This looks unassuming but turned out FANTASTIC!! The night we served it, I actually ate seconds, and seconds are a big no-no for me. The leftovers were great too, and neither of us got tired of eating this, which says a lot. I found it in one of my newest books, “Sizzling Skillets” by Emeril Lagasse. This was so easy to put together, and you could make it even easier by using a good quality store-bought pesto. Enjoy!
1 lb. cavatappi pasta
Salt and black pepper
3/4 cup EVOO
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup diced onion
2 tsp minced garlic
9 oz. spinach, tough stems removed, roughly chopped
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/4 tsp lemon zest
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
3 tbs unsalted butter
3 tbs all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk
8 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water according to package directions, but undercook it by about 2 minutes. Drain, drizzle with 1 tbs EVOO, toss to coat, and set aside.
Grease a 9×13″ baking dish and set aside.
Heat 1 tbs EVOO in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the chicken, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until the chicken is opaque, about 2 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Add another tbs of oil to the pan and add the onion. Cook until tender, about 4 minutes, then add 1 tsp garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Now add the spinach and season again with salt and pepper. Cook for a couple minutes, until the spinach begins to wilt. Turn off the heat and add the chicken back in. Set aside.
Make the pesto: combine the pine nuts, crushed red pepper, 1/4 tsp lemon zest, and remaining 1 tsp garlic in your food processor. Pulse until blended. Use a rubber spatula and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the basil leaves, salt and pepper and turn the processor on. Stream in 1/2 cup EVOO through the feed tube until it’s well blended. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to broil.
In a medium stock pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add in the flour and whisk for a minute. Don’t burn it. Whisk in the milk, a little at a time, and cook until thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the pesto, 3/4 of the Parmesan, and season with salt and pepper.
In a large mixing bowl, or in your saute pan, combine the pasta, chicken-spinach mixture, pesto cream sauce, and remaining 1 tsp lemon zest. Toss to mix well. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese and broil until the top is bubbly and browning.