When I was planning family events for the coming year at my church, I was thrilled to discover that in March, our usual first Sunday of the month happened also to be the last Sunday before Lent. That made the March theme a no-brainer for me. I love Mardi Gras. I've never been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and am fairly certain I wouldn't like the alcohol-soaked giant frat party that is Bourbon Street. But I love the festivities and the old traditions. So, Mardi Gras it was, with mask-making, a New Orleans-themed potluck and "The Princess and the Frog" as back-up for when the kids finished their masks and got bored.
I made my spice-wimps' version of pastalaya. I figured we'd see plenty of rice dishes, so I thought a pasta variation, while not very traditional, would fit in nicely. I also happen to like it quite a bit. We also had Susie's luscious potato and sausage soup, which she graciously made for us on Christmas Eve for our between-services staff meal. I was jealous of the Le Creuset pot she sent it in, but happy to what was under the red lid. Julie brought fantastic Hoppin' John, with perfectly cooked greens, over brown rice. We had a very yummy andouille & rice casserole. We had perfect Southern belle pastel pistachio fluff. I am not an eater of fluff, for the most part, but I tried it because Amy made it and it was good. We had brownies, which fit in beautifully at any potluck. We had pizza and take-out fried chicken, which pleased the kids mightily. We even had Jell-o "shots" thanks to Amy's marvelous sense of humor. No, they weren't the kind you'd get in a bar in the French Quarter. I brought in some gorgeous King Cake from Dorothy Lane Market, too, and when 5-year-old A.J. got the baby, he went about showing all of us that the baby was naked and needed a diaper. Very cute!
If you want to try the pastalaya, here's what I do:
1 lb. penne
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
1/2 lb. andouille, casing removed & meat diced (I like Aidell's and it's easy to find around here)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 orange pepper, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 onion, diced
Salt & pepper
3 tbsp. flour
Just over a cup of beer (I used Abita...something cheaper would be just fine, but don't use light beer)
1 c. chicken stock
14 oz. can crushed tomatoes (I often buy the whole canned tomatoes and crush them with my hands or a wooden spoon)
A good shake or three of hot sauce
2 tsp. thyme
1/2 lb. chicken breast, diced
1/2 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/3-1/2 c. heavy cream
Cook pasta al dente, then drain. Brown andouille in heated oil and butter over medium-high heat. Remove from skillet and add garlic, onion, celery and bell pepper to hot grease in pan. Saute about 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings and add flour. Cook and stir a few minutes, then add beer. Cook another couple minutes. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, hot sauce and thyme. Bring to a boil and add chicken and shrimp. Cook until chicken and shrimp are cooked through, about 7 minutes. Add cream and heat through. Mix with pasta. Serves 4 as a main course rather than a potluck sampling dish.