Basically, this pasta is inspired by a couple of meals I’ve eaten with friends over the last few months. The pesto, chicken, broccoli and cashews were first combined in an apartment in Sydney, when three friends and I cooked dinner for ourselves before heading to Centrepoint Tower for drinks, and then the Opera House to see Ben Folds live. I thought it was delicious. In January this year, while running an event at Griffith, Gold Coast Campus (GUG) we needed to feed about 12 of us. On advice from a good friend we combined tinned tomatoes, pesto, mushrooms, parmesan cheese and pasta. Again, a hit.
This recipe is a bit of a combination of these two - I’ve changed some things to suit my particular tastes. The brilliant thing is that you can really put whatever the hell you want in it. I’m sure there are proper recipes with proper amounts for dishes very similar to this one - but I like to make things up as I go along.
2 chicken breast fillets, cut to bite-size pieces (I use organic, free-range chicken)
1 cupped handful of broccoli, (the handful is measured after chopping)
3 1/2 small tomatoes (or 3 large ones, I guess. There just happened to be half a tomato in the fridge, so I used it too.)
100g packet of cashews
500g of pasta (I like the spirals!)
about 10 small mushrooms, halved and sliced (but if you like big bits of mushroom this is obviously up to you)
1 jar of basil pesto (not a big jar, it’s about as big as my fist. It’s already gone to the recycling, so I can’t tell you how many grams)
parmesan cheese to taste
When I cook this pasta I generally get a few things going at once. The first thing I’ll do is put on the water to boil for the pasta - I do this in the biggest pot I have, as at the end I’ll drain the pasta then whack everything back into that pot to mix it together.
While the water is boiling I’ll cut up my broccoli. Because I steam it, I also have a pan of boiling water on for that. I steamed it for only about 5 minutes - so it’s still a bit crunchy. If you’re going to multitask and move on to the mushrooms, DON’T FORGET about the broccoli! Overcooked broccoli is mushy and gross.
While the broccoli is steaming, I’ll get a frypan nice and hot, then fry the mushrooms in butter, adding a little salt and pepper. When I take them out of the pan, there’s sort of a buttery-mushroomy liquid left behind, which I like to think puts a little flavour in the chicken. (I have no culinary reason to believe this, though.)
Next, I’ll cook the chicken in the same pan, adding some oil so it doesn’t stick. I do it in two batches, so there is lots of room in the pan and I can be sure it’s cooked all the way through. (The way I check is by pulling out what looks to be the thickest piece and cutting it in half. If it’s cooked through, all the slightly smaller bits should be, too. If it’s not, I just put it back in the pan and keep going for a bit longer.)
While the chicken is cooking I tend to multitask again - the tomatoes need to be diced into nice small pieces, so I tend to do this next to the stove, occasionally stirring the chicken around the pan as I go.
At some point during this process, you should have noticed the water boiling. When it’s all bubbly, whack in the pasta. I know I said 500g, but I think next time I’ll use about 3/4 of the packet - there’s just a little too much pasta in my “pasta:not pasta” ratio for this recipe. Cook for about 10 minutes, depending on your tastes. I generally check if it’s done by pulling out a piece, running it under the cold tap for a few seconds and then eating it. If it’s good, it’s good. Too chewy? Leave it a while.
Hopefully you’ll now be in a position where you have a nice bowl of cooked mushrooms, a bowl of cooked chicken, a chopping board of diced tomatoes, a bowl of steamed broccoli (I hope you didn’t forget about it!) and some pasta bubbling away on the stove. If you’re in this lucky position, I like to wash up the frypan etc. while I’m waiting for the pasta to be done. If you can clean things up as you go it makes it so much easier - then you can sit down, enjoy your food and not worry about the pile of washing up!
When the pasta is done, drain it in a colander and leave it for a minute or two. Once most of the water has drained off, put it back into the pot it cooked in, and then mix everything together! Once you’ve stirred it all up, add the pesto. This will make it smell reallllly good. Once that’s all mixed in, add the cashews - I add the whole packet but it depends how much you like them!
So that’s basically it! I like to serve it straight away, while it’s hot, with parmesan cheese on top.