One-tray chicken and pasta bake with a cheesy twist

Lily Higgins: This hassle-free and delicious family dish ticks a lot of boxes

Lilly Higgins’ pollo pizzaiola with pasta

Lilly Higgins’ pollo pizzaiola with pasta

 

The idea of pasta bake always leaves me deflated. It’s the thought of a huge pot of pasta with each mouthful being exactly the same, both in terms of texture and taste. One of my friends ceremoniously crushes a bag of cheese and onion Tayto over her pasta bakes as soon as they’re out of the oven. There is then a race to dish it up and get it to the table before the crispy topping softens. And it does taste delicious. So adding a pop of flavour and texture is advised.

I did want to cook a caprese-style chicken dish this week while also making a family friendly one-pot dinner, so this pollo pizzaiola concoction came about with a bed of pasta, two types of cheese and bright herbs.

For me it ticks all the boxes and was hassle-free and delicious. It will join the rotation here of meals that everyone eats without complaint. I can imagine some smoky chorizo to be a welcome addition.

Use any dried Italian herb mix you have, or even a dollop of pesto will do. We have just recently planted up our herb bed and I have high hopes. I want to be inundated with oregano and marjoram, for the ground to be covered in a blanket of thyme that carpets over the rocks.

I’ve planted some to line the steps so in the warm summer evenings the scent of peppermint, lemon balm and verbena will fill the air.

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I bought this delicious Toonsbridge mozzarella from the Real Olive Company, delivered direct to my door. They now have a shop on George’s Street too, so all of Dublin can enjoy their plump olives, cured meats and cheeses.

Pollo pizzaiola with pasta

Serves 4-6

Pollo pizzaiola with pasta

Ingredients 
1 tbsp olive oil 
3 cloves garlic, crushed 
2 x tins chopped tomatoes 
2 tsp dried oregano or basil or 2 tbsp freshly chopped 
Sea salt and black pepper 
1 tsp brown sugar 
400g pasta 
2 x chicken breasts 
4 tbsp grated Parmesan 
1 ball mozzarella 
200g cherry tomatoes

Method
1
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees or equivalent. 

2 Pour the 1-2 tbsp of olive oil in a heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Add the crushed garlic and stir, warming the garlic through to take any raw taste from it but don’t let it colour. Add the tinned tomatoes and herbs. Season with salt, pepper and sugar. Leave to simmer for 10 minutes.

3 Meanwhile simmer the pasta in a large pan of boiling salted water for five minutes till only just al dente. Drain the pasta and tip it into a large ovenproof dish. Add the tomato sauce and stir well. If it looks a little dry then add a cup or so of water. Keep in mind that more liquid will be absorbed as the pasta cooks and some will evaporate in the heat of the oven.

4 Place each chicken breast flat on a chopping board, flatten each one with your palm and cut it in half horizontally. Lay each chicken breast on a piece of parchment paper and flatten them with a rolling pin or similar until they are all equally thin. This ensures they cook quickly and evenly. 

5 Place the chicken pieces on top of the pasta. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Scatter 1 tbsp grated Parmesan over each piece of chicken. Place the cherry tomatoes around the chicken. 

6 Bake for 10 minutes till bubbling then arrange the mozzarella slices on top and return to the oven for a further 10 minutes. After this stage, the chicken will be cooked, the Parmesan golden and the sauce nicely thickened and bubbling. Serve with a green salad or vegetables.

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