Sunday, March 11, 2012

All Quinoa: Pasta & Polenta

If you haven't heard, seen, taste or felt what Quinoa's a crash course! The culinary world that has been overtaken with quinoa love; the same world that slowly but surely is turning towards whole grains. Cookbooks, magazines, television shows, radio programs and every single other media outlet mentions it at least once a day, in the shape of recipes, new blog posts, or new products.

Pronounced keen-wah, quinoa is known as the "Mother Grain" and is considered one of the healthiest grains available to us. Originating in the Andean region of Ecuador, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, it was once an accesible crop that fed this nations. Now, with all the media attention that quinoa is getting, fewer locals in these countries can now afford it. Hopefully a balance can be reached and we can all share the wealth! 

One of the companies that's best doing this is The Quinoa Corporation, who brought the first 50 lb bag of quinoa into the United States. Through their own brand, Ancient Harvest Quinoa, they offer a wide variety of products that I had the opportunity to test out and play around with. You can purchase their pastas, quinoa grain, and polenta in their online store. Here are my favorite two recipes: Quinoa Pasta in an Herb & Mushroom Sauce and a Sausage Ragu over Quinoa Polenta.

Quinoa Pasta in Herb & Mushroom Sauce
Searing the chicken breast seals in juices and by roasting it, you'll have an anything but dry breast. This sauce thickens up through evaporation of the liquid, with no need to add extra thickeners. If you'd like to quickly thicken it, add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons of water. 
Serves 4

1 pound quinoa pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 boneless chicken breasts

1 cup mixed dried mushrooms
1 cup hot water
2 cups full-fat cream

to taste: salt, pepper, fresh cilantro

  1. Preheat oven to 400F degrees.
  2. Boil quinoa pasta in enough salted water. Drain and reserve. 
  3. In a heavy bottom saute pan, heat olive oil and saute chopped onion for 2 minutes. Sear two chicken breasts and season on both sides with salt and pepper. Roast in oven 15-25 minutes, until the juices are runny clear. 
  4. In the meantime, hydrate dried mushrooms in hot water. Do NOT drain the water, reserve it for the sauce. 
  5. Once the chicken breasts are done, rest on cutting board and return pan to the heat. Cut the other 2 chicken breasts into medium dice and add to pan of drippings, as well as dried mushrooms (water included). Cook until water is halfway evaporated and whisk in cream. Simmer over medium low heat. 
  6. Toss pasta in cream sauce. Slice chicken breasts on a diagonal and serve atop sauced pasta. Decorate with fresh cilantro and enjoy!

Linguica Sausage Ragu over Quinoa Polenta
Serves 2
This is a quick and simple dinner for two when you want dinner to be served and on the table in less than 30 minutes. Searing the quinoa polenta gives it added texture but you can also throw the slices in the microwave to heat through. 

4 linguica sausage, with casing removed
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 can whole peeled tomatoes
1/2 tablespoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste

4-6 slices of quinoa polenta
1 tablespoon butter

  1. In a hot cast iron pan, crumble sausage and sear for 2 minutes. Add chopped pepper and onion and cook until translucent. Add tomatoes and let simmer for 20 minutes. Season with sugar, salt and pepper. 
  2. To serve, slice 1/2 inch thick slices of quinoa polenta and sear in hot butter. Serve with ragu on top and cheese. Top with fresh basil if available.
Disclaimer: Quinoa Corporation provided quinoa products to make this post possible. As always, all my opinions are 100% my own and based on personal recipe testing and tasting!

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