I never completely understood the phenomenon of all kids all the time all loving pizza so much that it is their absolute favorite food. I mean, I always had a bit of an aversion to pizza, mostly because of the tomatoes. But even then, in one of my weak childhood moments of giving in to peer pressure, somehow at one point I remember saying that pizza was my favorite food (because everyone else had, after all). And then I remember thinking, “what? why did you just say that erin? you know peanut butter is your favorite food.” And I think I learned a lesson about peer pressure that day.
Don’t misunderstand me here: I enjoy pizza. And I even enjoyed it as a kid, usually because it meant we got to eat it on the floor of the family room watching a movie. But I’ve always been one to squish the extra sauce out from under the cheese of my pizza and let it collect on my plate. Seriously, I am messiest pizza eater. It’s better when I remember to order my pizza with light sauce.
I’m telling you all this about pizza because the other night when I took my first bite of this pasta, pizza is the first thing I thought of. This baked penne is like pizza in pasta form: with starch and cheese and tomatoes and garlic and mushrooms (and you could probably add whatever other pizza topping happens to be your favorite).
And even though this is called “baked penne with chicken and sun-dried tomatoes” since it comes from Martha Stewart and all, I think we might just have to start calling this pizza pasta. Because that’s kind of what it tasted like. It is cheesy creamy pasta with mushrooms and chicken and just enjoy sweet sun-dried tomatoes to amp up the flavor (seriously, sun-dried tomatoes that are then baked in the oven have a magical sweetness to them), but not enough to make me turn up my nose. And picky eater bonus: the big chunks of sun-dried tomatoes are plenty easy to pick around (as are the mushrooms, because we all know I wouldn’t have eaten those as a kid either).
Baked Penne with Chicken and Sundried Tomatoes
from Martha Stewart
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Bake Time: 25 minutes
Wait Time: 5 minutes
1 lb. penne rigate
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, halved horizontally
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups milk
8 to 10 oz. white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1/2 cup oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and sliced
1 1/2 cups provolone, shredded (about 6 oz.)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 4 oz.), divided
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a 9 x 11 baking dish. Set aside.
2. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the penne rigate and cook until it is just shy of al dente (still a little crisp). Drain the pasta and set aside.
3. Season the chicken breast halves with salt and pepper. In a large non-stick skillet, heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken breast and cook until golden brown and cooked through, about 3-5 minutes per side. Remove from the skillet and set aside.
5. In a large heavy bottomed pot (possibly the same one you boiled the pasta in) melt the butter over medium heat. Then add the flour and the garlic, cooking for 1-2 minutes, whisking constantly. Then slowly add the milk, continuing to whisk. Once all the milk is added, continue to cook, whisking gently, and bring the mixture to a simmer (you may need to increase the heat slightly). Cook until thickened.
6. Add the mushrooms and tomatoes to the sauce mixture and stir them in. Then remove the pot from the heat and add the provolone and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan. Stir it in until melted. Slice the chicken and add it to the sauce along with the pasta, and stir until all the pieces of chicken and pasta are coated.
7. Pour evenly into the prepared baking dish and top with the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan.
8. Bake for 25 minutes, until the top is bubbly and golden brown. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes before serving. Serve warm.