Friday, January 28, 2011

Skillet Dinner - Hearty Winter Pasta

For the past two years, Dave has given me cast iron skillets for Christmas. (He even planned a "fake out" both times by wrapping a box with a note that said, "Look in my closet" where he had cleverly hung the skillet in with his clothes.) I now have a 9" and a 12" pan. Now this may not sound especially romantic, but these are some of my favorite presents. I consider myself a pretty good cook with a pretty well-stocked kitchen when it comes to the basic tools. But for years, my lack of a cast iron skillet was a gaping hole in my culinary collection. (Yes, I am so cool I actually consider the state of my culinary collection.)

Now that I have not one but two skillets, I'm not sure how I got along without them. A cast iron pan is great for searing or browning meat, sauteing vegetables, making crispy quesadillas or toasty paninis, frying up French toast, potato latkes and just about anything else you can think of. One of the great advantages of a cast iron skillet, in addition to its ability to heat up fast and stay very hot, is that you can put it right in the oven to finish off whatever it is you started on the stove.

By the way, if you are thinking of getting your own skillet, don't hesitate. You could certainly go all out and buy the super pricy Le Creuset variety, but there are several other manufacturers that make really good cast iron cookware. Lodge is the brand I have and it was very reasonably priced and works great.

Last night I decided to make a chicken pasta dish. I wanted to use some of the meat in my freezer and I had bought some kale at the store and Valerie assured me that chopped kale would go great in pasta. And by "go great" she meant my kids would eat it without complaining about the green stuff on their noodles. Here is what I did:
  •  Preheat your oven to 350. Put a pot of water on the stove and cook about 1/2 box of rotelli or other small pasta. I had this half used box in my cabinet, but shells, macaroni noodles or bow ties would be great too.
  • Chop up 3 or 4 garlic cloves, half and onion, a handful of mushrooms and a few big kale leafs. Remove stems of kale first.
  • In a cast iron or other oven safe skillet heat some olive oil and cook 2 chicken breasts for about 4 min per side. You just want to sear them; they don't need to be cooked through. Remove from pan and set aside.
  • Re-oil and add a can of diced tomatoes. (I used about 2 cups of frozen tomatoes from the summer -- another reason my freezer is overflowing.) Cook for about 5 minutes until it starts to thicken. Add chopped kale and cook until wilted. remove from pan.
  • Re-oil the pan and add onion, mushrooms and garlic. Saute until they are just about cooked, deglaze the pan with some red wine if you have it sitting on your counter, and add the kale mix back to the pan.
  • Add the cooked pasta and about a cup of spaghetti sauce. I also added some chevre because it was about to go bad in the cheese drawer. Soft cheese (chevre, marscapone, farmer's cheese, cream cheese, ricotta etc.), sour cream, half and half all will make for a creamier and richer sauce. It will also cut the acid of the tomatoes. Totally optional addition, but worth it, I think.
  • Return the chicken to the pan and nestle it into the pasta. Sprinkle with shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake for about 20 min until cheese is bubbly.
Don't skimp on the cheese!

 This was so delicious. A very hearty winter pasta. And this "method" of cooking was really fun - I would like to give it a try with rice instead of noodles, or maybe bulgar or quinoa. I am also happy to say that Val's prediction about the kale was mostly true. I gave Kara fair warning that there would be green things in her noodles and politely requested that she keep an open mind. She wasn't a huge fan of the pasta, but she ate a good portion of it - complaint free, too. Jamie, predictably, was not bothered by the kale. Noodles are noodles in his book, I guess.


  1. I need to give a cast iron skillet another chance! For some reason they have always intimidated me. I love how they go from the stove to the oven. Great post. Now I think I need to get myself one of those heavy things!

  2. Don't be intimidated! They are super easy to cook with. You could run out to Target or Home Goods and grab on this weekend.

  3. You can also get them for under 20 bucks. So not a big investment here...

  4. I love my cast iron skillet!! :) Great looking recipe.