Friday, January 15, 2010

Creamy loaded penne

This is the sort of thing that I whip up on a regular basis. The beauty of it is versatility. You can swap the veggies around to suit your taste, add more meat and different kinds of it. It's just a good, basic, and very filling meal. Everyone in my family eats it without complaint which is a big deal. It's easily expandable and very flexible. I'm going to give you the principles, and allow you the freedom to make it the way you like it.

First, bring a big pot of water to a boil. Dump in half a box of penne pasta (roughly half a pound), a generous dash of salt and a splash of olive oil.

Next, place two chicken breasts in a large, lidded, nonstick skillet. If I were to choose just one pot or pan out of my kitchen, it would definitely be my deep 12" lidded skillet. Season them with a few grinds of coarse pepper, a dash of kosher salt, a generous sprinkling of garlic powder and thyme or rosemary. Add 1/4 cup of water, put the lid on and let them cook unbothered for about 15 minutes over medium heat. If you're cooking them from frozen, they'll take 20-25 minutes to cook through. If they're thawed, more like 15. Once the water has evaporated and they have shrunken to about 3/4 their original size, drizzle a small amount of olive oil over them and flip them over. Put the lid back on and let them brown lightly on the other side for a few minutes, flip them back for a couple more minutes, then remove from heat and allow them to stand for 5 or so minutes before slicing into thin strips.

While the chicken and pasta are cooking, cut up your veggies of choice into bite size slices and chunks. I like to use a variety of colors and textures. Pictured above I simply used half of a red bell pepper and a couple of cups of small broccoli florets. Zucchini, yellow summer squash, other bell peppers, minced garlic, fresh basil, fresh spinach, purple onions, sun dried tomatoes, artichokes, capers, roma tomatoes and peas are all possibilities (though not all at once - that might be overwhelming ;)...). Once the chicken is done cooking, I remove it from the pan, drizzle in a little more olive oil and toss the veggies in. Sprinkle kosher salt and fresh pepper over them and put the lid on to allow them to steam in their own juices for about 3 minutes. Take the lid back off and toss in a handful of real bacon bits, and saute for a minute or two.

By now, the pasta should be done. Drain it well, then add it into the skillet with the veggies, and add the chicken as well. Pour 2/3 of a cup of cream over it all and stir well to coat. Sprinkle 3/4 cup of parmesan cheese (NOT the nasty pebbles found in the green can - I'm talking real shreds) over it and stir briefly to distribute it. Sprinkle another 1/4 cup over the top and serve immediately. This will serve 4-6 adults, depending on appetite size.

I've done versions of this in which I've heated the cream up, then melted the cheese into it, then stirred it into the food, and that works ok though sometimes the cheese doesn't homogenize well into the cream. I find that I prefer the method in this recipe because it gives you a light creamy glaze over all of it with little pockets of lightly melted cheese. I'm not a fan of thick, heavy classic Alfredo sauce. This pasta satisfies my desire for creamy sauce without totally busting the calorie bank, plus it reheats well without that nasty separation problem you get with Alfredo.

1 comment:

Heide said...

My mouth is watering.