One day just last week when the high temperature was hovering around 19 degrees, I heard birds singing outside my window, sounding so cheerfully oblivious to the words “Polar” and “Vortex.” I figured they knew something I didn’t. It picked up my mood to think that despite what’s going on with the weather, spring IS going to happen, come hell or high water. And yes, there will be high water after the snow pack melts, but let’s try not to worry about that right now.
We are starting to thaw. However, there’s still enough of a chill in my house that cooking things in the oven seems like a good idea. I usually roast a chicken at least once a week, throughout the year and into the summer when instead of heating up the house the bird goes outside on the grill.
The whole bird is usually eaten in one sitting in our family, but this time we had leftovers. My kids don’t go near cold roast chicken, but – HA! – they do when it’s baked into this creamy, cheesy mixture I told my son was Pasta Pot Pie. Just for the record, he didn’t go for it (he’s 13, and still suspicious of any green vegetable that isn’t broccoli or green beans), but my daughter was all over it.
The recipe for this rich, satisfying pasta “al forno”, from the oven, is below. In between are some travel shots for inspiration. I’m finally sorting through the photos I took in Italy last fall. These are a few of my favorites from a walk I took one day in Florence in the Oltrano, a charming, winding neighborhood on the left bank of the Arno.
I ended this walk as the sun was setting, just in time for a glass of Prosecco on the sidewalk of Enoteca Pitti Gola, right across from the Palazzo Pitti.
Leftover roast chicken is ideal for this recipe. If you don't have any, roast an 8 - 10 ounce bone-in, skin-on chicken breast half, seasoned with salt, at 400 degrees 25 minutes.
- 1 pound spinach
- 1/2 pound dried short pasta, such as mezze rigatoni or penne
- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
- 1 crushed garlic clove
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 cup cooked chicken in bite-sized pieces
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/3 cup shredded Fontina cheese
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Heat oven to 475 degrees.
- Bring a large pot of water (5 or 6 quarts) to a boil with 2 teaspoons salt.
- Drop spinach into the water and cook 1 minute; remove with a slotted spoon to a colander and drain. Put the spinach in a clean kitchen towel (careful, it's hot), roll it up and squeeze over the sink to remove as much water as you can. Chop spinach.
- Parboil the pasta until halfway cooked, 7 - 10 minutes depending on the size and thickness of the pasta. Drain.
- Stir together cream, garlic, salt, pepper, chicken, spinach and the cheeses in a large bowl; add drained pasta and mix together.
- Smear the butter over a 1-quart gratin or baking dish. Transfer pasta mixture to the gratin. Bake 12 minutes or so, until the the cream is bubbling and edges of the pasta begin to brown. Cool 10 minutes before serving.
This is a perfect dinner for either a hungry couple or 4 people with a salad on the side. Double up the recipe for a larger crowd, using 2 gratins or one 2-quart baking dish.