Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Time for a recipe!

When I first met Rick, I remember hearing him talk about his mom's chicken spaghetti. Having never eaten any kind of spaghetti except the kind with a tomato-based red sauce, I thought this sounded strange. I was picturing a plate of spaghetti noodles, covered in Prego marinara sauce, and topped with random pieces of chicken. And then I actually HAD chicken spaghetti and realized it was totally different than what I was thinking about in my head.

Not too long after we were married, I decided to try making Rick's mom's chicken spaghetti recipe myself. I'm not sure what I did -- too many noodles? too much cheese? not enough water? too MUCH water? -- but whatever it was, my version was horrible. And for years afterward, I left the chicken spaghetti-making to Rick's mom, and didn't even ATTEMPT to try it again.

Until we moved to Chicago, that is. Chicken spaghetti is one of Rick's favorite dinners -- when we lived in Texas, we used to eat dinner at his parents' house just about every week. And every now and then, chicken spaghetti would make an appearance on the menu. This would satisfy the chicken-spaghetti craving for a few weeks, until his mom made another big batch. But then we moved to Chicago, and no longer had our weekly dinners with his parents. So, after years and years of avoiding it, I finally pulled out the chicken spaghetti recipe, which was buried beneath dozens of other recipes in my pantry.

But this time, I had nearly two decades of cooking experience under my belt. I figured if I couldn't make it work, I'd have to assume that Rick's mom was using some form of magic to prepare her dishes, and I'd never be able to make it correctly. And then something amazing happened: my version actually tasted GOOD. I still don't know how I managed to destroy it so completely all those years ago... but now? I've got this chicken spaghetti thing DOWN.

I've made a few tweaks for my own version, but Rick's mom's recipe was absolutely the jumping-off point. In fact, if it weren't for all of our chicken spaghetti dinners at the Brooks household, I'm not sure I ever would've known that chicken spaghetti was an actual "thing." Thank goodness THAT ignorance was averted... :)

Chicken Spaghetti (or Rotini... or Penne... or Farfalle...)

(This recipe makes enough for about four smaller servings... or two large servings with enough leftover for lunch the next day)

*4-5 chicken tenders
*1 small bell pepper, chopped (red, green, orange, yellow -- whatever you like)
*3 stalks celery, chopped
*1/2 small onion, chopped
*4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped (if you don't like garlic, you can use less... but I love garlic, and I really think the garlic makes this recipe)
*4-5 mushrooms, sliced (you can use white mushrooms, or baby portobellos -- either one works well)
*1 2.25 oz can of sliced black olives
*About 8 oz chicken broth
*4-5 oz pasta of choice (I actually love using rotini for this recipe -- it holds onto the sauce and veggies really well)
*Shredded cheese (cheddar works well, but I've also used Monterey and Colby-Jack)
*Olive oil, butter, salt, pepper, cayenne

I like to chop up all my veggies first, since that's the most time-consuming part of this recipe. Once you have neat little piles of vegetables scattered all over your kitchen, cook the chicken. The original recipe calls for poaching, but I usually fry mine in a little olive oil, seasoned with salt, pepper, and cayenne. I'm sure you could also bake it, broil it, whatever you like best. Once the chicken is cooked, chop or shred into small pieces, then cover with a plate or some aluminum foil to keep it warm and/or to prevent cats from snacking on it...

In a large pot, heat about a tablespoon of butter and about half the chicken broth on medium-high heat. (The butter is really optional in this recipe -- but I am of the opinion that butter makes everything better.) Add the chopped pepper, celery, onion, and garlic, and season with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Cook until veggies begin to soften... about five minutes.

I like using red pepper because the color is so pretty... that's a totally legitimate reason, right?

Add the pasta to the pot (if you're using spaghetti, I suggest breaking the noodles in half so they fit into the pot more easily), and then add the rest of the chicken broth. The noodles don't have to be completely submerged in liquid, so don't worry if they're not covered. Bring the mixture just to a boil, then turn the heat down to around medium low and let it simmer, uncovered -- the noodles will take longer to cook than if they were submerged in boiling water, but as long as you occasionally stir the mixture to keep the heat even, they'll turn out fine. If it starts to look too dry, you can add some water (or more chicken broth, if you have some on hand) -- I usually end up adding about a quarter to a half a cup of water throughout the cooking process. (If you add water, you may have to turn the heat back up temporarily.)

After about ten or fifteen minutes (depending on your pasta), the noodles should be done (you can fish one out and test it for doneness every now and then). At this point, turn the heat down to low, and stir in the olives and mushrooms. Keep the heat on low (or you can even turn it off) and stir in some shredded cheese until it's melted -- I usually add about half a cup, but you can add more or less, depending on your love of cheese. And finally, stir in the chicken that you've been protecting from the cats.

Serve and eat!

I love this recipe because it's really customizable -- you could leave the chicken out and use vegetable broth, and make it a vegetarian recipe... you could leave out the cheese if you hate cheese (DAD), or add more if you love cheese. Sometimes I add a jalapeno pepper if I have one lying around. And I'm betting you could throw in some broccoli florets or chopped asparagus or some sliced radishes or any number of different vegetables to give it an extra veggie boost. And Rick swears this is even better heated up the second day -- so if you like leftovers, make some extra!


  1. Sure, wait until I'm back in Austin! :-) That looks really yummy!

  2. Aaah! I was in menu planning doldrums until I saw this. Added this what I'll be making this week :-)

  3. I made this for supper today, veggie style. Except I didn't have any black olives, so I used green. I didn't have rotini, so I used bowties. I don't like mushrooms, so I left those out. And I forgot to buy cheese today, so I left that out. Other than that, it was exactly like your recipe! (It was good.)

  4. Mom -- Next time we'll have a chicken spaghetti night instead of fajita night (or maybe we should do both...). :)

    Amber -- Glad I could help inspire you! :)

    Aunt Carol -- That's what I love about this recipe -- you can do all kinds of things with it and it still tastes good! I once made three different versions at the same time -- the usual one, one without cheese because dad hates cheese, and one without mushrooms because Faisal can't eat mushrooms -- and everyone seemed to like their respective versions. :)

  5. Made this over the weekend! I made a few changes - used chicken stock but otherwise kept it meatless. Used shells. I timed a few things differently in the cooking process and ended up somehow using a lot more liquid. I also used a LOT more cheese because... everything is better with cheese, right? I found some Chipotle Cheddar and used about *cough* 2 cups of it. Despite my mistakes/changes, it was awesome!!!! :-D

  6. The original recipe actually does call for 2 cups of cheese, but over the years I've pared it down to be "good." :) But you're absolutely right -- everything IS better with cheese! And chipotle cheddar sounds awesome -- I need to find some and try it next time I make this! (Now I've got cheese on my brain... I may have to make a grilled cheese for lunch... :))