I’ve had a few people say to me before that chicken and pasta are never paired in dishes in Italy and if we’re talking about topping with a full chicken breast for no reason other than to add some protein to the meal then they’re right. But I definitely remember eating the combination in my Nonna’s when we went to visit her: there was no room for squeamishness because she’d generally kill a chicken from the coop outside especially for the dinner.
When the bird had been plucked, gutted and jointed it would be boiled in water (with some onions and celery) and the pasta cooked in the resulting stock as a kind of soup; it was only after this soup that we’d eat the meat. It appears I’ve begun to digress somewhat because I now find myself justifying the breaking of an absurd rule I’m not even sure exists! So enough of that.
This recipe has gone through quite a few iterations, originally I used to make it with strips of chicken breast and spaghetti but of course chicken breasts are tasteless and spaghetti is no good for holding onto pieces of walnut, or meat for that matter, so I changed things a bit. I started to use thighs instead because their fuller flavour worked with the tarragon a lot better but also because they could withstand cooking for longer even when minced (I have a mincer but the pulse function on a food processor should work as well, although make sure you don’t end up with a paste).
Penne is a great choice for something like this because the pieces of walnut and chicken stick not just to the outside of the the tubes but inside them too. Any type of long pasta ribbon like the one in the picture here is another good option. I also used to put lemon peel in and finish with parmesan but I don’t think either are necessary, the cheese especially makes it overly heavy given the butter content; one of the reasons for the lemon juice at the end is to cut through the richness of dish, feel free to add more if you think it’s needed.
One final thing is that I hate the imperial measurement system which is why everything here is in grams and millilitres. Unfortunately, this makes the ingredient list look ridiculously precise even though it’s not intended like that: as with any recipe it’s more of a guide so trust your instincts and just use common sense.
50g chopped walnuts
250g minced chicken legs
1 large clove garlic (finely chopped)
100ml white wine
250ml chicken stock
5ml lemon juice
250g penne rigate
- Melt 15g of butter over a medium heat and fry the walnuts until golden. Remove walnuts and set aside.
- Wipe the pan clean and over a medium-high heat add another 15g of butter. When it begins to foam add the chicken and allow to brown slightly. Be careful not to let the butter burn.
- Add the garlic and fry for around 2 minutes.
- Deglaze the pan with the white wine.
- When the wine has nearly evaporated add the chicken stock and half the tarragon and lower to simmer. You want the liquid to reduce by around two thirds so that should take roughly twenty minutes.
- Meanwhile cook the pasta in boiling, heavily salted water until al dente.
- Five minutes before the the chicken is ready add the walnuts.
- When finally reduced, adjust the seasoning and take off the heat.
- Stir in the tarragon, the last of the butter and lemon juice.
- Mix the pasta and chicken together and serve.