Pasta, chicken and a vegetable…it’s hard to go wrong. Put together a combination that works for your family, which means a vegetable that everyone will eat. One trick is to grate a vegetable, like zucchini or carrots and cook them in with the sauce, if you are doing a red (tomato) sauce. Or if it’s a more summery pasta salad, just grate them raw onto the pasta. Generally, some grated Parmesan or Romano cheese will encourage the mildly veg-phobic child to consume the dish, in spite of the veg.
Pasta shapes are also something to experiment with; some shapes are just fun…wagon wheels or bow ties for example. Some shapes do a nifty job of sorta concealing ingredients, like the ear-shaped orecchiette or the lily-shaped gigli. There are so many shapes available, it’s a way to involve your children in meal planning…let them select the shape of the day.
Some pasta-with-shredded-chicken standard dishes include:
Penne (or any tubular pasta) with chicken and broccoli. Usually served in light creamy sauce, which could be lemon and white wine, or you can skip the wine and use just broth and Parmesan cheese. You can find a few recipe options here.
Angel Hair pasta (spaghetti, linguine…) with cherry tomatoes, broccoli and feta cheese is popular at my house. You can find the basic recipe in Mollie Katzen’s cookbook, Vegetable Heaven…I’ve tweaked it a bit, but the basic formula is there and it’s great.
Obviously, along with pasta shapes, it is the sauces that change up your pasta meals. Marinara (meatless) or Bolognese (a meat sauce with tomatoes) are two red sauce options. Pesto (the classic, made with basil or varieties using arugula, parsley, spinach or other greens, ground with nuts, oil, possibly Parmesan and garlic) and Alfredo are also popular.
One very important note about cooking pasta. Well, maybe two. The first is that it REALLY makes a difference if you salt the cooking water. Should taste like sea water. Really. It took me 30 years to get that through my head and what a change. So do it. Secondly, try cooking your pasta more ‘al dente’, that is, just for the amount of time suggested on the package. It’s healthier. I can’t really explain it, but click here to see some notes about why…
Something else, along with salting the cooking water, which it took me decades to learn about, but which has become a favorite tool. Here are some ideas that come from an article I tore out of a cooking magazine a while back. My apologies to the author, but while avidly snipping, I failed to save your name. So I cannot give credit to the writer/cook who offered this brilliant, flexible, easy, quick pasta dinner synopsis.
While the pasta water is coming to a boil (add salt just before pasta), poke around in your fridge, freezer and cabinets to find some tasty ingredients. Then heat a little olive oil in a skillet and cook some chopped onion, leeks, shallots or garlic. If you have some leftover cooked meat or sausage, add that too.
Next step would be adding something like mushrooms, tomatoes or seafood to the pan, or blanching a green veg like green beans, broccoli or something leafy like kale in the pasta water and then adding it to the pan. Also a place to use some leftover veg.
When the pasta is al dente, use the strainer to take it out of the water. (One thing I LOVE about this method is that it keeps me from forgetting to save a cup of pasta water…if I’m dumping the pasta into a colander, whoops, it’s gone, every time!) If you want to set some pasta aside for a plain pasta n’ cheese for little people (with some carrot sticks, green beans or other hand held veggies on the side), do that. Just put a little olive oil or butter on top of it, to prevent pasta clumping and sticking.
Use the strainer to lift the rest of the pasta into your skillet and add a little pasta water to make a sauce. Take the pan off the heat and add some herbs or cheese or breadcrumbs to finish it off. Done. Quick, easy and yum.