One of the reasons I like to cook mostly healthy food is so I can justify the occasional dish like this one. In between an evening featuring Kale and Quinoa Salad, and another dinner starring Cornmeal-Crusted Tilapia, I can rationalize this warm hug of a meal. Plus, any one-skillet meal where the pasta cooks right in the sauce is a gift with purchase, in my book.
Fork in the Road: Slightly decadent, more than a little comforting, and with some great add-in options to elevate it above the usual.
What the Kids Can Do: Measure ingredients, pick add-ins, stir with supervision.
Make Ahead: While it’s certainly reasonable to thrill over a meal of reheated leftover Alfredo pasta, either warmed on the stovetop or in the microwave, this dish is best when it’s made just before serving.
Note: What does rigate mean? Ridges. And those ridges are what lets the pasta grab onto that sauce and hold it tight. Tighter than a preschooler hangs on to his mom who is about leave him at school for the first time, or maybe even a month or so into the school year, even though he knows she is coming back, because when has she ever not? (Can you tell I still have scars?)
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Kosher or coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon minced garlic
4 cups chicken broth, preferably low-sodium
1 package (1 pound) penne rigate or ziti
1 1/2 cups heavy (whipping) cream or half-and-half, warmed
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)
1. Cut the chicken breasts into 1-inch pieces. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Melt the butter in a very large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, in batches if necessary, and sauté until nicely browned on the outside, but still a bit pink inside, about 4 minutes (the pieces don’t have to be browned on all sides; two sides is fine). Remove the chicken and set aside on a plate.
3. Do not clean the pan! Those brown bits on the bottom of the pan are going to add flavor to the sauce. Add the garlic to the pan and sauté over medium heat until you can smell it, 30 seconds. Turn the heat to high, add the chicken broth, and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen up all of those delicious caramelized bits. Bring to a simmer, lower to medium heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the pasta, stir well, and simmer until the pasta starts to soften, about 8 minutes. Stir in the warm cream and the browned chicken with any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender, most of the liquid has been absorbed, and the chicken is cooked through, about 4 minutes more.
4. Stir in the Parmesan until well incorporated, and adjust the seasonings.
5. You can continue with Step 6 or see the Fork in the Road for add-in suggestions.
6. Transfer the mixture to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the parsley, if desired. Serve hot and pass extra Parmesan at the table.
When you add the Parmesan in Step 4, you can add any of the following to the pot, alone or in combination; stir over medium heat for another minute or two.
1 cup slivered sun-dried tomatoes or 1/4 cup sun-dried tomato pesto
1 tablespoon pureed chipotles in adobo sauce
4 cups sliced mushrooms, sautéed
3 cups lightly cooked tiny broccoli florets
2 tablespoons fresh herbs, such as oregano, thyme, or parsley
Or, you can serve up portions of Chicken Alfredo Pasta for those who like it plain and simple, and add proportionate amounts of any of the add-ins to the pot.
From Dinner Solved! by Katie Workman, Workman Publishing Company 2015.
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