Creamy Pasta with Chicken, Tomato, and Spinach

IMG_7727For the majority of my meals, I am watching my refined carbohydrates and trying to reduce starches in my diet. I have come a long way in the realm of healthy eating and weight management-an achievement of which I am incredibly proud. But, every once in a while, I completely give in to my love of pasta. Soaking in tomato sauce, kissed by basil, swimming in broth, how I love pasta. Let me count the ways. I can’t help it-I just love food in all shapes and forms. And pasta, whether dressed up in a bow tie, slenderized in fettuccine, or rolled thinly and svelte as papperdelle, never disappoints. And the cherry on top? The delicious sauce that comes as its partner! Whenever I eat pasta at restaurants, I always indulge in a nice creamy sauce because I usually limit myself to tomato-based sauces when I cook at home. However, some foods are made to nourish the body and some have been designed to nourish the soul.

Today, I was inspired to make this dish because I needed to nourish the body and soul of my brother-in-law. My sister recently gave birth to her first child- my niece Jamie. I am so thrilled to finally be an auntie! She is absolutely adorable and I can’t wait to see what kind of person she becomes. We all know it takes a village to raise a child. So I’ve begun delivering meals for my brother-in-law because my sister has been occupied with caring for her new bundle of joy. I asked myself: what would I want to eat if I were completely exhausted an in need of a pick-me-up? Pasta was the first thing that came to mind.

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Cooking Tips

When cooking pieces of chicken breast in a sauce, it is important to be strategic about how big the chicken breast pieces will be. Cut them too small and the chicken will become dry after cooking for a short amount of time. If they are too large and thick, the cooking process may render the outside layers overcooked while the inside remains undercooked. If you are cooking a whole chicken breast, consider the butterfly technique and using a meat mallet or a large knife to flatten thickness. This will cut down on cooking time and create evenness in the cooking process of the chicken.

Red pepper flake and shallots may be difficult to pinpoint and isolate in an Italian dish, but when they are missing, it is similar to the foundation being cracked in a structure. Unstable and shaky, the pasta dish cannot stand without the fundamental building blocks of flavor.

If you like pasta to be “al dente”, purposely undercook the pasta by a minute or two in boiling water. When the pasta is added to your sauce, you can cook it to its desired consistency and texture. Please, please, please never drain pasta and then serve after topping it with sauce! The pasta needs to be cooked in the sauce to create a complete pasta dish-it allows the pasta to soak up and stick to the sauce.

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Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
½ package dried penne
½ package bacon or pancetta, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 diced shallot
2 chicken breasts
1 tsp garlic salt, or to taste
pinch of red pepper flake, to taste
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tsp dried basil
¼ c sherry wine
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 cup grated Parmigianno Reggiano
1 bunch spinach
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 bunch basil

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Boil pasta according to package directions (approximately 7-10 minutes).

While pasta is cooking, sauté pancetta in large skillet. Heat skillet on medium high and place pancetta in the pan. When the bacon begins to crisp up showing a nice golden brown color, add onion and garlic. Saute for another 2-3 minutes, then set aside.

Thinly slice chicken breast into ¼ inch thick pieces. Season with garlic salt, red pepper flake, black pepper, dried basil. Set aside for 10 minutes to marinate. When chicken has finished marinating, heat large skillet and drizzle with oil. Sear chicken until both sides are golden brown (approximately 3-5 minutes). Then add pancetta, garlic, and shallot mixture.

Add wine and heavy whipping cream, and Parmiggiano Reggiano into the chicken. Allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce thickens.

Drain the pasta and add into chicken and cream sauce. Add a splash of pasta water to adjust consistency of the pasta sauce. When the pasta sauce has thickened to desired consistency, add spinach and tomato. Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes.

Turn off the fire and add in fresh basil. Adjust seasoning as needed: add garlic salt, red pepper flake, Parmiggiano Reggiano, and black pepper to taste.

 

Truffle Penne Carbonara

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I’ve been on a truffle tour lately. It’s not usually an ingredient that I use in my everyday cooking since it is very fancy with a fancy price tag, but I was fortunate enough to be gifted some truffle salt and even a fresh black truffle recently. So, when life hands you lemons, make delicious lemon curd, right? With this recipe, you can easily replace truffle salt with regular salt and forego the truffle altogether. Without the truffle, this recipe is just one of classic and delicious carbonara. With the truffle, there is an added earthy richness that complements the cheesy creaminess of carbonara.

I’m both fascinated and peeved by the elusiveness of truffles, both in the difficulty of locating them as well as the bashful nature of their flavor. Wild boars are employed to scavenge expansive forests for wild truffles. Once you have your truffle in hand, you must handle it very gingerly because its flavors are so delicate. Pairing with flavors that are too strong or cooking the truffle will mask its subtle flavors. To be honest, I had to do an extensive google search on how to cook with truffle and how to wash/clean and store truffle before this post.

Cooking Tips

Making a classic carbonara is comprised of simple ingredients, but what makes or breaks a carbonara sauce is the precision in technique that is required to make sure that the end product is a rich and velvety sauce, rather than curdled egg. The main tips I have for carbonara are:

1. Use egg yolks only, not whites. Egg whites will increase the likelihood of the sauce curdling

2. Use real Parmigianno-Regiano cheese (please, no Kraft); preferably grate your own cheese, but pre-grated will work as long as it is real cheese

3. Use heavy cream, not half-and-half or low fat substitutes.

Some people prefer to cook carbonara with the heat turned off for fear of curdling the egg in the sauce. I’m a bit paranoid when it comes to eating raw egg because of reports of Salmonella. So I prefer to take the halfway point by borrowing from the same technique that is used to cook egg-based custards: low heat with lots of constant mixing.

 

Recipe

 

Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients
1 package dried penne
1 package smoked bacon, chopped
2 cloves garlic
¼ diced onion
1 tsp truffle salt
4 egg yolks
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 bunch chopped parsley
optional: ½ small black truffle, grated

 

Bring a large pot of water to boil.

While water is boiling, sauté bacon. Heat skillet on medium high and place bacon in the pan. When the bacon begins to crisp up, add onion and garlic. Saute for another 2-3 minutes, then set aside.

Mix together egg yolks and cream until smooth. Set aside.

Boil pasta according to package directions (approximately 7-10 minutes), then drain and add into bacon and onion mixture. Add in egg mixture and cheese to pasta. Turn heat on medium low and stir constantly. Add a splash of pasta water to adjust consistency of the pasta sauce.

When pasta sauce begins to thicken, turn heat off and remove pan from heat. Cooking further will lead the sauce to curdle.

Shave truffle into the pasta and toss thoroughly.

Garnish with chopped parsley and serve immediately.