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CHOP THAT ONION AND COOK THIS CHICKEN

There's nothing like an onion to make you feel like an idiot.
So I asked Alicia to demonstrate her desperate dicing technique. What I learned is that even after years as a desperate cook, anyone can learn a new trick every now and then to make life in the kitchen less stressful.

If I can change my onion-chopping habits, so can you. Here's how:

First, using a very sharp knife, cut off both ends of the onion. Next, think of the first piece of onion as the sacrificial layer. Make a vertical cut from the top to the stem on each side, aiming to go just deep enough to penetrate the first layer of onion flesh.

The onion skin sticks firmly to the outermost layer, so the next step is to remove that layer and the skin right along with it. Often you can do this easily by digging your thumbnail under the first layer and pulling it off.

Cut the onion in half from top to bottom. To chop the onion, place the first half with the flat side on a cutting board. For coarsely chopped onions, make vertical slices all the way through the onion about 1/2 inch apart.

Turn the onion 90 degrees (or just spin the cutting board around) and cut 1/2 -inch slices (perpendicular to the first cuts) all the way through the onion. The onion suddenly disintegrates into fairly uniform cubes.

Repeat with the second half of the onion.

The goal is speed, not beauty.

Today's recipe for Italian Salsa Chicken can be made in 20 minutes flat and offers a good chance to practice your onion-chopping. Let us know how it goes.

ITALIAN SALSA CHICKEN

8ounces thin spaghetti

1teaspoon olive oil

1large onion (for 1 cup chopped)

1pound chicken tenders

4cloves garlic

1/3 cup fresh parsley leaves

1can (14 1/2 ounces) Italian-style stewed tomatoes

juice from 1/2 lemon
Bring 2 1/2 quarts of unsalted water to a boil in a 4 1/2 -quart Dutch oven or soup pot. When the water reaches a rapid boil, add the spaghetti and cook until tender, 9 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the oil on medium heat in a 12-inch non-stick skillet. Peel and coarsely chop the onion, adding it to the skillet as you chop. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook until it begins to soften, about 2 minutes.

Add the tenders, and cook until lightly browned and no longer pink in the center, 4 to 5 minutes, turning frequently with a fork or tongs. Remove the skillet from the heat.

To make the salsa, peel the garlic by placing the flat side of a chef's knife or other flat surface over each clove and giving it a firm whack with your hand. Drop the cloves one at a time through the feed tube onto the moving blade of a food processor or blender. Chop finely. Rinse the parsley leaves and shake off the excess water. Drop the leaves onto the moving blade and mince finely. Add the tomatoes and their juice and the juice from the lemon half to the blender. Pulse 3 times just until the tomatoes reach a salsa consistency.

Place the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sauce to the pan and stir to coat the chicken. Cook just until the sauce begins to bubble, about 2 minutes. Serve at once over hot, drained pasta. Serves 4.

Approximate values per serving: 406 calories (11 percent from fat), 5 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 63 milligrams cholesterol, 32 grams protein, 56 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams dietary fiber, 279 milligrams sodium.

Send us desperate tales of woe or everyday success stories and your favorite quick recipes to Desperation Dinners, c/o United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016; or e-mail: ddinners@aol.com.

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