Pasta with balsamic vegetables (& chicken)

In recipe on July 11, 2010 at 10:49 am

Today I feel like waxing philosophical about cooking. In my (admittedly limited) experience, there are two schools of cooking – thinking big, and get ‘er done.

“Thinking big” cooking can be found in the pages of Gourmet, or Bon Appetit, and in my head, or most types of baking. These recipes require dozens of ingredients, usually involving something so obscure that I have to research before I buy. I’d say those people who enjoy this style of cooking are foodies, are prone to make sweeping proclamations about olive oil, and mix their own spices.

The other side of the spectrum, and where I firmly see myself, is the “get ‘er done” kitchen style. At its worst, it’s the semi-homemade mixing-salsa-with-pasta crap that Sandra Lee preaches. But at its best, its accessible and adaptable, allowing a busy person to stop, take a look inside the fridge and say, “Yeah, I think I can make something happen here.”

I don’t mean to sound like fancy cooking is useless. I admire it, and those who choose to attempt the gourmet at home. But most of the recipes are so fussy that I feel nervous to play with them, which takes away the real joy of cooking: creation. No doubt I sound poncey here, but cooking’s an art, not a science, and I appreciate when I get to riff.

Wow! That was a lot of philosophy. Funnily enough, it came as a result from a pretty simple recipe that’s not really groundbreaking at all. It was inspired, as usual, from a Fitness magazine recipe, but it’s been changed quite a bit. Note: there aren’t a lot of hard stops in this recipe. Anything marked with **, replace at your own peril, but you can really adapt this one. I’ve put suggestions for alternates in parentheses after the ingredients, and at the end. Lots to play with here! Enjoy!

Tomatoes & red pepper

Pasta with balsamic vegetables (& chicken)

  • 1/2 lb chicken breast (or thigh, etc) [optional – the dish can stand easily without meat]
  • 1/2 lb penne pasta (or bowtie, corkscrew – whatever you’ve got)
  • 1 tbl olive oil**
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced**
  • 1/2 lb baby tomatoes, cut in half (OR sliced vine ripened tomatoes, OR a can of diced/stewed tomatoes)
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced (OR a yellow bell pepper or zucchini)
  • 2 tbl balsamic vinegar**
  • 1 tbl tomato paste**
  • 1 c. fresh spinach
  • 1/2 bunch sliced basil
  • 1/4 c. grated fresh mozzarella (OR sliced fresh mozzarella)**
  • salt
  • pepper

1. If using chicken – preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place chicken in glass baking dish and coat lightly with salt, freshly ground pepper, and olive oil (I also added paprika because, why not?). Bake until golden brown on each side, about 25 minutes each side.
2. Boil water for pasta. Cook to package directions. Drain and set aside.
3. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and let cook until fragrant (about 2 minutes). Add tomatoes and red pepper and let cook for 4 minutes or so. Add the balsamic vinegar and tomato paste and mix well, then add the spinach. Let cook another 3 minutes or so – until spinach is wilted. (Note: it’s cool if there is some liquid in the pan. It’s like a dressing).
4. Turn pan off heat. Add vegetable mixture to pasta and mix. Add cheese, basil and chopped chicken (if using). Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and some hot pepper flakes maybe.

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