Chicken and Bacon Pasta with Spinach and Tomatoes in Garlic Cream Sauce

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Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound chicken (chicken breast or tenders)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (thyme, oregano, basil – combined)
  • 5 medium tomatoes, chopped in large cubes
  • 1 cup cooked spinach
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 (maximum 1/2 teaspoon) crushed red pepper flakes
  • 6 bacon strips, COOKED, DRAINED OF FAT, AND CHOPPED
  • 1 and 1/3 cups half and half
  • 1 and 1/3 cups Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 10 oz penne pasta (for gluten-free version, use gluten-free brown-rice penne, such as Tinkyada)
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated, for serving
  • NOTE:
  • WHAT IS HALF AND HALF? Half and half is the US milk product that combines half milk half heavy cream (whipping cream) to form a lighter cream (unlike heavy cream). You can easily make it yourself by combining half milk and half heavy or whipping cream. If you live in the UK, half and half would be the equivalent of single cream. Alternatively, you can mix half double cream and half regular milk (if you live in the UK).

Instructions

  1. In a large skillet, on high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil until hot. Add chicken and cook on one side on high heat for 1 minute. While it cooks, sprinkle the uncooked sides of the chicken with paprika and Italian seasoning. Flip the chicken over, and cook on the other side for 1 minute on high heat. Reduce heat to medium, flip chicken over again and cook, covered, for several minutes until no longer pink in the center. Remove chicken from the pan and keep chicken warm.
  2. To the same pan (but without chicken), add chopped tomatoes, spinach, garlic, crushed red pepper, 1/3 of the chicken (sliced into small strips) and half the bacon (already cooked and drained of fat). Mix everything.
  3. Add half and half and bring to boil. Only after half and half starts boiling, add grated Parmesan cheese – immediately reduce to simmer and stir, while simmering, until the cheese melts and makes the sauce creamy, only about 1 minute (at most 2 minutes). Then, immediately remove from heat. Season with more crushed red pepper and salt, if needed.
  4. In the mean time bring a large pot of water to boil, add pasta and cook it according to instructions. Drain the pasta, rinse with cold water and drain again.
  5. Add pasta to the skillet with the sauce. Add remaining half of bacon (cooked and drained of fat). Season with more salt if necessary. Slice the remaining 2/3 of chicken into thin strips. To serve, top the pasta with chicken strips and grated Parmesan cheese.
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