The first time I made this pasta, Tim and I were at his parents' condo in White Stone, VA for the weekend to celebrate Valentine's Day (earning it Tim's nickname of "Valentine's Day Pasta"). They're right on the water where the Rappahannock River meets the Chesapeake, and there's nothing else within a 20 minute drive (or 40, if you do all your grocery shopping at Walmart, which we did for our first trip in college because we were #clueless, and it's now become a part of our Northern Neck tradition), so it was a nice chance to hang out and hibernate for the weekend. We spent the Saturday before Valentine's Day watching movies, playing board games, and drinking champagne. Which brings me to:
Valentine's Day Pasta: So easy, a drunk person could make it! Because oops, I made such a mess while making this that I had to soak not only the dishes, but also the kitchen - pro tip: covering every surface in wet paper towels makes it a lot easier to wipe off dried tomato sauce the next day.
When I made this the first time, I stuck with just the basic ingredients, but trust me - adding parmesan-crusted chicken will only make it better.
- 2 large chicken breasts, cut in half lengthwise
- 2 cups breadcrumbs (whole wheat if preferred)
- 1 cup grated parmesan
- 3 tablespoons olive oil (or enough to coat the chicken)
*Leave out chicken to make vegetarian*
- 12 oz dried penne pasta (whole wheat if preferred)
- 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup heavy cream (you can also use half and half, but I always end up using more than I would cream to get the same taste and I think that cancels out the point of using half and half in the first place)
- 1 cup vodka (please don't use anything out of a plastic handle but also let me know if you do because I'm curious if it would still taste good?)
- 4 cups spinach, loosely packed
- 2 cups mushrooms, roughly chopped
- 1 red onion, diced
- 1/2 cup basil, chopped
- 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (or about two full seconds of a pour from the bottle)
- salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 450. Mix breadcrumbs and parmesan and dip olive oil-coated chicken in mixture, making sure to cover. Bake chicken on baking sheet for 15 minutes, flipping halfway through so each side gets crispy. If you want it to be even crispier, broil the chicken on each side after it's done baking for 30 seconds to a minute on each side or until browned (keep an eye on your oven, as this can go pretty quickly). Slice or dice chicken and set aside.
Add olive oil to skillet and heat at medium heat. Add onions and sautee for 4-5 minutes. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, mushrooms, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper and sautee for an additional 2 minutes. Add vodka and simmer for 5 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes (watch out for splatter!). Add salt and pepper to taste. Use simmer time to bring a pot of salted water to boil and cook and drain pasta according to box instructions.
After 20 minutes, stir in cream until sauce turns pink. Pour sauce over drained pasta, add spinach, chicken, and basil, and stir to combine. Add as much parmesan to your bowl as you feel morally capable of consuming, and eat!