Almost 11 years ago, I met my husband. We were young- 23 and 24- and spent a lot of time drinking, playing pool and eating out. When I first met him, his tastes ran toward Pizzeria Uno or Applebees. That changed quickly as my tastes run more towards Legal Seafood and Golden Temple. (Though, to be fair, I also enjoy chicken tenders and a sundae at Friendly’s as well as various meals at hole-in-the-wall unknown places) As time has gone on, he’s become more adventurous food-wise and I’ve become more tolerant of his less, um, refined tastes.
In fact, I even make his favorite meal from those days once in a while, just to remind him how lucky he is to have me. Or, you know, to show I love him. His favorite go-to meal at a chain like Uno’s or Applebees is the chicken, broccoli, pasta that’s on every menu. It’s generally in a creamy kind of sauce and it’s generally not that good. Or maybe that’s just the snob in me talking. I’ve had it made well in small italian places in the North End- the sauce is creamy but not thick, flavorful but not overpowering. Either way, it’s not really a dish you want to have too often- it is completely NOT low-calorie.
When I make it, I go heavy on the broccoli and lighter on the pasta. Sometimes I’ll throw in other veggies- red pepper and spinach usually- but this time around I was inspired to make it because of the enormous head of broccoli given to me by my BFF in NH (I also made some very good broccoli and cheese soup). Seriously, I’ve never seen a head of broccoli this big. I don’t know what she’s using in her garden to get her veggies this big. It’s really something. Here it is, next to my daughter for scale:
Chicken Broccoli and Pasta
1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs or chicken tenders
1-2 cups flour
salt, pepper, garlic powder, seasoned salt
1-2 lb broccoli cut into small florets
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons flour
1-3 cups chicken broth
1-2 cups milk
1/2 – 1 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/2- 1 package ziti or penne
This is a dish that uses a lot of pots and pans, a lot of counter space and has lots of steps. Totally worth it but read it all the way through before starting. In order, you want to make the sauce, make the pasta, make the chicken and cook the broccoli. In a perfect world, the pasta and broccoli will be ready at the same time, the sauce will be warm and the chicken will be warm but not hot so that when it’s all mixed together it’s the right temperature.
Don’t let it brown, just let it get soft. Sprinkle the 3 tablespoons of flour over the onion and use a whisk to incorporate the flour and the butter. I use a ball whisk so that flour doesn’t get stuck inside the whisk. Let this cook for a minute or two, just to get the raw flour taste out. Add about 1/2 a cup of the chicken broth and whisk well to get out the lumps. It’ll thicken up quickly so keep more of the broth handy so that you can continue to add it while whisking until the lumps are out and it has a sauce kind of consistency. If you’re making a lot of sauce, use all three cups. If you’re not, you can probably get away with two cups.
Once you’ve added all the broth, add the milk. Continue to stir over medium heat. The mixture will be thin and then, as it heats, will thicken. You want to make sure it doesn’t scorch on the bottom so keep stirring. Again, if you’re making a lot of sauce, use all the milk, if not, then use less. Mostly, the milk gives it a creamy flavor while the creamy texture comes from the flour/butter (roux) mixture.
Once the mixture is thick and creamy, add the cheese and stir. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper (and maybe more cheese. I like a lot of cheese). Set the sauce aside, off the heat. Stir it once in a while as you make the rest of the food.
Cut chicken into small, bite size-ish pieces.
Into a big ziplock bag, put 1 cup of flour and 1 tablespoon of salt, pepper, garlic powder and seasoning salt (feel free to play with these- you may not want regular salt if you use the seasoning salt- or you may want to leave out the garlic or add in something else). Place the chicken pieces into the bag, shaking them around to coat them lightly a la the old Shake n’ Bake. Really, you’re just looking for a very light coating.
Because you’ve cut the chicken into bite sized pieces, they should cook through pretty quickly. Remove from pan and place on plate. Repeat until all chicken is cooked. Put a pot of water on to boil. Add a handful of salt. Once it’s boiling, add your pasta- I tend to use wheat pasta in a clumsy attempt to be healthier. The night I made this, we didn’t have any penne or ziti so I had to use linguine. I do prefer ziti in this dish. Anyway, cook your pasta according to the package directions.
Use a steamer basket and a saucepan with a lid to steam your broccoli for a short time, maybe 3 minutes. The broccoli will get very green and remain crisp. Don’t oversteam– nobody likes soggy broccoli.
Drain the pasta and put it back into its pot. Add the cooked broccoli. Pour the sauce over the pasta and broccoli and then add the chicken. Stir gently so that the chicken is coated in the sauce. Serve immediately.