A pretty penne

[Recipe 1] PENNE ALL’AMATRICIANA transforms into
Our Easter break has been lovely so far. What have you been up to? We’ve spent an inordinate amount of time making Thunderbirds and Lego movies with imotion and yesterday we hung out at the newly restored – and highly recommended – St Kilda Adventure playground. Last weekend we visited Heide (one of my Top Ten Melbourne galleries) for three great exhibitions; Sid Nolan’s early experiments, Albert Tucker’s non-Western art and Louise Bourgeois + ten Australian artists (including Patricia Piccinini whose challenging work always goes down a treat with my boys).
I also dined with a lovely lady friend at Il Solito Posto. It’s a bit of a Melbourne institution and I love it. Simple Italian food; friendly waiters, dim lighting, comfy decor and a great subterranean alley location. My dinner date had Bucatini all’Amatriciana – I’d forgotten how fabulous that dish is! I spied some beautiful bright red Doncaster tomatoes at the local greengrocer last week, so a pot of all’Amatriciana sauce was in order.
Recipe 1 yields two lots of Amatriciana sauce, allowing for planned-overs to be used for Chicken Parmigiana. Crumbed chicken, topped with tomato-based sauce and slathered with molten mozzarella – is there better comfort food than that? An Aussie-style ‘parma’ features a layer of ham. By replacing the traditional sauce with Amatriciana, there is no need for ham though as the sauce is laden with pancetta, and to my mind this is much tastier.
The chicken parma is a much-revered pub meal in Australia. If you live in Melbourne, you must check out parmadaze; which is part of the eparmony network, ‘connecting people with parmigiana’. If there’s a local restaurant or pub serving parma, you can guarantee it will be featured and reviewed meticulously (and hilariously) on this site.

Penne alla matriciana[Recipe 1] Penne all’Amatriciana

Sauce ingredients (makes 2 batches, ie. serves 4 for 2 meals):
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small red (purple/Spanish) onions, finely chopped
300g (10½ oz) medium-thickness (about 2mm) pancetta, finely sliced
2 kilos (4½ lb) very ripe tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded, chopped
¼ teaspoon dried chilli flakes
½–1 tablespoon tomato paste (tomato concentrate), if required (see notes in recipe)*
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve (serves 4):
400g (14 oz) dried penne
Fresh basil leaves, torn, to serve
Pecorino cheese, grated, to serve

Heat oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over low–medium heat. Cook the onion and pancetta for 10 minutes, until onion is softened and transparent.
Add tomatoes and chilli. Simmer gently, uncovered, for 20–30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thick. Season to taste.
*Taste the sauce – it should be rich and flavorsome. If you’ve used tomatoes that aren’t super ripe, you may need to add ½–1 tablespoon tomato paste (tomato concentrate); or even a dash of sugar to counter the acidity.
♦ Divide the Amatriciana sauce into two lots of about 2½ cups (600–650g/1.3–1.4 lb) each. Reserve one lot for the Chicken Parmigiana (see Recipe 2 below).
Meanwhile, for tonight’s dinner, cook penne in boiling water until al dente. Drain and return penne to pan.
Add one serve of Amatriciana sauce to the penne, and toss together. Serve, scattered with basil and Pecorino.

  • Pancetta is Italian salted pork belly, available from delicatessens and large supermarkets. If you can find it, guanciale (cured pork cheek) is even tastier, and a more authentic addition to Amatriciana sauce. Substitute for bacon, rind removed, if neither is available.
  • Pecorino is a hard, salty Italian sheep’s milk cheese, also available from delicatessens and large supermarkets. Substitute for Parmesan, if unavailable.
  • Amatriciana sauce can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.

Chicken parmagiana

[Recipe 2] Chicken Parmigiana

Ingredients (serves 4–6*):
3 large skinless chicken breasts (about 750g/1½ lb)
½ cup plain (all-purpose) flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs, whisked
1 cup dry breadcrumbs, laid out on a plate for coating
♦ 2½ cups (600–650g/1.3–1.4 lb) reserved Amatriciana sauce (see recipe 1)
¼ cup olive oil
50g (1¾ oz) Parmesan (or Grana Padano), grated
150g (5 oz) Mozzarella cheese, grated
Fresh basil leaves, torn, for serving

Preheat oven to 200°C (390ºF).
Carefully cut the chicken breasts in half horizontally, so you end up with 6 thin pieces. Working with one chicken piece at a time, place between two layers of baking paper and bash crazily with a meat mallet or rolling pin until flattened.
Place salt and flour into a large plastic bag. Add the chicken breasts and shake to coat. Remove from the bag and shake off excess flour.
Dredge the chicken breasts one piece at a time in the egg until well-covered, then coat both sides in breadcrumbs, pressing firmly.
Heat half the oil in a large non-stick frying pan and fry the chicken pieces in two batches until golden brown, about 4 minutes each side. Wipe the pan clean and add a little more oil before cooking the second batch. Drain chicken pieces on kitchen paper.
Line a tray with baking paper. Arrange the cooked chicken pieces on the tray, and top with Parmesan.
♦ Spoon the reserved Amatriciana sauce on top, and scatter with mozzarella.
Bake for 15–20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling.
Serve immediately with a simple green salad.

  • Chicken breasts can be crumbed in advance and refrigerated, raw, for up 1 day.
  • Unused mozzarella can be grated and frozen in ziplock bags for up to 2 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge.
  • If you’re pushed for time, you can of course make the Chicken Parmigiana with store-bought napoli sauce, in which case you could lay a thin slice of ham on each chicken breast.
  • *This recipe makes 6 pieces of chicken parmigiana. Leftovers can be reheated the following day, or sliced up and stuffed into a soft bread roll with rocket or baby spinach for lunch. Yummo.