Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Pasta with Chicken and Broccoli


It can be really challenging to make good food choices when your body is cravings foods that are by nature not healthy choices. That's particularly challenging when you consider yourself to be a foodie, but also when you are a woman, with a woman's metabolism, who tends to see-saw around the same weight, when you really wish you could buckle down and shed some pounds.


I'm not always the most motivated person when it comes to weight-loss. I think my diet is usually pretty good, and I rarely eat fried foods (they are considered a rare treat). But I love carbs. I struggle to cut down on carbs, because I do love them, and can't picture a life and a diet without some of my favorites carbs somewhere in the mix.


Enter one of my favorite cookbooks from America's Test Kitchen: Comfort Food Makeovers. The incredible cooks and recipe testers at ATK have done a wonderful job finding ways to cut fat and calories, while still retaining lots of flavor. The key is not to cut out all the fat, but to find ways to replace certain unhealthy ingredients, but keep some of the ones that will help the dish shine.


I've made a few recipes from this book over the years (Pork Lo Mein, Chicken and Dumplings, Chicken Enchiladas), and have never been disappointed. They are not going to taste exactly like the full fat versions, but for someone who is trying to make some better food choices to help kick-start their weight loss journey, this is a good place to begin. I will never cut out all of the foods that I love, but I'd like to create a bit more balance so I can still occasionally cheat without absolute guilt.


This pasta with chicken and broccoli is a great example of how to enjoy comfort food while still cutting some bad-for-you ingredients. There is no butter or cream in this dish, yet a bit of flour and chicken broth helps create a thick sauce with lots of flavor from tons of garlic, chili flakes, and more. Lean chicken breast makes the dish more filling, and gloriously tender-crisp broccoli adds some much needed vegetables into the mix. There's even a bit of cheese to help add flavor and creaminess to the sauce.


This ATK version has managed to cut 300 calories, 18 grams of fat, and 11 grams of saturated fat from the original recipe. I will happily consume those extra calories elsewhere. This is a satisfying and delicious pasta dish that proves you can still eat some of the things you love while watching your calories. It's just about finding some balance and cutting out the really high fat ingredients in favor of some alternatives.


Pasta with Chicken and Broccoli
Serves 6
(From Comfort Food Makeovers)

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed of all visible fat, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick pieces
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, rinsed, patted dry, and sliced 1/4-inch-thick
8 garlic cloves, minced
3 anchovy fillets, rinsed and minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 pound broccoli florets, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound campanelle (or other short pasta with nooks and crannies, such as rotini or cavatappi)
1 ounce Asiago or Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup chopped basil

Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add chicken and cook until browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes; transfer to bowl.

Add onion, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, anchovies, pepper flakes, and remaining 1 teaspoon oil to fat left in skillet, cover, and cook over medium-low heat until onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Uncover, stir in flour, and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in broth and simmer, covered, until tomatoes are softened, about 2 minutes. Remove lid and simmer until sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes. Off heat, stir in cooked chicken; cover until needed.

Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot. Add broccoli and 1 tablespoon salt and cook until broccoli is bright green and tender but still crisp in center, about 2 minutes; using slotted spoon, transfer to large paper towel-lined plate.

Return water to boil, stir in pasta, and cook, stirring often, until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to pot. Stir in chicken mixture, cooked broccoli, Asiago, and basil. Cover and let sit for 1 minute. Add reserved cooking water as needed to adjust consistency and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Nutritional Info per 2 cup serving: 480 calories, 9 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 55 mg cholesterol, 69 grams carbohydrates, 32 grams protein, 6 grams fiber, 950 mg sodium

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