Only three years since my last food based post and I thought it high time to get cracking again. Bizarrely, this is the third recipe that is chicken based but seeing as we eat quite a bit of it, it’s probably not all that odd after all. This is an adaptation from a little book by the oracle of the 80’s, “Good Housekeeping” and the same book as the Chicken with Sweet onions recipe I posted before. I recently found the book in Waterstones and nearly bought it – but thought better of it when Husband pointed out that you can just make stuff up and its as good as when a recipe is followed. So, here I am, with no book but still able to cook.
It’s been snowing all day but not sticking around but it has been flipping cold. So cold that all I wanted was the pungent smell of garlic and the slight iron tang of spinach. This was the perfect solution – and it made me walk to the shop when all I wanted to do was curl up and sleep. It’s not a particularly tricky dish but it is worth the 3 pans and the wait.
You will need (for 4 people):
- 200g pasta shapes
- 150g fresh spinach(or frozen)
- 3 chicken breasts
- 3 cloves of garlic, skinned and finely chopped
- half a block of cheese
- 1 tsp grainy mustard
- 1tbsp butter
- plain flour
- approx 1.5 pints milk
- olive oil
1) Wilt the spinach in a wide pan until reduced. Remove from the heat and sit in a colander until cool. If using frozen spinach, defrost and drain. When the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze out all the water and chop until very small – especially good after a bad day.
2) Cook the pasta until it is no longer raw but not completely cooked, about 5-6 minutes should be enough. Drain and set to one side.
3) Slice chicken breasts lengthways into 3 and then cube into bite size pieces. In a wide heavy frying pan, add some olive oil, the garlic and chicken and mix together until coated but not swimming in oil – it’s just as a bit of a lubricant. Cook until the chicken is sealed and the garlic is starting to soften but not colour.
4) With the heat on low, add the drained, chopped spinach to the chicken and stir until well mixed. Add the pasta and mix again. Leave to one side.
5) Cheese sauce time! Make a roux¹ (paste) from the butter and flour. Let the roux cook for a couple of minutes then whisk in the milk a bit at a time until a smooth thick white sauce is made. It should be the consistency of thick double cream.
6) Add a teaspoon of the grainy mustard. Clearly, this is only if you like mustard. We do, so we add it. It won’t ruin the final dish if you leave it out. Whisk in most of the grated cheese until melted. Taste your sauce and add more cheese if you want. You can never ever add too much.
7) When the sauce is to your cheese liking, tip into the pasta mix, stir until combined and pour the whole lot into an oven proof dish. Add a bit more cheese to the top and bake for approx 20 mins until the chicken and pasta are cooked through and the top is golden and bubbly.
8) Serve as is, or with salad.
Worth noting, this freezes really well. I usually portion up the leftovers and take it to work for lunch. Warming, heady garlic, tender chicken and more cheese than is polite but it makes for a fabulous dinner.
¹ The roux – melt the butter and then add the flour bit by bit until you have a stiff paste – it will look horrendous but it makes a fantastic sauce eventually. Apologies if it seems I’m teaching granny how to suck eggs but I never assume anything about cooking – so if it helps, excellent.