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.
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!