Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sun Dried Tomato and Chicken Pasta

Something I really love about going home is the game that I can make out of creating dinner out of what my parents have in their cupboards.  I think I tend to do way better when I'm just given a handful of ingredients and am forced to come up with something on the fly.  The downside is that I am not much of a planner and sometimes dishes do not turn out.  Thankfully, this one was a winner (although  I think it's pretty hard to go wrong with pasta and even though I am reminded of a "Friends" episode where Monica scoffs at sun dried tomatoes being out of style, I'm still a fan).  The inspiration for this recipe goes way back to one of the first dishes I remember preparing.

I began cooking for my family when I was thirteen and we moved to Phoenix.  My mom declared it too hot to cook and I think after a more than a decade of battling with kids whining about onions and not wanting to eat "green stuff," she pretty much threw in the proverbial kitchen towel.  I was starting off my teenage years with a bit of a weight struggle, as I was pretty good at feeding my emotions.  It was also at this time that the cookbook "In the Kitchen with Rosie," by one of Oprah's personal chefs, showed up in our house.  The recipes were low fat (it was the nineties and that was the rage, remember), but still felt indulgent, so that appealed to my self-conscious, round self. 

One of the first I tried was for a (somewhat involved) chicken and sun dried tomato penne.  This is a simplified version.  Since it was at my parents' house, I used heavy cream (according to latest research, it's not the evil that it has been made out to be), but at my house I like to save a few calories--more dessert!--by using evaporated milk.
Sun Dried Tomato and Chicken Pasta
1 pound shaped pasta (farfalle, penne, rigatoni, etc.)
1 cup sun dried tomatoes  (the dry kind, not the kind packed in oil)
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
salt and pepper 
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons crushed garlic (about 2 cloves worth)
1 cup white button mushrooms, sliced
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream or evaporated milk
2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves
Shredded Parmesan cheese for serving
fresh basil leaves, torn (optional, used for garnish)

In a small bowl, pour boiling water over sun dried tomatoes.  Allow to sit and soften for about five minutes.  Drain off the water and as soon as the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, cut (or snip with kitchen shears) into bite-sized strips.  Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil and cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and keep warm.  In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat.  Throw in chicken seasoned with salt and pepper and brown, stirring occasionally, until chicken is browned on all sides.  Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and mushrooms to the pan and cook stirring frequently until garlic is fragrant and mushrooms begin to soften.  Add chicken broth.  Bring to a boil and cook until chicken is entirely cooked through.  Stir in cream and heat through.  Do not allow it to come to a boil (it can separate).  Remove from heat and stir in spinach leaves.  Pour over pasta and garnish with shredded Parmesan cheese and basil leaves. 

Notes: you can substitute frozen peas for the spinach (or include them as well).  Don't even thaw them, just throw them into the sauce at the end and they'll heat up almost instantly. 

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