Effortless Chicken and Pasta Combinations
With chicken and pasta dishes, you can easily mix and match flavors, textures and cooking methods. Emphasize warm, creamy dishes once a night and spicy, crunchy dishes the next. You’ll streamline meal planning and cooking for busy weeknights if you keep a supply of different pasta types in your cupboard, find a source for cooked chicken and have plenty of frozen vegetables on hand.
1. Classic Salad
Sauteed chicken breasts take only minutes to cook in a frying pan, making chicken salad a quick meal for those warm summer months when the last thing you want to do is cook once you get home. Or instead of sauteing, poach the breasts the night before you plan to serve the salad. Stir together diced or shredded chicken, corkscrew pasta, sliced celery, grapes cut in half and toasted walnuts or pecans. Dress the salad with a mix of mayonnaise, rice vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.
2. Mediterranean Salad
The flavors of southern French, Italian, Middle Eastern and Spanish cuisine bring vivid flavors and lively textures to a salad. Sautee chicken breasts in olive oil, and add minced garlic during the final seconds of cooking. Then slice the breasts to add to a salad with small orecchiette ("little ears") pasta or short gemelli, a pasta shaped like two strands of spaghetti twisted together. Add plenty of torn basil leaves, cherry tomato halves and sliced green olives, and finish with a balsamic vinaigrette.
3. Italian Baked Chicken and Pasta
With plenty of liquid from canned tomatoes, a casserole baked in a 400-degree Fahrenheit oven for 45 minutes with chicken and dry rigatoni or elbow pasta eliminates the time-consuming step of bringing water to a boil and cooking the pasta. For four people, use a 26-ounce can of diced or crushed tomatoes, two chicken breasts, diced or shredded, a cup of grated mozzerella or Jack cheese, a package of frozen spinach that's been drained and squeezed to remove the water, and an Italian herb blend.
4. Greek Skillet Supper
Sliced black or green olives, canned tomatoes, baby spinach leaves, feta cheese, onions, oregano and garlic turn chicken and penne pasta into a Greek-style meal. Cook the pasta with the tomatoes and cup of chicken broth right in your skillet. Then add cooked chicken and all the other ingredients except the spinach and feta, and heat everything completely and eliminate most of the liquid. Stir in the spinach and feta cheese just before serving.
5. Chicken and Broccoli
Use the same method of skillet cooking for chicken, broccoli and bow-tie pasta that you would for any skillet meal. Cook the pasta in a few cups of chicken broth, adding broccoli florets and stems to cook until tender, and then add cooked chicken, salt and pepper. Heat everything through and reduce the liquid. Near the end of the cooking time, stir in enough goat cheese, cream cheese or sour cream to turn everything creamy, and add toasted nuts just before serving.
6. Chicken and Pasta Ragu
A fancy name for a thick meat sauce similar to Italian spaghetti sauce, ragus don't necessarily need hours to simmer and cook. Use jarred red sauce or Alfredo sauce and add cooked and shredded chicken to make your sauce as quickly as you do your normal spaghetti sauce. Add cooked fresh mushrooms or canned mushrooms, a teaspoon of dried or fresh thyme, salt and pepper, and serve the sauce over linguine, spaghetti or angel hair pasta.
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Susan Lundman began writing about her love of cooking, ingredient choices, menu planning and healthy eating after working for 20 years on children's issues at a nonprofit organization. She has written about food online professionally for ten years on numerous websites, and has provided family and friends with homemade recipes and stories about culinary adventures. Lundman received her M.A. from Stanford University.