Broccoli and Chicken Pasta with Pancetta and Basil

First broccoli of the year! It was a little bitter, but I know as the weather cools the broccoli will get sweeter.

Last night’s dinner was a quick and easy recipe I’ve been making for years. My husband cooked a big chicken Sunday, stripped and shredded all of the meat, and I put the carcass in the crockpot overnight to make chicken broth, so we’ll use that chicken for three meals. Cheese sauces are a great way to use those little bits of left over cheese hiding the in the fridge, and instead of using butter to make the white sauce I decided to start with some homemade pancetta. The fresh basil really adds a lot of flavor, don’t leave it out!

This is one of the few "quick" meals in my repertoire. If you already have the chicken cooked you can have this on the table in about 30 minutes.

Broccoli and Chicken Pasta with Pancetta and Basil

2 ounces of pancetta or bacon, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tbl flour
2 cups of milk
1/4 pound of any cheese you like, or a mix. (I used a mix of gouda and goat cheese)
1/2 pound of leftover cooked chicken, shredded
1 lb broccoli, trimmed and cut into chunks and florets
1 lb of spaghetti
1/4 c fresh basil, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper

Set a large pot full of water to boil. Heat a big saute pan to medium. Saute pancetta and garlic until pancetta starts to get crispy and the garlic is nice and golden. Sprinkle the pan with the flour and stir until the flour darkens slightly and loses its raw smell. Take the pan off the fire but don’t turn the burner off. Whisk in the milk a little at a time until it’s incorporated and smooth.

The water should be boiling by now. Put the pasta in the water, stir, and add a little salt. You’re almost there!

Return the pan to the flame and turn it to low. When the white sauce begins to bubble, slowly add the cheese a little at a time, stirring after each addition until the cheese is all incorporated. Add the chicken and stir. Check the pasta by pulling out a strand and tasting it. When the pasta is almost done, add the broccoli to the water with the pasta. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, just until the broccoli is bright green and starting to soften. Just before dumping the pasta and broccoli into the strainer, scoop out 1/4 cup of the starchy cooking water and add it to the white sauce. Drain the pasta and broccoli, then add it to the cheese sauce, tossing gently until it’s all incorporated. Heat everything through gently, the pasta will absorb some of the sauce. Sprinkle each serving with fresh basil and plenty of pepper.

If you don’t want to use bacon, you can just use a couple tablespoons of butter to make the white sauce. You can also add a sliced onion with the garlic, or add more vegetables. Enjoy!

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