Here’s what I want to know: whose idea was it to put magic wands in the hands of today’s little princes and princesses? Scepters I can understand, but no royal dress-up costume is complete these days without a magic wand. Maybe that’s just part of the expanding job description: “must be able to perform such royal duties as knighting brave squires, kissing frogs, and using a magic wand to zap the bejesus out of any inanimate object that must be transformed into a royal coach.”
Thank goodness we can put those magic wands to better use in the kitchen to conjure up a quick meal like Rigatoni with Chicken, Spinach, Mushrooms and Feta. It’s just the kind of thing Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother would have whipped up for the ball. Great dish for a roomful of nobility, but an equally good weeknight dinner that comes together so quickly that you’ll hardly have time to say “bibbidy, bobbidy, boo” before it’s on the table.
It isn’t just the quick prep that makes this meal magical. If you’ve already purchased ingredients for our Savory Bread Pudding or our Brown Rice, Wheat Berry and Quinoa Salad or the Roasted Beet, Cucumber and Feta Salad or the Quick Greek Salad, this is an extra dish you can add into rotation later in the week with very little advance warning. Having several dishes planned in the course of a week that use the same ingredients in different ways is one of my favorite tricks, and is certainly both resourceful and a time-saver.
This rigatoni dish has a wonderful medley of Mediterranean flavors that some kids might at first shy away from, but serve it with familiar pasta noodles and it is both comforting and approachable. We’re lucky that our Stout Sprouts (aka the little women with the wands) like spinach. Using it as a supporting ingredient here — and not a main ingredient — makes this all the more child-friendly. This is also the first dish in which we were able to get Daughter 2 to try mushrooms, and I’m hopeful it’s not the last. (Is there a magic spell for that?)
Daughter 1 temporarily abdicated the throne in order to help me in the kitchen, slicing olives and washing the spinach. Daughter 2 helped with the pasta, with parental supervision. Another one of her favorite jobs here is crumbling a block of feta cheese for sprinkling on the dish at the end.
There is a good amount of salt in this dish from the Kalamata olives and feta cheese. If you’re seasoning this dish before serving, be sure to taste it first.
Our princesses cleared their plates when we served this, and that alone was magical. If you’re having a knight….er, night when you’re pressed for time and need your own dinner magic, try this dish. And if you have a spare glass slipper sitting around, use it to serve from at the table. That’s just the kind of resourcefulness Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother would applaud.
Rigatoni with Chicken, Spinach, Mushrooms and Feta
1 pound box rigatoni pasta
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large raw chicken breast (if you have a leftover cooked chicken breast you can use it…just skip the sauté step below)
2 large portobello mushroom caps, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
5 ounces of washed baby spinach leaves (if purchasing bagged baby spinach, it’s about half a small bag)
1/2 cup sliced Kalamata olives
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes (we used fire-roasted for additional flavor)
1/4 cup dry white wine
Kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
Minced fresh basil or parsley (optional)
Bring a large stockpot filled with sated water to a boil over hight heat. Cook the rigatoni pasta according to directions. Drain and rinse the pasta and set to the side.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large non-stick sauté pan over medium heat. Salt and pepper the chicken breast on both sides and sauté for approximately 5 minutes per side, or until the breast is cooked all the way through. Remove the chicken breast from the pan and allow it to rest for 5 minutes before cutting it into 1-inch cubes.
While the chicken is resting, add the portobello mushroom cubes to the pan and sauté until softened and some of their moisture has been released. Add the garlic, spinach leaves, sliced olives, and diced tomatoes. Stir and bring to a simmer. Add the wine and allow the pan sauce to cook for about 5 minutes at a vigorous simmer, reducing slightly. Add the chicken cubes and the pasta to the pan and stir well. Taste and correct for seasoning, adding some salt and freshly-ground black pepper if needed.
Serve hot with a sprinkling of feta cheese (approximately 2 tablespoons per serving) and some minced basil or parsley if you’d like.
Serves: 8 – 10
Kid rating: four stars. Though this takes the little ones beyond the “spaghetti with marinara” realm, it’s approachable and mixes familiar tastes with some slightly more sophisticated ones. Kids can easily avoid the mushrooms if they don’t like them, and the spinach plays enough of a supporting role that my kids, for once, didn’t question being served something green.
Parent rating: four stars. This super-simple pasta dish is full of flavors I enjoy. One chicken breast can be stretched to serve eight people when combined with mushrooms and a simple pan sauce that is served with pasta. We went for rustic rigatoni noodles, but you could use penne or even spaghetti here if you prefer (though I liked the way the chicken and mushroom cubes, the cooked-down spinach and the olives texturally worked with the larger rigatoni noodles). If you want to make some simple swaps on ingredients, try capers instead of olives, or add some roasted red pepper to this dish. It would probably also be good with sliced sausage or salami instead of the chicken, but watch how much you’re adding since this dish is already heavy on salty ingredients. I’m putting this dish into rotation on any week we make other dishes that use chicken, olives and/or feta. A great way to stretch and use what’s on hand.