This fake-fancy pasta, unlike my previous entry in this category, comes slightly closer to deserving the name. It is inspired by this pasta recipe from Italian Food Forever (and what the fuck is that blog, why do I have a recipe from it, what is my life) and this one from Dinner: A Love Story (which is my favorite thing on the entire internet, I will not hear words against it, if you don’t think Jenny and Andy are the world’s best parents you can fuck right off with your cynicism). It combines lots of tasty things I love and I intend to make it many more times in the future. What I am presenting you with is not the pasta exactly as I made it, however; it is the pasta as I will make it having tried it once and found lots of room for improvement.
1 lb. pasta
12 – 14 chicken tenders or the equivalent number of chicken breasts, I would say 2 split boneless breasts? I am really bad at “amounts of meat.” As much as you think you need, my bros.
1 cup mascarpone cheese (yes, the stuff used in tiramisu!)
Zest and juice of 1 small lemon (more on this later, but: be judicious)
1/2 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes (the dry kind, not the kind that comes marinated in a jar, and on that note, why the fuck aren’t you making your own marinated sun-dried tomatoes, you bum?)
3/4 of a 9 oz. bag baby spinach
2 large yellow onions
3 – 4 cloves garlic
Coarse-ground black pepper
Start by splitting the onions in half, slicing each half thinly, and putting them to saute in some olive oil over medium-ish. I like to put the onions in the pan and then pour the oil over them. It helps me to not drown them. (Also, it feels chef-y. Couldn’t tell you why.) Make sure to salt and pepper them well and turn them frequently. This quantity of onion will take awhile to really brown nicely, and you want them to be nicely browned. Dice your garlic and throw it in with the onions when the onions are about 3/4 of the way to where you want them.
Chop your chicken tenders into uniform bite-size pieces and put them in some olive oil to saute, also over medium-ish. Salt and pepper them well and turn them frequently. They can go on once your onions are about a third to halfway done.
While all this is happening, make your cheese topping in a bowl. Start with a cup of mascarpone and make sure to salt and pepper it liberally. (This recipe needs lots of salt to work, and salt is always nicer cooked in than added post-cooking.) Then comes the lemon. I would tentatively recommend a small lemon, not a ton of zest, and a gentle squeeze of the juice rather than an aggressive milking. I zested and juiced a large lemon vigorously, and felt the final product tasted too strongly of lemon. I think under-zesting and non-aggressively juicing a smaller lemon is the way to go, but I encourage you to play with this step and see what you get. Anyway, whisk the whole mess together.
Cook the pasta in salted water until slightly more al dente than you’d like and drain it, reserving 3/4 of a cup of pasta water. Return the pasta to the stove over medium heat and add everything: mascarpone sauce, reserved water (this is to help the sauce be sauce and not gloop), sun-dried tomatoes, onions, garlic, chicken, and spinach. Mix it all well. When the spinach is fully wilted, the pasta is ready to eat.
So here’s where I did not do the above. When I made this, I forgot the garlic; used half the amount of chicken (one package of tenders); did the lemon situation as described; used the whole bag of sun-dried tomatoes, which came to about 1 1/4 cups; used the whole bag of spinach; undercooked the onions; and generally undersalted by a fuckton. Not all of these were mistakes – like any cook, I make something, taste it, and see what I can do to make it better. But in terms of each change, here’s why I made it.
– This needs garlic, straight up. Just does.
– One package chicken tenders is spectacularly insufficient to my chicken needs.
– You know the lemon story.
– 1 1/4 cups sun-dried tomatoes is way too much of that flavor. It needs way less to please my sensibilities.
– Ditto a whole bag of spinach.
– I undersalted like whoa.
So go forth, my children, and make this better than I did.