I aspire to be like my Italian grandmothers: making delicious, flavorful meat sauce (or sugo) to go over hand made fettuccine. I can imagine myself at eighty years old, spending all day making a hefty plate of fresh pasta and sauce for guests. Unfortunately, my reality is that of a busy twenty-something with three jobs. Even though I do not have the time currently to embrace my full nonna potential, I still want the Italian food I eat to be flavorful and feel-good. Fast, easy food does not have to be boring, bland, or unhealthy.
For a quick meal on pasta night, there is no better ally than Trader Joe’s Bruschetta sauce. While this sauce, made up of tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and basil, is usually served on toasted bread as an appetizer, its use extends beyond just the first course. This sauce is a heavy hitter when it comes to flavor: herby with basil, savory with olive oil, and sweet and acidic with tomatoes. The bruschetta sauce is smooth enough to evenly cover and coat the pasta, but the chopped tomatoes also adds some interesting texture. I add cooked chicken thighs in the dish for some extra protein. Chicken thighs are usually cheaper and very close to being nutritionally equal to chicken breasts. The slightly greater amount of fat that they have means that it’s very hard to make chicken thighs dry and overcooked, a sin that is easy to commit with breasts. To up the fiber factor on this dish, I usually go with whole-wheat pasta. A pasta like rotini, penne, or rigatoni is good choice: the ridges and shapes of the noodles allow the sauce to cling to it well.
And of course, a pasta dish would not be complete without some fresh parmesan cheese. When I first started cooking with my now partner, I brought out a wedge of parmesan cheese and he asked why we weren’t using the pre-gated stuff that comes in the green can- you know the one that doesn’t need to be refrigerated? While I do not believe in food snobbery, I do believe in using the freshest, best ingredients if you can. A wedge of parmesan and a grater will bring so much flavor to your dish; it definitely delivers a whole lot of bang for your buck. I have since converted my partner to only using fresh cheese (besides, is unrefrigerated cheese really cheese?) May you always be blessed with a large hunk of parm taking up residence in your fridge.
While this meal is not authentically Italian, eating it does make me feel like I’m spending some time in the neighborhood of Italian food. It fulfills that craving for a big bowl of pasta in a simple, easy way.
3/4 lb. chicken thighs
1 container Trader Joe’s Fresh Bruschetta Sauce (14.5 oz, you’ll find this in the refrigerated section)
16 oz pasta of your choice
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Fill a large pasta pot with water and put it on high heat for the water to boil.
- Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add a large swirl of olive oil to the pan. When pan is hot, add chicken thighs in a single layer. To avoid thighs overlapping, you may have to do this in two batches. Allow chicken to cook undisturbed for 2–3 minutes. This will help ensure browning. Flip chicken thighs over to the other side. Cook for another 3–4, until evenly browned and fully cooked (juices should run clear). Thighs should be cooked to 165F. When done, set thighs aside and lightly cover with aluminum foil.
- When water is boiling, add pasta and cook according to package instructions. Near the end of the pasta cooking time, with a heat safe cup or bowl remove and set aside a 1/2 cup of pasta water. Drain pasta when it still has a little bit of chew to it.
- Cut chicken thighs into small pieces, about 1 inch.
- Add pasta to serving dish. Top with chicken and bruschetta sauce. Mix to combine. If the sauce seems too thick and is clumping, add a small amount of the reserved pasta water. Top with Parmesan cheese and stir again. Serve and enjoy!