Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chicken, Tomato and Ricotta Pasta Sauce

In general, I try to plan my meals. Even if this ends up happening at the store, I like to have an idea of what I'm going to make, and what will go together, ahead of time. This way I don't end up starting a meal only to realize I'm missing the main ingredient, or some crucial component. You don't want to start making macaroni and cheese and realize you have no macaroni, or something along those lines. I also try to buy just enough of perishable items as I'll need for a certain meal so that I don't end up throwing things out because they sat in my refrigerator too long. However, you cannot always buy things in the exact quantity you want. Fruits and vegetables generally come in manageable amounts that can be made smaller or larger, based on your needs. Dairy, on the other hand, comes prepackaged and must be purchased as a whole. I don't think there are any grocery stores that let you take just one cup of buttermilk or two tablespoons of sour cream. Wouldn't that be nice? So when I buy a package of something and don't use all of it, I hate to throw the rest out. But when it is an item that I don't use frequently, I have to get creative.
One night this week, I found myself with a head of broccoli and a package of chicken breasts. I knew that I could use both of these things easily when I bought them so I hadn't really planned what I wanted to do with them. I could always chop them both up and make a stirfry over rice. But I've done that. As I was looking through my refrigerator for inspiration, I realized that I had half a container of part-skim ricotta left over from my pizza making last week. Rather than let it sit in the back of my refrigerator till it was past the point of healthy use, I decided to figure out a way to incorporate into my dinner. What goes better with ricotta cheese than tomatoes, I thought. I didn't want to make an entire lasagna, of course, but I figured I could make a simple pasta sauce with flavors reminiscent of lasagna. Toss the chicken in and boil up some pasta, and I'd have myself a meal. The rest of the ingredients were all things I had on hand so it didn't take long to make this simple dinner. A whole lot easier than making a lasagna from scratch, this sauce could easily be made with ground meat or spinach, depending on what type of lasagna you like. Cutting the chicken into small pieces makes it cook a lot faster so the whole meal is done in the time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta.

Chicken, Tomato and Ricotta Pasta Sauce (serves 4)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 pound chicken breast, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 x 15 oz cans diced tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup part-skim ricotta
  • 8-12 oz penne pasta
  • Parmesan cheese, for garnish (optional) 
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.
Saute shallot for a few minutes to soften. Add garlic and cook for another minute.
Add chicken and season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Cook until chicken is almost cooked through (it will continue cooking in the sauce).
Add thyme, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes and both cans of tomatoes. Stir to combine.
Simmer until sauce thickens, about 10-12 minutes. Remove thyme stems.
Turn heat off and stir in ricotta cheese. Season with salt and pepper if needed.
Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and toss with hot sauce.
Garnish with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

For a printable recipe click here

Chicken, Tomato and Ricotta Pasta Sauce

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