A 20-minute one-pot dinner that tastes really, really good is my idea of a successful weeknight meal — and this Alfredo-style pasta with Cajun-spiced chicken is exactly that. The ingredient combo — smoky chicken, cheesy sauce, and juicy tomatoes — is actually inspired by a cult-favorite dish at Chili’s.
Here, we’re pan-searing our chicken instead of grilling it, but other than that it’s pretty darn similar — down to the garnish of scallions on top. Whether or not you’ve tried the restaurant version, you’re sure to love our homemade copycat.
Read more: 40 of Our Favorite Takeout and Store-Bought Copycat Recipes
Alfredo Sauce, Simplified
Despite its rich and creamy texture, traditional Alfredo sauce isn’t made with cream (although it’s often added in recipes to thicken the sauce). Instead, it’s made with the pasta’s cooking liquid, butter, and grated cheese. For this extra-easy version, we’re making the sauce in the same pot as the pasta. You’ll combine the cooked noodles, some of the starchy cooking water, and butter; stir until the butter melts; and then add Parmesan by the handfuls and stir intensely until a cheesy sauce forms.
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A note about the butter: Because it’s a key ingredient to this pasta dish, it’s important to use a high-quality butter with a high fat content. European-style butters, like Kerrygold, tend to have higher fat content, but if you have a favorite local butter brand, by all means use that.
Prep While You Cook for the Easiest Weeknight Pasta
While you’re waiting for the water to come to a boil, you can slice the chicken; grate the cheese; and chop the tomatoes, scallions and herbs. Then, as the pasta cooks, you can season the chicken with a store-bought Cajun spice blend, which typically contains a mix of paprika, garlic and onion powders, dried thyme, and a hint of cayenne. This will give the chicken a warm, smoky aroma, without being overwhelmingly spicy.
This dish is best served with a light side salad, roasted veggies, or garlic toast (which is what they serve at Chili’s!). Note that the sauce is best eaten right away, as it thickens over time. You can always add a little water or oil to loosen it, if you need to.
More Recipes to Use Your Cajun Spice Blend
- Easy Baked Cajun Chicken
- 3-Ingredient Sheet Pan Cajun Potatoes
- Sausage and Potato Foil Packets
- One Pot Creamy Cajun Chicken and Rice
Cajun Chicken Pasta
- 1 cup
grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup
fresh parsley leaves and fine stems
- 4 tablespoons
- 1 pound
dried penne pasta
Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon
salt-free Cajun spice blend
- 1 1/2 pounds
skinless boneless chicken breasts
- 2 tablespoons
olive oil, plus more for the pasta
Fill a Dutch oven or large pot two thirds of the way with salted water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, prepare the following ingredients: grate 1 cup Parmesan cheese, dice 2 tomatoes (about 1 cup), thinly slice the light green and white parts of 2 scallions, and coarsely chop 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves if desired. Cut 4 tablespoons unsalted butter into 4 pieces.
Add 1 pound dried penne pasta to the boiling water and cook until just shy of al dente (it should still be a little too tough to chew), about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, place 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and 1 tablespoon Cajun spice blend in a large bowl and stir to combine. Pat 1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts dry with paper towels. Cut into 1-inch pieces, add to the bowl, and toss to combine.
When the pasta is ready, reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta in a colander. Immediately drizzle it with a little olive oil, and toss to coat the noodles so they don’t stick together. Leave the pasta in the colander.
Wipe out the pasta pot, then add 2 tablespoons olive oil and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the chicken, spread into an even layer, and leave untouched for 1 minute. Flip the chicken over. Repeat until the chicken is cooked through and browned in spots, about 4 minutes total.
Add the pasta, butter, and 1/4 cup of the pasta water, and stir to combine until the butter just starts to melt, about 1 minute. Add the Parmesan a little at a time, stirring vigorously and constantly with a wooden spoon, to form a thick sauce that clings to the noodles, about 2 minutes. If it appears dry, add 1 tablespoon of the pasta water at a time until it reaches your desired consistency.
Remove from the heat and stir in the tomatoes. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Divide between plates and top with the scallions and parsley, if using.
Storage: The pasta will last 5 days in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
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