Thursday Dinner: Pasta with Chicken and Leeks

My mother would have called it “a sin” had I thrown away the leeks in my crisper. Any food thrown away because it was stale or past the point of safe consumption was a sin. It was a sin to throw away a loaf of moldy Wonder bread or stale Italian bread. It was a sin when we tossed out week-old leftovers that were forgotten or milk that went 10 minutes past the date on the carton. I’m not sure where the Baltimore Catechism taught that throwing away 10-day old meatloaf no one wanted to eat in the first place was an affront to our Lord and savior, but so it was and shall be.

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I had a bunch of leeks in my crisper leftover from the never-cooked Easter meal. As it was, we canceled dinner, failing to observe the resurrection of Christ as good Italian-Americans do (jamming forkfuls of ham into our mouths). To throw away my Pascal leeks would be…a sin.

Cook down nicely without the threat of getting too soft or mushy. Their subtle aroma permeates whatever meat or liquid they are cooked with or in. Not unlike a shallot, leeks enhance a dish without leaving behind a sharp onion flavor. 

In an effort to repent, or prevent the need to do so in the future, I chopped these leeks down and paired them with chicken thighs for a completely improvised dinner after a long week at work.

WHAT WORKED: I knew I wanted a little lemon in this dish, but not so much that it was the dominant flavor. After chopping the chicken down into fork-sized pieces, I soaked it for 20 minutes in lemon juice. The acid broken into the chicken a little bit and gave it just the right amount of flavor.

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WHAT DIDN’T: Here’s what I forgot about leeks: They are such a pain to clean. Give them a toss in cold water or work through them with your fingers to separate the pieces and free up the dirt.

EASE OF PREPARATION: Easy to medium. 

BEST FOR: A mid-week dinner.

SERVE WITH: A dry white wine, some Italian bread, and grated cheese

Pasta with Chicken and Leeks
By Jared Paventi

  • 1 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into fork-sized pieces
  • 2 cups bottled lemon juice
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 leeks, stems and green tops cut off, cut lengthwise, sliced into semicircles and rinsed thoroughly
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup wine
  • 1 lb. penne pasta

Combine chicken and lemon juice in a large bowl, and set aside. Let stand for at least 20 minutes. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.

Drizzle about 1 tbsp. of olive oil in a large saute pan over high heat. When it shimmers, add the leeks. Stir to coat in the oil and cook until very fragrant and soft, about 3 to 4 minutes.

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Slide to one side of the pan and use a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken pieces to the saute pan. Cook 5 to 7 minutes or until browned and cooked through. Toss together with the leeks to combine. The chicken should start sweating their natural juices as well as the lemon juice at this point.

Stir in the stock and wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 20 minutes. 

In the meantime, cook the pasta to the manufacturer’s directions. Drain and toss in a large bowl with the chicken, leeks and sauce. Let stand 1 to 2 minutes for the pasta to absorb some of the liquid, then serve.

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