Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Recipe: Baked Spinach, Tomato, and Chicken Pasta

I'm notoriously bad about taking multiple grocery store trips during the week instead of getting all my shopping done in one trip. I'm also terrible about wasting certain ingredients, like heavy cream, extra veggies, and random ingredients that I don't use often (like ricotta cheese or plain yogurt). My other bad habit is not doing the math before I make a recipe: cooking for three people means I usually follow recipes that serve four people, but sometimes I buy too much of each ingredient or I accidentally make too much when I cook a meal. That all being said, I was determined to at least get one of these things right this week, so I tackled bad habit number one: I picked out four recipes and did all of my shopping on Sunday. Unfortunately, my parents failed to mention that there would only be one night this week that we'd all be home for dinner. Even more unfortunate, they decided they wanted to go out to eat that night. So, I've got all of these wonderful recipes to make and fresh ingredients slowly going bad in my refrigerator and I'm pretty bummed out. Luckily, I got a chance to cook for my dad and myself tonight while my mother was out at an event with friends, and I decided to try one of the recipes I'd picked out for this week: baked spinach and chicken pasta (adapted from this recipe). Wilted spinach, fresh tomatoes, and melted mozzarella pair perfectly with warm pasta shells and diced, sauteed chicken. (On an unrelated note, my birthday is this time, next week, and I'm sincerely hoping that I get a new camera and a spotlight, because I assure you, it will improve my pictures exponentially; for now, bear with me).

Serves: 4
Prep. time: 10-15 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

  • 1/2 lb. (8 oz.) medium pasta shells
  • 2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced
  • Olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3-4 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 8 oz. mozzarella cheese (I used a ball, and diced it into cubes, but you can use shredded cheese, slices, or whatever preparation you prefer)

Preheat the oven to 350*F. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil, then cook the pasta according to the package instructions (about 11 minutes). Drain and set aside, covered.
Heat a little olive oil (enough to just cover the bottom the pan) in a large pan. Add the chicken and cook it until it is lightly browned and mostly cooked through (about 10 minutes). Add the minced garlic and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Add the spinach, white wine, and salt and cook until the spinach begins to wilt. Add the tomatoes for just a minute to heat them up a bit. Add the pasta to the pan with the chicken and spinach mixture and toss to mix. Place the mixture in a casserole dish, top with mozzarella cheese, and bake for 25 minutes. Serve topped with Italian cheese and seasonings of your choice.

Topped with dried Italian seasoning, dried basil, and some Italian cheese

The flavors in this dish are delicate, so you might like to add a little extra seasoning once you've served the meal. This is the kind of dish that you can easily experiment with—I've already re-imagined this dish with sun-dried tomatoes instead of fresh tomatoes, to give it a little kick, and fresh basil mixed in with the spinach to add some fresh, crisp flavor. You can play around with different melting cheeses, substitute shrimp for chicken, add fresh herbs to the spinach mixture, or even try a different type of pasta—that's the beauty of this dish: you can make it any way you want it. The version I've shared is light and delicious though, and really easy to throw together on a busy weeknight.

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