I'm back in New York hanging with the family now - my mom, dad, brother, sister-in-law and my two awesome nephews, Peter and Johnny. I wanted to cook something with Peter because I'm trying to regain my best friend title after an unprecedented five-month absence. Pljukanci fit the bill.
Pljukanci is a hand-rolled pasta from Croatia; specifically the northern coastline of Istria near Italy. Chewy, satisfying and perfect for sopping any kind of yummy sauce. The dough is plain old flour and water, and the rolling process is basically a long Play-Do session. You take a chunk the size of a peanut and roll it between your palms or against the table til it resembles a skinny green bean. "Worms!" I instructed Peter. Consider it done.
I paired the pasta with a braised chicken and tomato stew, also from Istria. It's simple, homey and delicious food perfect for sharing with family. Somehow both of my notoriously picky nephews ended up liking this dish, despite their loudly proclaimed hatred of all red sauce.
But this is more than kid food. I have never seen my carb-averse mom eat so many noodles in my life. I'm still not sure what makes me happier - the bonding session with Peter, or watching my mom inhale a week's worth of calories, scraping her plate til it shone like the top of the Chrysler Building.
Pljukanci - Istrian Hand-Rolled Pasta
Yield: Serves 6
Prep Time: 1 hour Cook Time: 2 hours Total Time: 3 hours
2 cups flour
1 cup hot water
1 tsp salt
4-lb / 1.8 kg chicken, cut into 8 parts
salt and pepper
enough flour to dredge chicken
2 medium onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
6 oz / 175 mL white wine
28oz / 800 g can crushed tomatoes
1 tsp chopped oregano, marjoram or thyme
handful fresh basil
Mix flour and salt with about half the water and stir with your hands til a firm dough forms. Add more water, dribble by dribble, and knead until all the flour binds together and you have a stiff, smooth dough.
Pinch off peanut-sized bits and roll between your palms or against the table to make skinny pieces that look like thin green beans, tapered at each end. Place the pasta on a floured tray and let rest for at least an hour.
Heat about 2 Tbs olive oil in the braising dish on medium-high. Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper, then dredge each piece lightly in flour. Working in batches, sear the chicken til the skin is golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.
Remove all the chicken from the pan and reduce heat to medium. Add onions and saute about 3 minutes, then add garlic and saute an additional 2 minutes. The onions should start looking soft and translucent.
Add the wine, tomatoes, and tsp of chopped herbs. Simmer for about 10 minutes, then add chicken back to pot. Cover and cook on low heat for about an hour and a half, til chicken is tender and cooked through. Check that the pot doesn't reach a rolling boil - you should just see a few small bubbles rising to the surface now and then. For the last 10 minutes, remove the cover and let some of the juice evaporate to thicken the sauce. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
Fill the large saucepan about 2/3 full with water. Bring to a boil and add about a Tbs of salt. Cook noodles 5-10 minutes, til centers are cooked through. Since these are hand-rolled, the time will vary depending on the thickness. Drain but don't rinse.
Top pasta with braised chicken, tomato sauce and garnish with freshly torn basil.