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Put comfort food back on the menu with Creamy Pasta with Chicken, Mushrooms and Spinach

"Home With the Lost Italian" columnist Sarah Nasello says this new recipe will take some of the chill out of this time of year.

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Sarah's Creamy Pasta with Chicken, Mushrooms & Spinach builds layers in flavor with easy-to-follow steps that even beginner cooks can master.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

FARGO — In honor of our most recent round of frigid temps and never-ending snowfalls, comfort food is back on the menu with my new recipe for Creamy Pasta with Chicken, Mushrooms and Spinach.

While this dish may sound pretty straightforward, it has wonderful layers of flavor that are developed incrementally in steps that are easy to follow, even for beginner cooks. The key is to have all of your ingredients prepped and ready to go before you do any cooking, which makes this dish a cinch to throw together.

I prefer short pasta noodles for this dish, like penne, cavatappi or casarecce (featured here), which are better able to hold the creamy sauce. I cook the pasta at the same time as I prepare the sauce, but you could also start with the pasta and move on to the sauce.

The pasta will finish cooking in the sauce, so I boil it until it is just al dente, according to the directions on the package. Before draining the pasta, I reserve 1 cup of the water, which may be used later in the sauce, and I toss the cooked pasta with olive oil to prevent it from clumping together as it rests.

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To add flavor and color to the dish, split chicken breasts are cooked in olive oil until golden brown.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

This recipe calls for two whole chicken breasts (boneless and skinless), which I slice in half horizontally from top to bottom, or you also could use four split breasts. I cook the breasts in hot oil until golden brown on each side, which gives the meat more flavor and a nice touch of color.

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This step takes about 10 minutes, and once the cutlets are browned and fully cooked, I remove them from the pan and set them aside to rest so that they are nice and juicy before slicing. The brown bits in the pan provide the first layer of flavor for this dish, so make sure to leave them in the pan for the next step.

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To create layers of flavor, minced garlic is sauteed with browned bits from the chicken before dry white wine is added.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Minced garlic is added next, followed by a cup of dry white wine (chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris), which I cook for about five minutes until almost fully reduced. This step provides exceptional flavor to the dish, and the alcohol content will cook off as the wine reduces.

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Once the wine has reduced, baby bella mushrooms are added and cooked until soft and tender.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

The mushrooms come next, and baby bellas are my choice for this recipe, which I cut into thick slices as they will shrink considerably as they cook.

A generous amount of fresh spinach follows, and once it starts to wilt, I add a cup of chicken stock. You could also use water, but the stock is a terrific flavor enhancer.

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Fresh baby spinach leaves are added to bring color and freshness to the sauce, and cooked until just wilted.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Heavy cream and grated Parmesan cheese are the next additions, and these two ingredients not only add flavor to the sauce, but they also act as thickening agents. If the sauce appears too thick, the reserved pasta water can be added at this time, a quarter-cup at a time.

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Chicken broth and heavy cream comprise the liquids for this sauce, and are cooked with the vegetables until thick and creamy.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

The final burst of flavor comes from a sprinkling of finely chopped fresh basil. This can be hard to find here in the winter, and I recently discovered “lightly dried basil” in the fresh herbs section, which has stayed fresh in my fridge for four weeks now and is still in good condition.

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Lightly dried basil is a good winter alternative when fresh basil is hard to find.
Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Once the sauce is ready, the cooked pasta and chicken are added back in and cooked just until hot. I garnish the dish with an additional sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and serve it immediately.

Rich, lush and layered with flavor, this Creamy Pasta with Chicken, Mushrooms and Spinach is the perfect midwinter comfort dish. Enjoy.

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Creamy Pasta with Chicken, Mushrooms and Spinach

Serves: 4

PRINT: Click here for a printer-friendly version of this recipe

Ingredients for the pasta:
½ pound short pasta noodles (penne, casarecce, cavatappi)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Ingredients for the chicken and sauce:
2 ½ tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 whole chicken breasts (skinless and boneless), halved horizontally (may also use 4 split chicken breasts)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry white wine
8 ounces baby bella (crimini) mushrooms, thickly sliced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 ½ cups baby spinach
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
¼ cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon fresh basil, finely chopped
½ pound pasta, cooked to al dente

Directions:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add 1 ½ tablespoons of kosher salt and ½ pound of pasta. Cook until al dente, according to the directions on the package. Before draining, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta. Drizzle with olive oil and toss until evenly coated (to prevent clumping).

Proceed with the following steps as the pasta boils:

Season the split chicken breasts on each side with a sprinkling of kosher salt and black pepper.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the chicken cutlets and cook over medium heat until browned and cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes each side. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add the remaining oil (1 ½ teaspoons) and the garlic. Cook over medium-low heat just until the garlic softens and becomes fragrant, stirring often, about 1 minute. Add the white wine and increase heat to medium-high; cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced to just 2 tablespoons, about 5 minutes.

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Add the mushrooms and cook over medium heat until soft and lightly browned, stirring often, about 6 minutes. Stir in the spinach and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Add the chicken stock and cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the cream and Parmesan cheese and cook over medium-low heat until the sauce thickens, and the liquid has reduced by half, about 7 to 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice the chicken into 1-inch chunks. Once the sauce has reached your desired consistency, stir in the chicken, followed by the cooked pasta. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the chicken and pasta are hot, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add more heavy cream if needed. Taste and add seasoning as desired. Add the basil and stir to incorporate.

Garnish with more Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

Recipe Time Capsule:

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Recipes can be found with the article at InForum.com.
“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.

Related Topics: FOODRECIPES
“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.
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