Comfort Food. Are there two better words when it comes to gastronomy? We all have a favourite dish that can warm us on a cold night, or remind us of a time long past, or simply make us feel like we are home. The beauty of comfort food is that it varies for each person, depending on their history and tastes. My own definition has evolved over the years – though my personal favourite will always be macaroni and cheese, my palate has transformed after spending years with someone from a different family, with a completely different food history. I also like to play around with variations of classic mac ‘n’ cheese (which is really just another way of saying that I love anything that includes pasta and/or cheese baked on top).
My Chicken Broccoli Alfredo is one of the more recent additions to my list of modern comfort food – a classic meal that is relatively quick and easy to make, which is nice on a weeknight, when one might be in need of some comfort after a long day at work. The below recipe was sourced from Epicurious.com but I have adapted and made a few changes, refining to my taste and finding a few shortcuts along the way. (Boiling the broccoli instead of steaming keeps me from getting another pot dirty, occasionally using more Monterey Jack and less Parmesan can save money, and extra cream makes everything a little saucier.)
Salt & pepper
0.45 kg (1 pound) of chicken, cut into small bite-size chunks*
*Note: I usually only use 1/2 pound of chicken when I make this dish, approximately 2 chicken breasts. This saves money and also makes room for more sauce to coat the noodles.
1 head of broccoli, cut into small bite-size florets
1 red bell pepper, cut into bite-size chunks
2 generous cups of heavy cream
1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup of grated Monterey Jack cheese, mixed in with the cup of Parmesan cheese
340 g (3/4 pound) of penne – I just eyeball about 3/4 of the package
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese (separated from the above mentioned cheese…set aside for broiling!)
- Fill a large pot with cold water and set over high heat to bring to a boil.
- Pour enough olive oil to coat the bottom of another large pot and set over medium heat.
- When the oil is hot, add the chicken to the pot and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Stir frequently to make sure that the chicken does not stick to the bottom of the pot.
- When the chicken is cooked through and white in the centre, use a spoon to remove all the chicken pieces. Place in a bowl and set aside.
- By now, your water should be boiling. Add a generous amount of salt to the boiling water before you add the pasta.**
**Note: In my version of this recipe, I always put the pasta in the water around the same time that I start cooking the peppers, because the penne I cook takes about 10 minutes which lines up perfectly with the rest of the cooking time for the sauce. This works for me, but check the packaging for the best and recommended pasta cooking time and work backwards.
- Add the red pepper to the oil and stir frequently until the peppers have softened, about 5 minutes.
- When the peppers are cooked, add the cream and mixed cheeses, stirring to combine.
- Bring the cream to a boil and then reduce the heat to low. Simmer the sauce for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens.
- Meanwhile, your pasta should be cooking away, as per the recommended time on the package. When there are about 2 minutes left on the pasta timer, add the broccoli to the boiling water.***
***Note: The broccoli will cook rather quickly, depending on the size of the florets you cut. (Smaller Florets = you may only need to cook for 1 minute. Larger Florets = you may need 2 or 3 minutes.) You might need an extra minute on the pasta since adding the broccoli will slow down the boiling of the water.
- After the sauce has simmered for 5 minutes, add the chicken set aside from earlier, along with any juices in the bowl. Stir to combine.
- Turn the broiler on your oven and position one of the racks in the top third of the oven.
- Drain the pasta and broccoli, and add to the sauce, stirring to combine.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper. I like a generous amount of pepper in my sauce – at least 15 to 20 grinds, and a couple pinches of salt. The Parmesan cheese already brings a good amount of saltiness to the dish so you don’t need too much more.
- Stir the entire pasta mixture for 2 to 3 minutes. Try a small bite to make sure you are happy with the seasoning! Yummm.
- Lightly grease a baking dish with butter or margarine, and pour the pasta mixture into the dish.
- Flatten the pasta so it is spread evenly throughout the dish and then top with the 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese.
- Put the baking dish under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn!
- When the cheese on top is golden brown, take the baking dish out of the oven and get ready to dig in.
Yummm. Golden Brown is the best description of anything when it comes to comfort food.