A step by step tutorial on making a fresh, Summer vegetable inspired chicken dinner with pasta to impress!

A majority of the fresh ingredients used in this recipe can be grown in a personal garden or easily attained from a Farmers Market!  Do your part to support local agriculture!  I promise this dish will only get better by using your own tomatoes and zucchini or by purchasing them from a local organic farmer.

Ingredients needed to complete the dish:

  • 2 Chicken Breasts (or thighs if you prefer dark meat) No skin, but I didn’t trim the breast meat, I left the fat on.  Fat is flavor.
  • 2 Zucchini
  • 3 Red Roma Tomatoes (any fresh, vine ripe tomatoes will do)
  • 1 Onion (I used a Walla Walla sweet)
  • 1 head of Garlic (*pro tip:  Garlic that is imported from China, and this is becoming a big problem, cannot legally have the roots attached – so to ensure you’re purchasing something grown in the States, likely California, check the bottom and look for roots!)
  • Fresh Herbs, never dried!  Rosemary is essential (Sage and Thyme are excellent additions, and compliment poultry nicely)
  • 1 Lemon
  • Pasta (fresh or dried, dealers choice) I used a box of dried rotini pasta because it was already in my pantry…  The best varieties to use are Farfalle, Rotini, Orecchiette*, Penne, Conchiglie, or Campanelle*.  I’m saying, pick any smaller sized pasta.  The ones with * are pasta shapes I love, are a little less common, and certainly impress.  I would NOT recommend a Spaghetti or Pappardelle pasta, they are simply too long, and would not pair well for this dish.
  • Stock or bouillon base (2 cups)
  • Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Parmesan (this ingredient can be expensive if it’s good quality.  No, you are not allowed to use that powder substance that shakes out of a can and is found near the pasta sauce at the grocery store.  Think to yourself, “why is this ‘cheese’ shelf stable, sitting at room temperature…?”  Now, slowly walk away, and find where they keep the real cheeses, in the refrigerated isle.  I tend to buy Parmesan in bulk and keep it in the freezer, so I always have some on hand)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Fresh baked bread (this is optional, as the pasta already makes this a carb heavy meal)

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Kitchen items you will need:

  • Large sautée pan, you’ll be using this twice for this recipe
  • Large casserole or Pyrex baking dish
  • Large pot (for cooking pasta)
  • Kitchen thermometer (digital is best)
  • Cutting board
  • Chef knife
  • Serrated bread knife (I will explain why…)

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Begin by prepping all the vegetables!

Set them aside once they have been cut up.

The onion should be cut into a small dice.

  • Remove the ends of the onion
  • Cut the onion in half, and remove all the outside skin
  • Cut into thin strips, then turn the onion and cut again to get the small dice

The zucchini will also be cut into a small dice.

  • Wash your zucchini throughly before cutting!  (There is usually a sticky film on the gord you can feel before washing)
  • Remove the ends
  • Lengthways, cut into 3 or 4 even strips, depending on how large your zucchini is
  • Each strip will be cut again, into 3 or 4 even strips (now you have long matchsticks!)
  • Cut those matchsticks into small evenly shaped cubes.  You want the size to generally match the same as the onion.

Time to dice up our tomatoes!  *pro-tip:  unless you have a wicked sharp knife, you’re likely to squish your tomato with the knife rather then cut it.  Has this ever happened to you before while attempting to cut through tomato skin or bell peppers?  So, to avoid a squished tomato – we are going to use a large serrated bread knife to easily cut through the skin of the tomato, to give us a nice even dice of tomato.

  • Remove the top of each tomato, where it attached to the vine
  • Cut 1 of the tomatoes in half, set aside, this is going to become part of our garnish for the plate
  • With the other tomatoes, set them down on that flat cut surface, make 3 or 4 even slices, again this depends on how big your tomato is.  If you decided to use large tomatoes, like Beefsteak, you make need to make 7 or 8 slices.  The idea is to match the same thickness of the zucchini.
  • Take 1 slice of tomato at a time and cut it into matchstick pieces.
  • Dice all of the matchstick pieces of tomato, and you should have (roughly) even sized pieces!
  • The top piece, we discarded earlier, can also be diced and added.  Just don’t use the core piece, no one wants to eat that!

I also used my serrated knife to cut the lemon, which is a member of our garnishment.  For the lemon, remove the ends, you want to see some of the yellow flesh of the lemon.  Then cut directly in half and set aside.  If you see a lot of seeds, try and remove as many as you can using a fork or small knife.  If you only have 1 or 2 seeds, its okay to leave them alone, they will be easy to discard after the lemons are cooked.

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Let’s tackle the head of garlic!  Using the serrated knife, try to (safely, no cutting off fingers!) cut off the bottom and top of the garlic.  We are using the serrated knife, because you may need to saw at the garlic as it is very thick.  Just go easy and slow, without too much pressure, remember we are sawing.  Too much pressure and your knife slips, may result in a missing finger 😉.  It’s okay if a few cloves fall off, those can be put in a baggie and refrigerated for another day.  Discard any loose husk, peeling off.  The garlic is another piece of our garnish.  What we just did was expose a majority of the garlic cloves while still keeping the head intact, as 1 large piece.

Look at all of the beautiful vegetables you just cut up 💚

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Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees

Our next task is searing the chicken!  Lightly salt and pepper both sides of the breast meat.  Place the large sautée pan on the burner, get that pan heating up, the heat should be set just below high.  Once the pan is warmed up, add about 5 tablespoons of olive oil.  I used Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  The key is to adjust the heat appropriately, to keep the oil from burning!  *pro-tip:  Remember, you are in charge, you control the heat!  If you start to see lots of smoke, turn the heat down!  No burning the oil or chicken!

