Freezer meal #1: Spaghetti with chicken, red peppers, green beans, and pesto cream sauce

I mentioned in a recent post that I had made a pot of split-pea soup, even amidst warm weather, all because of a hambone in my freezer that I hated to see go to waste. In the kitchen, I’ve nursed this particular OCD tendency of mine — the one where I have a hard time throwing things out — because there are very few other rooms in the house where it can actually be of use. Long story short, I have a freezer-full of stuff — and about 2 months to make use of it before we pack up and move northward.

So, to make sure that wasted frozen goods aren’t on the list of things that will keep me up at night, I’m starting a new mini-series called “Freezer Meals.” These are meals that I make from an item in my freezer that needs to get used but is perhaps not something I’d ordinarily be cooking because it is somewhat seasonally inappropriate. Seasonal, schmeezonal, right? No, of course not — I’m too invested in my obsession reader-relationship with Pollan for that. But using something up is worth it; and it’s not like I’m roasting a turkey and serving it with cranberry sauce.

The item to show up in this week’s freezer dig was a small container (about 1/4 cup) of basil pesto, made up at the very end of last summer or early fall, when I harvested my basil for the last time. I had remembered making a simple chicken fettucini with pesto cream sauce, from a back-issue of Everyday Food. I found the recipe, and tried to make it a bit more interesting (Everyday Food is often wonderfully simple, but can also be a tad boring) with some things I had on hand. Our produce box had been overwhelmingly bountiful, so I had some red bell pepper and green beans to use up. I also, per my usual habit, reached for chicken thighs rather than breasts, since they have more flavor and are much more forgiving when overcooked.

What we ended up with was so much better than the original recipe. We ate it all up the first night — and it made a good bit. A successful first freezer experiment; a keeper, worthy of a post:

Spaghetti with chicken, red peppers, green beans, and pesto cream sauce
(serves 4)

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small (or 1/2 large) red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • about 1/3 pound green beans, ends trimmed and cut in half if very long
  • 1/4 cup basil pesto
  • 1/4 cup (or more) heavy cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound spaghetti (or other noodle pasta)
  • parmesan, for serving

Place the green beans in a microwave-safe bowl with a lid. Add a few tablespoons of water, cover, and microwave on high for about 4 minutes, stirring halfway through. (Alternately, boil or steam the beans until crisp-tender and bright green.)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, to cook your spaghetti.

Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large (12″) skillet over med-high heat. Once oil is shimmering, add the chicken thighs and let cook, without moving, for about 4 minutes. Lower the heat if the chicken starts to burn, but try not to move the chicken, or it will promote sticking. Turn the chicken and brown on the second side for another 4 minutes. Once chicken is fully cooked through, remove it to a cutting board while you cook the vegetables.

Meanwhile, once your pot of water has come to a rolling boil, cook the pasta to al denté. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water (set aside) and drain thoroughly.

Add the peppers and green beans to the pan, reduce the heat to medium, and sauté until they are beginning to brown slightly and are tender. Season the vegetables with a little salt, then deglaze the pan by adding about 1/4 cup of water (or white wine, if you have an open bottle; I buy those little 4-packs of chardonnay or savignon blanc for this purpose) and scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Once the liquid has evaporated, add your pesto to the pan and stir, coating the vegetables. Then add the heavy cream, stirring to warm through and incorporate with the pesto.

Cut the chicken into diagonal strips, and return to the pan. Cook to heat everything through, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add your cooked pasta to the pan with the sauce, tossing to heat through and coat. Add your reserved pasta cooking water if the sauce is too thick or dry. Taste one more time for seasoning. Serve, topping individual portions with fresh-grated parmesan.


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