North End Pasta with Broccoli and Chicken

April 18, 2012

Aunt Suzy says . . .

When I lived in Boston in the 80’s, this dish was served in many restaurants in the North End Italian neighborhood.  This simple, yet flavorful pasta dish  was new to me.  I immediately loved it and ordered it often.  One of my favorite restaurants, L’Osteria, made the best rendition so I asked them for the recipe.  It’s so simple!  Olive oil, garlic, red peppers, chicken, pasta and cheese.  I see that L’Osteria is still open and still serves this dish, Chicken Maccheroni & Broccoli.  So if you are in Boston, I recommend that you check them out.  But if  not, you can make this dish easily and authentically following my recipe. Excellent with a fruity Pinot Grigio or a light Italian Red, like a Valpolicella.

Serves 4 as a main dish and 6 as a first course (quantities easily adjusted up or down)

1-2 chicken breasts, depending on whether you want more or less chicken

4-6 cups broccoli florets

3/4-1 pound medium pasta shapes, (like the rigatoni shown or ziti, rotini, radiatore, cavatappi, etc.)

1/4 cup EV Olive Oil

2-3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/2-1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, to taste

1/2-3/4 cup shredded cheese, Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano

Season the chicken with salt and pepper only or also with your choice of herbs/spices.  I use Italian Street Fair, a blend of smoked peppers, onion, garlic, fennel and spices.  Cook the seasoned chicken breasts until just done, 4-6 minutes a side, depending on thickness.   I used my stovetop panini press, but a grill pan, broiler or gas or charcoal grill would work.   Set aside to cool slightly.  When cooled, slice the chicken in roughly 1/4 x 1 1/2-inch pieces.

Steam the broccoli to al dente and set aside.  Cook the pasta to al dente according to package directions.  Before draining, save 1/2 cup pasta water.  Drain the pasta, rinse and set aside.

Heat a large dutch oven over a medium burner.  Add the olive oil and heat till shimmering.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes.  Saute for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn’t burn.

Add the chicken and broccoli and stir to thoroughly blend and heat.

Add the pasta and pasta water.  Stir to blend.  Place the lid on the pot and heat for about 5 minutes until all is piping hot.  You can serve as is and pass the cheese or for a creamier dish, you can add the cheese and stir to blend till melted.  I recommend stirring in the cheese only if you don’t anticipate left-overs.  If you know you’ll have left-overs, it’s easier to heat up the dish later without the added cheese.

COOKS NOTES:  Many recipes suggest you cut the chicken into bite-size pieces and cook along with the garlic and hot pepper and then add the cooked broccoli.  I think this makes for rubbery chicken pieces, but if you’re in a hurry this could be an option.  I used 1 1/2 chicken breasts this time and thought this was a perfect amount.  I had 4 cups of broccoli and wished it would have been 5 cups.  This dish definitely stands up to whole wheat pasta.  While I think Parmigiano is more authentic, I prefer this dish with the earthier and creamier sheep’s milk Romano.  Don’t be daunted by all the steps.   This is a great weeknight recipe that comes together really fast.  This is also served in restaurants with shrimp or vegetarian/no meat or seafood.

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