09 February 2009

in the kitchen with M: conchiglie balsamico

While Mishi was visiting this weekend, we had a lovely dinner at my favorite local Italian eatery, Teresa's. There, Mishi ordered one of my favorite dishes, Cochiglie Balsamico. In this dish, shell pasta, asparagus, and chicken mingle in a balsamic cream sauce. Warm and filling, the dish pairs well with either a dry white or mellow red.

When I first ate this dish, I was so impressed that I decided to try to replicate it while in Oxford this summer. When Mishi heard this, she asked for the recipe, which follows.

Note: As with most Italian cooking, ingredient amounts are only loosely based on truth. For the most part, they are only to help with shopping. Also, as much as I love one-pot dinners, this isn't one of them. It's feasible with two, but three is preferred.


Asparagus (1 large stalk/3 mini-stalks per person)
Balsamic Vinegar
Chicken (1 breast per person)
Cream (2 cups per person)
Garlic (to taste)
Olive Oil
Onion (optional)
Parmesan Cheese
Pasta (Shell)
Salt, Garlic Salt (to season)

1. Fill saucepan with water, bring to a boil.
2. Mince garlic and onion. Using olive oil, brown gently in a sauté pan over medium-low heat.
3. While waiting for the onion and garlic to brown, cube and season chicken. Begin to brown the chicken in olive oil in another saute pan*.
4. Blanche the asparagus in your boiling water. This should take no longer than a minute -- you still want a bit of bite left in the asparagus (unless, of course, you don't). Once the asparagus is cooked, cut it on the bias into bite-sized pieces.
5. Using either the asparagus water or newly boiled water, begin to cook your pasta.
6. By now, your garlic and onion should be soft and translucent. Add enough balsamic vinegar to cover the bottom of the sauté pan. Let the vinegar reduce until it is thick but not too thick -- think grenadine syrup rather than molassas. The vinegar should now be sweet an able to coat the back of a spoon.
7. Pour the cream into the pan containing the vinegar, onion, and garlic. Let reduce until the sauce is as thick as you would like it. I recommend adding finely grated Parmesan cheese at this point to both add flavor and help thicken the sauce.
8. When the sauce is ready, add in the cooked chicken, asparagus, and pasta. If your chicken is ready before the sauce is, remove it from the heat so that it doesn't become too tough or dry. Using cream or Parmesan, thicken or thin the sauce as necessary.

Serve with Parmesan cheese.

* Though you can theoretically brown the chicken along with the onion and garlic, I prefer (for reasons of cleanliness and good results) to just wash a third pan. If you do brown them together, remove the chicken before adding the balsamic vinegar.

Hope you enjoy -- if you give it a go, let me know how it turns out!


  1. I'm guessing that this recipe was accomplished on an electric stove? Because archibald would have burnt up everything in the timeline you've described here. I'll just have to remember to adjust a few things to fit his temperament.

  2. Yes, it was cooked on the electric stove from hell. The timeline may need adjusted for other stoves/choices (i.e. if you use the asparagus water versus boiling new water, etc.) Generally speaking, anything can be taken off the heat if it's done -- the sauce should always take the longest, and nothing should be cooked higher than medium.

  3. Thanks again for posting this!! I've made it a couple of times, and finally got around to writing it up over on my blog: