Chicken & Spinach Skillet Pasta with Lemon & Parmesan

The Simple One-Skillet Dinner Winner That My Mom Taught Me and I Can’t Live Without

I grew up with the good fortune of having an amazing cook for a mom. She was entirely self-taught and-while everyone who ate at our house raved about her delicious meals-her endgame wasn’t about being an amazing cook. It was about making a dinner that tasted good, didn’t take too long and was achievable for anyone! Basically, she was just a normal working mom who wanted to feed her family healthy meals, and she just happened to be really, really good at it.

I learned so much from hanging in the kitchen with my mom. But the lessons that stuck with me were all about timing, shortcuts and producing as few dishes to clean up as possible. She was a master of throwing an easy weeknight dinner together that tasted good enough to be a weekend dinner-party meal. One such example was a simple garlicky pasta dish that was an all-in-one meal. It had protein from chicken (or shrimp if we were feeling fancy!), whole grains from the pasta and a serving of veggies from lots of wilty spinach-all topped with Parmesan cheese for good measure. The night we first made it, it became an instant favorite. My mom wrote it down on a recipe card with the title “Devon’s Favorite Pasta” to add to a recipe book she was making for me to take to college. It remains in my regular dinner rotation to this day. Here are the best tips this recipe taught me that are the keys to making a delicious and easy weeknight dinner.

1. Contain the Cooking to as Few Pans as Possible

When my dad wasn’t traveling for work, he was in charge of doing the dishes (another lesson from my mom I continue to use in my life-if I cook, you clean) so this rule doesn’t necessarily apply if you aren’t the one doing the dishes. But when you are, this rule is key. Don’t use any more dishes than you have to. In this recipe that means you cook the protein, veggies and sauce all in one skillet. Then just add the cooked pasta to the same skillet, toss it all together and dinner is ready.

2. Use Quick-Cooking Ingredients

You can’t make dinner fast if your ingredients don’t cook fast. So choose things that are quick-cooking or take shortcuts to make them quick-cooking. In this recipe that includes:

  • Chicken breasts: We make them cook fast by cutting them into bite-size pieces first. Or try shrimp for another fast-cooking protein that’s delicious in this recipe.
  • Spinach: When adding vegetables, choose naturally tender vegetables, which take less time to cook than stalky hearty vegetables. In this recipe the residual heat from cooking the chicken and pasta is enough to wilt down the spinach-no true cooking required. Other leafy greens, like kale, would work too.
  • Pasta: Using whole-wheat or gluten-free pasta is one of the quickest ways to get your whole grains in. Plus, you can easily have your pasta cooking while you make the rest of the meal so everything is ready to go at the same time.

3. Choose Just a Few Flavor-Packed Ingredients

Cooking with fewer ingredients not only simplifies the actual cooking process, it also means you probably already have all the ingredients on hand (one less stop at the store!) and it’s quicker to put everything away at the end. To keep the ingredients list small, make every ingredient count by choosing ones that pack in lots of flavor. In this recipe that includes:

  • Garlic: Alliums like garlic, shallot and onion are key to flavoring savory dishes.
  • White wine: A little bit of wine goes a long way when making pasta sauce. Other flavorful liquids, like broth, work too.
  • Lemon: Adding an acidic ingredient like citrus or vinegar helps brighten the flavors of a dish and make it pop!
  • Parmesan cheese: It may seem like just a garnish, but that sharp, salty flavor goes a long way. A fresh herb garnish is just as good, especially if you are watching your sodium intake.

Nutrition Notes

Which Is Healthier, Chicken Breast or Chicken Thighs?

Both chicken breast and chicken thighs fit into a healthy diet. But if you want to reduce the fat in this dish, using chicken breast will do the trick. If you prefer the thigh, remove the skin and trim the fat to lower the fat content.

Photographer: Jen Causey

Do I Have to Use Whole-Wheat Pasta?

Because whole-wheat pasta is made with whole grain, it offers more nutrition in the form of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants than pasta made with refined white flour. While the difference in taste between whole-wheat pasta and regular pasta made with white flour is subtle to most, you can help ease the transition to whole-wheat pasta by making half the pasta in this dish whole-wheat and half regular pasta.

Tips from the Test Kitchen

Can This Recipe Be Made Gluten-Free?

Absolutely! If you have a gluten sensitivity, gluten-free pasta works well here. If not, using whole-wheat pasta will give you a boost of fiber without taking away from the flavor of the dish. We call for penne pasta but any shape will work.

Is There a Substitute for the White Wine?

You can replace the white wine with an equal amount of low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth.

Can I Use Baby Spinach Instead of Regular Spinach?

Yes, you can. Baby spinach is smaller in size than regular spinach, so there’s no need to chop it.

Additional reporting by Hilary Meyer, Jan Valdez and Carrie Myers

Photographer: Jen Causey


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