On any given day we can have an extra one, three, six — I stop counting after a while — people sitting around the table. My mom’s table was the same and she often fed whichever one (or more) of our friends had stayed longer than planned. I don’t know how she kept up with three kids and their teenage friends. Now that I have my own teen I estimate that we’ll need to invest in a dairy cow and half a citrus grove if we hope to stay on top of his eating habits.
My grandparents' apartment on the outskirts of Paris was a gathering place for family and friends. The memories I have are of a dining room so full of people that my brothers, cousins, and I often snuck off to eat on our secret balcony overlooking the park. My grandmother’s kitchen was tiny, as many are in older French homes, yet she always prepared the most delicious meals. And often with short notice. Those lunches or dinners, full of people and good food, were the basis for relationships that span an ocean and that my brothers and I have passed on to our children.
As a child I thought nothing of where the food came from or how it was prepared. I honestly wasn’t interested in what happened in the kitchen, only in what came out of it. But now I see that what kept my grandmother, and in turn my mother, organized and able to feed a fluctuating number of diners were kitchen staples. Simple ingredients than any chef — professional or amateur — keeps in their pantry and fridge. These will differ from person to person based on family favourites.
There are at minimum seven items that I can always pull out if I’m in a pinch: chicken breast, cooking cream, green onions, tomatoes, parmesan, pasta, and pesto. Nothing transforms pasta from ‘Again, Maman?’ to ‘This is so good!’ like pesto, so keeping it in my cupboard is a no-brainer. Chicken can be made into any number of dishes and tomatoes and parmesan go with practically everything. Also, tomatoes remind me of summer and it’s almost summer, right? RIGHT???
My nieces were over a few nights ago and I whipped up this meal in just over half an hour. That’s important when feeding circling sharks.
Slice the chicken breast into 1cm thick pieces.
In a pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and brown the slices of chicken. Season chicken to taste with salt, ground pepper, and 3 pinches of herbs de Provence.
While chicken is browning, slice the green onions and quarter the tomatoes. Set aside. This time around I had Kumato tomatoes in the fridge because we’re all missing the warm weather and these greeny-brown tomatoes taste of summer.
Heat water to a boil using a saucepan. Measure out one handful of pasta per person and cook until al dente.
Once chicken is browned — approximately 25 minutes — add the cream, garlic, and green onions. Let the chicken simmer over low to medium heat for another 5 minutes. While the chicken is simmering place the quartered tomatoes on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil. Bake at 325°F for 5 minutes to enhance the flavour of the tomatoes.
After the pasta is cooked — this should take between 10-15 minutes depending on the pasta — drain, rinse, and spoon in the pesto. Mix gently.
Serve one scoop of pesto pasta topped with a portion of chicken, the quartered tomato, and grated parmesan.
5 minutes to prep. 30 minutes to cook.
Makes enough to serve 4.
If you're stuck for ideas, keep it super simple with a meal of mashed potatoes, spinach, and eggs.