Flooded Queensland Penne

January 2011 found us in eastern Australia, desperately trying to get to from Cairns to Sydney in time for our flight back home. Despite having a few weeks at our disposal, us reaching Sydney on time was far from certain, due to epic floods that affected much of coastal Queensland. So, we drove around trying to find a passable way South, coming across what looked like deserted towns, with empty shelves at grocery stores and rationed bread, as supplies could not be delivered due to flooded roads. Cooking on the road restricts one’s creativity in the best of times, and in crisis circumstances is positively challenging. It helps to have a few recipes ready that call for ingredients that are generally available. I remember that one such recipe proved successful in the unusual circumstances of Australian summer floods: pesto chicken and mushroom penne. Given below is the variant I prepare at home, but in an emergency feel free to do without some of the ingredients.

empty shelves in Queensland

You will need a pot for cooking the pasta and a large pan for everything else. Start boiling salted water in the pot. Cut the chicken into 2 cm cubes, dice the onion – finely, if possible – and slice the mushrooms. Put the pan on high heat, when it gets hot add a bit of olive oil (take care that it does not burn) then immediately the chicken. Fry the chicken for a few minutes, until it starts turning golden on the outside, liberally sprinkling with herbes de Provence some time along the way. Set chicken aside, reduce the heat and put onion in the pan; after one or two minutes add the mushrooms, and after another minute or so press the garlic. When the onion softens and the mushrooms shrink, add the chicken back to the pan and cook everything until the chicken is cooked through. Add freshly ground black pepper and feel free to top up the herbs; finally, add pesto and mix everything.


Some time mid way through cooking onions, mushrooms and chicken the water for pasta should start to boil; add the pasta, checking on it every few minutes to make sure it doesn’t overcook. When it is al dente, drain it and add to the pan with everything else and mix. Take the pan off heat. Serve in bowls, sprinkled with the parsley, parmesan shavings and some more freshly ground pepper.