Bonus #SundayCookingAdventures: Penne with chicken, mushrooms

2014-08-10 12.52.33

Whole wheat — or whole grain — pasta is something I rarely see outside my house. No one ever has it when I order food at a restaurant. Buffets don’t offer it as a selection. Although it can usually be found in grocery stores, most don’t have many varieties to choose from. That’s too bad because they do all have different tastes and textures.

I am lucky and have access to a store with a wide variety of whole-grain pastas. If you haven’t tried them, you should. They offer a big punch of fiber and more nutrients than plain pastas, most of which have been stripped of their nutrients.

Whole grain pasta stands up really well in pasta salads. This one has penne, chicken, mushrooms, spinach and dried tomatoes. It was REALLY good, with excellent flavor. I’m not sure why I was surprised — it was from one of my favorite authors, nutritionist Ellie Krieger. It is one of the recipes in her book, “Weeknight Wonders: Delicious, Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2013, $29.99).

Now, this is not exactly what I would call a low-calorie salad. It was 15 Weight Watchers PointsPlus, 580 calories and 15 grams of fat for a very generous two-cup serving. I’d suggest having one cup, and serve it with a large tossed salad. You can have a 7 point meal with less than 300 calories and still be satisfied when you’re done.

I seasoned and roasted the chicken before adding it to the pasta and other ingredients. I think the chicken has more flavor this way, especially since I’m not using salt. Before I roasted the chicken, I rubbed each breast with a little olive oil, then sprinkled the chicken breasts with garlic powder, black pepper, dried basil and dried thyme leaves.

Below is the recipe as it appears in her book, with a note at the end explaining how I prepared the chicken. I loved the taste of this. Hope you like it, too.

Whole-grain penne with chicken, mushrooms, and spinach

12 ounces whole-grain penne
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound skinless boneless chicken breasts
1/2 teaspoon salt (I omitted)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion
1/2 pound sliced assorted fresh mushrooms
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes (about 6)
3 cups lightly packed baby spinach leaves (3 ounces)
1-1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup grated)


1) Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Add the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package.

2) Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a very large skillet over medium-high heat. Slice the chicken into thin strips. Season it with 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt (if using) and black pepper and cook until browned and just cooked through, stirring once or twice, about five minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate.*

3) While the chicken is cooking, slice the onion thinly into half-moons. Add the remaining one tablespoon oil to the skillet. Add the mushrooms and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have released their water and begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, mince the garlic and chop the thyme leaves. Add them to the skillet and cook, stirring, for one minute more.

4) Add the broth, crushed red pepper flakes, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt (if using) and black pepper. Bring to a boil over a high heat, then cook, uncovered, until the liquid has reduced by about half, five minutes. While the sauce is reducing, thinly slice the sun-dried tomatoes, coarsely chop the spinach, and grate the cheese. Once the sauce is reduced, stir in the sun-dried tomatoes and spinach and cook until the spinach is wilted, 20 seconds.

5) Drain the pasta and return it to the pasta pot. Add the mushroom-spinach mixture, the chicken with any accumulated juices, and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese and toss to combine. Serve garnished with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese.

*Cook’s note: If you want to roast the chicken instead, cover a large jelly roll or roasting pan with aluminum foil. Rub olive oil over both sides of the chicken (about 3 teaspoons of olive oil). Sprinkle each breast with garlic powder, dried thyme leaves, black pepper and dried basil. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, until chicken reaches 170 degrees when tested with a meat thermometer. Shred chicken with two forks then continue with step three of recipe.

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