If you happen to be into chick flicks, which I am, then maybe you love the Christmas movie The Holiday as much as me? (Unfortunately I have to watch it alone, because it doesn't meet my fiancé's manly standards.) In one scene in particular, Kate Winslet offers to whip up some "Christmas fettuccine" for Jack Black, who is in need of some much-needed cheer.
Ever since watching it for the first time, I have often wondered if "Christmas fettuccine" is some British food thing I've just never heard of. Either way, it sounds like a tradition I could get on board with. Although my family's Christmas Eve dinner is set in stone (beef tenderloin with red wine-mushroom sauce, if you're wondering), the idea of a festive, creamy, pasta still had me intrigued.
Usually I make something ultra-rich and filling for the night my fiancé and I trim our tree, like cheddar-ale soup or braised short ribs over Parmesan grits. But this year, inspired by "Christmas fettuccine" (whatever it is), I started a new tradition. I used a Martha Stewart recipe as a guideline, which I went with and ran. What resulted was a soul-satisying new dish that I can look forward to for many holidays to come.
I began by braising chicken thighs (an all-time favorite for winter cooking) with onions, garlic, white wine, and stock. Once the meat was falling apart, I used its cooking liquid to make a full-bodied cream sauce. A spike of lemon zest, lots of salt and pepper, and a generous scattering of fresh herbs rounded out the taste. And what better noodle to toss in the sauce other than long, fat strips of pappardelle? This is pure comfort food I will make again and again. (As long as my jeans still fit.)
Creamy Braised Chicken with Pappardelle
1 1/2 - 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Olive oil, for searing
1 yellow onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
8 ounces pappardelle (tagliatelle or fettuccine would work)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Finely chopped herbs (basil, parsley, or tarragon), for garnish
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Pat the chicken thighs with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat a few glugs of oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high to high heat. Add the chicken to the pot, working in batches if necessary, and sear until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to another plate.
Add the onions and sauté until softened, about 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic and stir another 30 seconds. Pour in the wine and cook, bubbling vigorously, until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved chicken (with juices) and stock and bring to a boil.
Cover the pot and place in the oven. Cook for 1 hour, until the chicken is falling apart. Transfer the chicken to a bowl. Shred the meat, cover with aluminum foil and set aside.
Bring the braising liquid to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat. Add the cream and continue simmering until thick enough to coat the back of spoon, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Add the lemon zest and season generously with salt and pepper. Fold in shredded chicken.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Stir in the pappardelle and cook until al dente, about 6-8 minutes. Drain the noodles and add directly to the chicken mixture, tossing to coat. Heat on low for a couple of minutes to allow all of the flavors to meld. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.
Garnish with freshly chopped herbs and serve immediately.
(Images: Nealey Dozier)