All in One Pot: Pasta with From-Scratch Cream Sauce
My most hated of all household chores isn’t cleaning the bathroom. It’s not scrubbing the floors. It’s not washing the ceilings, or doing the laundry, or any of the other things which many people will state when they complain about housework.
No, my least favourite household chore is the dishes.
For someone who cooks almost every single meal from scratch, this can quickly grow to become a problem. Without the disposable containers of take-out and pre-packaged meals, it’s hard to make anything that doesn’t create at least a small pile of dishes to be done. A pot for this, a pan for that, a bowl and a set of tongs and a spatula … and if, like me, you’re prone to letting the dishes go for a couple of days before rolling up your sleeves and getting to it, it can become a pretty daunting task.
It’s at times like this when I am thankful for meals that can be made using only one pot, one spoon, a cutting board, and the dish you serve it in (if you’re feeling especially lazy, you can even eat it right out of the pot and save yourself one more dish). But, contrary to popular belief, one-pot meals need not consist of foods like ramen noodles, condensed soups, and Kraft Dinner. You can make something classy enough that you’d serve it to company (probably *not* right out of the pot, though), and still keep your dishes to a bare minimum.
Tonight’s dinner is a creamy pasta with chicken, carrots, onions and mushrooms, and I’m making enough for 2 servings (mmm, leftovers for lunch tomorrow!). You can increase the amounts you’re using to make more — none of the measurements are particularly exact.
I began by cooking up a bone-in chicken breast (you can use boneless if you prefer, but bone-in is less expensive to buy). I put a couple inches of water in the bottom of my pot (about 2 cups worth), added the chicken breast, put the lid on, and simmered until the chicken was thoroughly cooked. When cooking in water you don’t need to worry about overcooking, because the meat’s not going to dry out on you. Just keep an eye to make sure the water doesn’t all evaporate away, because you don’t want your meat getting stuck to the bottom of the pot and burnt.
Once the meat is thoroughly cooked, remove it from the pot and set it aside to cool down enough that you can handle it. While you’re waiting, begin working on the sauce. Add about a quarter cup of cornstarch to the water still in the pot, and whisk until it’s dissolved. This will help to absorb any fat from the chicken and keep your sauce from separating, and will also help the sauce to thicken up and become creamy. Add another cup or so of water, and about a half-cup of half-and-half cream. Your sauce will be quite thin at this point, but that’s okay — it’s going to simmer down during the cooking, and some will be absorbed by the pasta later.
You can also add some spices at this point — a bay leaf or two, some poultry seasoning, garlic powder, rosemary, black pepper, whatever catches your fancy. Get creative if you wish; an Indian masala spice blend makes a really nice sauce, or you can use some paprika and chili powder to make a spicy, more colourful dish. Be a little bit conservative when adding spices here — the sauce will thicken up and the flavours will concentrate during cooking, and you don’t want to accidentally over-spice. It’s easy to add more later, but can be difficult to compensate for having put in too much. Definitely don’t add any salt until the end, as it’s very easy to over-salt a dish at this point.
Chop up half of a cooking onion, two small (or one large) carrots, a handful of mushrooms, and your chicken breast (remove the bones and discard them). Use other vegetables if you would like to, but these things make a nice, balanced mix. Put it all into the pot, return it to a simmer, and let it cook until the veggies have all softened up.
Once everything is thoroughly cooked, you can add your pasta noodles, as well as any soft items (green onions, kale, etc) that only need a few minutes to cook. Watch the pot and stir things around occasionally to stop the noodles from sticking to the bottom. Once the noodles are soft, give the sauce a taste to see if it’s spiced well enough for you. If it all tastes good, it’s ready to eat!
Make it Gluten-Free!
This same technique works well for cooking rice (or rice noodles), and so is excellent for people who are trying to go gluten-free. Using gluten-free pasta or rice in place of the normal pasta noodles makes an easy dish, with none of the gluten or wheat products often found in commercially prepared sauces.
Some Other Ideas, and Troubleshooting
You can also do other types of sauce in this same way — try making a tomato sauce by adding half a small can of tomato paste instead of the cream, or try an Asian-inspired sauce with sake or white wine and a tablespoonful of soy sauce — this is especially nice with rice. You can use other meats in place of the chicken (lean sausage or ground beef works excellently), just avoid fatty cuts as they will make the sauce a bit greasy.
If you find that your sauce is a bit too thin, simmer it a bit longer and/or add a bit more corn starch. If it’s too thick, just stir in a little more water.
And that’s all there is to it! A delicious homemade meal, without the big pile of dishes.