had a little bit and came back for more.

We had to pick out some Roma tomatoes, the main ingredient. A good, firm Roma fits in your hand like a .38 magnum. Next stop was the canned vegetable aisle for a jar of minced garlic. Dames wouldn't come near me after I minced my own garlic; the lingering smell of fresh garlic on my hands was worse than the garlic on my breath.

At the store, Maria told me she was cooking for people who liked meat, and she wanted to make some chicken for them. I always thought cooking raw meat was like getting punched: if it goes bad, you end up taking one in the gut. But I'm not one to say no to a pretty dame, so we bought a pound of thin boneless, skinless chicken breast.

To cook chicken:

Rinse it very well with water and pat it dry with clean paper towels. Use thin breasts so that cooking will be even and quick. Sautéing chicken takes some faith. The pan may look bad, but the chicken tastes great. Set a pan on medium high heat with a very thin layer of olive oil and get the pan hot. Let the raw chicken rest for about five minutes so that it isn't too cold. Sautéing chicken relies on initially searing the food, so if the pan isn't hot enough or if the food is too cold, the cooking surface won't do its job. Lay the chicken down in the hot pan and let all the action begin.

Chicken bonds to the surface of a metal pan. On a nonstick surface, the chicken will not bond but gently slide. Once the chicken is cooked, the caramelized bottom of the chicken releases from the pan, and you can flip it. The same thing happens on the other side: the chicken initially sticks to the pan and releases from the pan when it is ready to be flipped. Cut lightly into the center of the breast to make sure it is done, and remove it from the pan. If a chicken breast has no pink inside, it is done. In a nonstick pan, the chicken can be flipped when the bottom caramelizes to a nice brown. When you make the Cappellini Pomodoro, put the chicken on the pasta with the tomatoes and basil.

These dishes serve 2.

Cappellini Pomodoro

1/2 pound of angel hair pasta

4 to 6 fresh Roma tomatoes

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

2 cloves minced garlic

Parmesan cheese

Wash the basil leaves and tomatoes, and seed the tomatoes by cutting them in half lengthwise and spooning out the seeds. Chop the basil leaves and tomatoes. Heat up a little bit of olive oil in a pan, and add the garlic, basil, and tomatoes once the pan is hot. Turn down the heat to medium and stir occasionally. Cook until the tomatoes just begin to release their juices. Once the pasta is done (it should be tender), serve the tomatoes and basil over the pasta and top with Parmesan. Pass around salt and pepper.

Zucchini with Dill

1 large green zucchini

1/2 teaspoon of dill

fresh ground pepper and salt

Wash the zucchini well, and cut it into thin disks. Heat a few drops of olive oil in a pan and add the zucchini once the pan gets hot. Stir often. Turn down the heat a bit, and add just enough dill so that it looks like sprinkles on the zucchini. Add some salt and pepper as well. The zucchini is done when it becomes opaque. Serve on the side of the Cappellini Pomodoro.

Vegetarians and vegans: Don't eat the chicken! It has meat in it. Vegans, skip the Parmesan.