Main Dishes

Speedy Mediterranean Pasta

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One thing I crave all the time is pasta.  I could eat it every day and not get tired of it.  Sometimes that’s exactly what I do! One of the great things about pasta is it can be a very simple meal, put together in a matter of minutes, or it can be something special, elevated by a little extra time and care.  This next recipe is a cross between the two.  It is quick to make, but it goes just a small step beyond a simple throw-together dish.  Luckily, this is a versatile recipe, so feel free to make omissions, substitutions, and to take shortcuts so that it fits your schedule and the ingredients you have on-hand.  With that said, while I added some chicken to this meal, it is perfectly fine to just skip that step altogether so that you have a veggie-friendly supper to enjoy!

The first thing I did was prepare a sort of vinaigrette to pour over the hot pasta once it was cooked.  When making a white pasta, a.k.a. one without sauce, I usually just squeeze a lemon over the whole thing and then douse it with a few generous glugs of olive oil.  I’ve been finding that this doesn’t quite coat the pasta evenly, so I opted to whisk together the oil and lemon juice beforehand. This gave me the opportunity to also whisk a little honey into the mixture, to cut the acidity of the lemon juice and tomatoes in this dish.  While I was at it, I chopped up a bunch of things I wanted to mix into the pasta raw; marinated artichokes, fresh basil, and lemon zest.  You can get creative here and use other things like olives, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, different fresh herbs, etc.  My one piece of advice would be to limit the number of salty items you use.  I was dying to add some olives in there, but I knew that pairing them with the artichokes would be overkill.  Such a dilemma! 😉

While I was doing this, I had a pot of boiling salted water on-the-go to cook my pasta.  I threw the noodles in the water, and then in a separate large saucepan, I started sauteing a sliced onion.  To this I added a few cloves of minced garlic, some salt and pepper, a pinch of chili flakes, and then a chopped tomato and a handful of frozen peas.  Once the tomato had cooked down nicely with very little liquid left in the pan, I transferred the mixture to a bowl to saute my chicken.  Again, you can totally just skip this part.  If you are going to saute the chicken though, I suggest you follow two little steps that will make a huge difference in the flavor and texture of your meat.  1) Deglaze the pan with white wine or stock before adding the chicken.  2) Cook the meat in batches so as not to crowd the pan.  Two batches should be enough for 1 lb of chicken.  You should deglaze the pan again in-between batches and then just pout the liquid off into the bowl with the tomato mixture.

Now all there is left to do is drain the pasta (keeping aside about a cup of the cooking liquid), toss it into the saucepan with the tomato mixture, the vinaigrette with chopped goodies, the reserved pasta water, and the chicken if you are so inclined.  Toss the pasta well to get everything coated.  I recommend using penne or rotini, as spaghetti-type noodles have a hard time incorporating with chopped ingredients like this.  Save those types of noodles for saucy dishes.

I sprinkled my pasta with a little vegan cheese – I know, I know, vegan cheese with chicken is a bit of a weird combo.  What can I say, I’m trying to cut cholesterol where I can, plus I’m lactose intolerant so sometimes I rather just eat the fake stuff than take a bunch of lactase pills with every meal.

And there you have it! A delicious meal that you can easily make your own, but incorporating ingredients you have on hand.  Just follow a few basic steps, and you will have a delicious pasta dish to share with all your friends, or just scarf down yourself!

Here is the recipe in a nutshell:

Ingredients

  • 1 package penne or rotini pasta
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup chopped marinated artichokes
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 large onion, sliced thin
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • Pinch of chili flakes
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • Handful frozen peas
  • 1 lb chicken, cut in bite sized pieces and sprinkled with salt and pepper
  1. Prepare your vinaigrette mixture: whisk together the lemon zest, juice, honey, and oil.  Add salt and pepper, chopped artichokes, and basil (or different add-ins of your choice, such as olives, sundried tomatoes, parsley, etc.).
  2. Cook pasta in boiling salted water.  Follow the package directions and set a timer accordingly.
  3. Saute the sliced onion for 2-3 minutes, then add the garlic, salt & pepper, and chili flakes.  Saute 2 minutes more and then add the tomato and peas; saute another 2-3 minutes until most of the tomato juices have evaporated.
  4. If you want to add chicken, transfer the tomato mixture to a bowl, pour a little white wine or chicken stock in the pan and scrape up all the brown bits.  Pour this liquid into the tomatoes and add a little oil to the pan. Cook about half the chicken, then repeat: transfer to bowl, degalze the pan, add oil & saute. Easy!
  5. Ladle 1 cup of pasta water into a bowl and then drain the pasta.  Toss everything together in the saucepan or in the pasta pot if the saucepan isn’t big enough; that means the noodles, pasta water, vinaigrette, tomato mixture, and chicken (if using).  Voila, you are ready to devour your masterpiece!

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