September 29, 2020
I have strong opinions about pasta. I love it. I love its versatility and ability to transform into something delicious in less than 30 minutes. I love its flavor and texture, and I love that it is a blank canvas, and that there are endless ways to make a delicious meal with little time and few ingredients. I am an Italian girl. Which may or may not justify my relationship with gluten. You see, gluten and I are dear friends and will be until the day I die, at which time, you will have to pry it from my cold dead hands.
I don't know that I have ever paired chicken with pasta. I have made meat sauces such as beef ragu and bolognese. I have added crispy pancetta to pasta with peas and onion. I have been known to make spaghetti and meatballs and devour every bite. But, never chicken with pasta. I had some reservations. But, after reading the rave reviews of Yotam Ottolenghi's "One Pan Crispy Spaghetti and Chicken" recipe, I was intrigued. Yotam Ottolenghi is an Israeli-English, restaurateur and food writer. He is also the author of several best-selling cookbooks. I have a couple of them, and while the recipes are excellent, the ingredient lists are often lengthy, and some of them are exotic and not ones you might already have on hand. This recipe is different. You probably have most of the ingredients in your pantry. Nothing fancy, no specialty stores required.
I did tweak Yotam's recipe. I hope he can forgive me. There is a more straightforward way to go about it and this is the truth. I made this one night, and it was so over the top delicious that I made it again the next day. The edges of the pasta are crispy while the rest remains perfectly al dente. The chicken adds a mild, subtle flavor, and there is a lovely, gentle sweetness and acidity from the tomato paste. I hope you make this one night and then again the next. Thank you Mr. Ottolenghi!
1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
4 tablespoons bread crumbs (I use panko)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
zest of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 pounds bone-in skin-on chicken thighs, or boneless skin-on chicken thighs
kosher salt and black pepper
1 medium sweet onion, diced or grated with a box grater (my new favorite way to handle chopping onions)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups boiling water
8 ounces spaghetti, broken into thirds
Preheat oven to 425° F.
Combine the cheese, bread crumbs, parsley, lemon zest, and 1 tablespoon of thyme in a small bowl and set aside.
Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a large, ovenproof skillet. Turn the heat to high. The oil must be shimmering (not simmering) and hot enough so that there is quite a fantastic sizzle when the chicken hits the pan. If you're not sure if it's hot enough, put a few pieces of breadcrumb in the pan first. If they sizzle immediately, the oil is ready. Things might get messy with oil spattering, so now is a perfect time to use it if you have one of those cool splatter guards.
Turn the heat down to medium-high and add the chicken, skin-side down. Let the chicken brown for 7-10 minutes WITHOUT moving it! It must sear and develop a crispy crust on the skin side, and if you are impatient (like me) and try to turn the chicken before it's ready, it will NOT let you. It will stick, and that is sad. Trust me. So leave it alone. Gently nudge it after 7 minutes, and if it releases easily and is a deep, golden brown, it's time to flip it to the other side. If not, give it a few more minutes. When it's ready, turn and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces and set aside for a moment.
Adjust the heat to medium, add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes until soft and golden brown. Mix in the tomato paste, garlic, cayenne, the remaining tablespoon of thyme, and pinch of salt. Stir everything together with the onion for a few minutes. At this point, the smell in your kitchen will be divine.
Meanwhile, bring the 2 cups of water to a simmer in a small pot. Pour the hot water into the pan and stir to combine with the tomato mixture. Add the spaghetti and nestle it in the pan, making sure all the pieces are submerged. It might not look like there's enough liquid but there is. Take the chicken pieces and place them on top of the spaghetti, skin side up.
Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and switch the oven setting to high broil. You might have to move one of the oven racks closer to the broiler flame. Scatter the breadcrumb mixture over the top. Drizzle with the last tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil (more is fine too) and with the cover now OFF, place the pan back in the oven for just a few minutes to get those really special crispy bits. Watch carefully, as ovens vary and it can go from gloriously crispy in areas to burnt in no time.
Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving.