Rigatoni Pasta with Braised Chicken, Spinach, Peas & Saffron Cream

On a recent Friday I found myself without any immediate post-work plans before having to meet up with roommate Alex later that night. For me, cooking on a Friday evening is a good time to make a recipe that would normally be too time consuming for a weekday meal, yet not quite special enough for a Sunday dinner. I scoured across recipes I had previously e-mailed myself and came across one for pasta and braised chicken thighs in a saffron cream sauce. Like many other people, I am trying to incorporate more vegetables into my diet and decided to add spinach and peas into the sauce for some extra color and some extra vitamins.

Rigatoni Pasta with Braised Chicken, Spinach, Peas, and Saffron Cream (adapted from Bon Appetit)

INGREDIENTS:
2 1/2 to 2 3/4 pounds chicken thighs with skin and bones
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped white onions
6 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed
2 cups dry white wine
1 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
2 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth
1 pound Rigatoni
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons (or more) fresh lemon juice
2 cups baby spinach, packed
3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
2/3 cup chopped fresh basil

DIRECTIONS:
 Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches if necessary, add chicken, skin side down, to skillet and cook until golden, about 7 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate.

Add onions and garlic to drippings in skillet; sauté until onions are slightly softened, 7 to 8 minutes. Add wine and saffron to skillet; bring to boil. Continue to boil until liquid is thickened and reduced by less than half, about 8 minutes.

Add 2 cups chicken broth to skillet. Return chicken to skillet; bring to boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover; simmer gently until chicken is very tender (adjust heat to prevent boiling and turn chicken over after 30 minutes), about 1 hour total.

 Transfer chicken to plate and cool. Reserve skillet with juices. Remove skin and bones from chicken and discard. Tear chicken meat into bite-size pieces; place in medium bowl and reserve.

Cook pasta in pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain; return to pot.

Meanwhile, spoon off fat from juices in skillet; discard fat. Add cream to juices in skillet and boil until sauce is reduced to 2 1/2 cups and is thick enough to coat spoon, about 10 minutes.
 Stir in 2 tablespoons lemon juice, then chicken pieces. Stir over medium heat until heated through, adding more broth by 1/4 cupfuls to thin sauce as needed and adding more lemon juice by teaspoonfuls, if desired, about 5 minutes. Stir in spinach and peas until spinach is slightly wilted, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add chicken mixture to pasta in pot and toss to coat. Stir in basil. Transfer pasta to plates and top with additional basil.

Although it took me nearly two hours to make this dish, it was worth every minute. Between the braised chicken and the saffron cream sauce, this pasta was pure comfort for a Friday evening. The rigatoni did a great job picking up the delicious saffron cream while the lemon juice brightened up the flavors of the dish and made it seem lighter than it was. The spinach and peas did the double duty of providing a splash of color while easing some of the guilt from using heavy whipping cream. Maybe I should give myself more down time Friday evenings to make a time consuming yet delicious and comforting meal.

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