As the oil gets hot, it will begin to expand.  If you look closely, you should be able to see the oil rippling.  Now that it’s hot, let’s add our chicken.  You want to put the “pretty”, front side down of the breast meat first.  The oil is hot, so carefully add the chicken, you dont want a grease burn!  As soon as you add the breast meat to the hot pan, reduce the heat to just above medium.  We are NOT cooking the chicken, just nicely searing it, getting a golden color on both sides!

Once you’ve achieved a nice golden color on both sides, turn off the heat, and remove the pan from that burner.

Now, almost all of our ingredients are ready, and it’s almost time to assemble our large casserole dish!

If you have vegetable or chicken stock, pour 2 cups into the casserole dish.  A great substitute is bouillon.  You can find the same or similar product I used, next to the stock and soup in a grocery store.  I mixed a heaping teaspoon into a cup of hot water, then after mixing, I added 1 more cup of water to the casserole dish.  Just keep in mind that bouillon is much saltier then stock!  You will likely have to salt the final product more if you use stock vs bouillon.

Now add all of your diced vegetables to the stock in the casserole dish.

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Add the chicken, “pretty” side of the breast meat facing up.  Wiggle the chicken into the vegetables using tongs, so the chicken is sitting in the liquid.  Next add the garlic, lemon, and tomato.  Drizzle olive oil over the chicken and garnish items.

Now it’s time to add the fresh herbs!

Leave the herbs together, on the stem, especially loose herbs like Thyme. After this dish is finished cooking, the herbs will be removed and discarded.

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Without covering it, put this casserole dish into the pre-heated oven.  Set a timer for 35 minutes.  This is an excellent time to clean up your kitchen, and get ready for finishing this meal.  After only 10 minutes of baking, my kitchen was filled with the aroma of Rosemary.

Okay, so the kitchen is clean, you still have about 20 minutes on the timer – fill your pot with water, add a teaspoon or so of salt, turn it to high, when it begins to boil, add the pasta.  *pro-tip:  The salt adds flavor to the pasta and also gets the water boiling faster.  Some people like to add olive oil to the water, to aide in keeping the pasta from sticking together, I personally think that’s a waste of oil.  As long as you stir the noodles, first when you drop them in the water, and then every other minute while they cook, they will not stick together.  However, (and this does not pertain to this recipe) after pasta is cooked and the water strained out, as they cool – adding oil and tossing the noodles throughly, will keep them from sticking together.

Using a thermometer, temp the chicken when your timer goes off, after 35 minutes.  Poultry needs to be cooked to 165 degrees.  Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat.

Wait, you don’t own a digital kitchen thermometer?  Why?  The best way to know how something is cooked is by knowing it’s internal temperature.  Take the guess work out of… guess work.  Go buy one, it’s a $10 investment.

When I first checked my birds, I was just shy of 150 degrees so I reset the timer for another 10 minutes.  Back into the oven it goes!  (But it’s starting to look good!)  Clean and sanitize your thermometer between each use, you don’t want to cross-contaminate raw and cooked chicken by forgetting to clean your thermometer.  Believe me.

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Cook the pasta until the noodles are al dente.  If you’re really unsure what I’m talking about, read the back of the pasta box.  It will give you a general window of cooking time.  Example:  8-11 minutes.  Otherwise, just use a spoon, fish out a noodle, and eat it.  Is it crunchy?  Cook the pasta a little longer.  Is it just slightly firm but cooked through, and soft?  That is al dente.  What you don’t want is mush, over cooking to the point you’ve lost all structure.  Pasta should have texture but be completely cooked, no crunchyness either.  Don’t be that person who reads the box, it says 8-11 minutes, so you blindly just pull the water off the stove at 8 minutes, strain the pasta, only then to find your pasta is still crunchy and under cooked.  Don’t be that person!  Taste test your food.

When you decided the pasta is cooked to your liking, strain out all the water.  In the large sautée pan, add several tablespoons of butter, and add the cooked pasta.  Turn to low/medium heat.  Stir occasionally.

The extra 10 minutes we gave our chicken is up, and it’s time to check the internal temperersure again.  170 degrees, perfect, the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are soft and lightly roasted, but everything is very moist, due to the stock they cooked in.  Remove dish from oven.  Turn off the oven.  You can smell the roasted lemon now too… very nice!

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Remove the herbs and discard them.  Using a slotted spoon, add all the diced vegetables to the pasta and butter on the stove.  Add shaved Parmesan, if you really like cheese add a lot, this comes down to personal preference.  Give it a good stir.  Taste it.  Does it need more salt or pepper?  Maybe just a little bit of fresh pepper?  Again, you are the chef, does it taste good?  That is your goal.

Serving this dinner, you can either cut up the chicken or leave the breast meat whole.  The roasted tomatoes and lemon look fantastic on the plate and add needed color.  You’ll find the warm roasted lemon adds delicious flavor to the chicken.  As you squeeze the lemon over the chicken and pasta, the roasted insides are much sweeter than raw bitter lemon.  The garlic:  the cloves should be very soft, if you love garlic, add them to your plate or eat them with some fresh baked bread.  Not a big fan?  Then don’t eat the garlic, it’s served its purpose in adding flavor to the vegetables and chicken while they cooked in the oven.

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I really hope you enjoy making and eating this dish, utilizing fresh ingredients straight from the garden, a pasta and chicken dinner, sure to impress your spouse or dinner guests!

🍽 xoxo NaCl Wife

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