Tortellini with Chicken and Pesto

tortellini with chicken and pesto

Once upon a time during my early years of teaching, I would prepare this recipe on a school night solely for the purpose of having leftovers to bring with me for lunch at school the next day. My first teaching teammate loved this dish, and I always brought enough to share with her. I visited my original “teacher wife” last week. The pasta dish came up during my visit, and she talked about how it is one of her grandson’s favorite meals. I had not thought about this recipe in years.

The dish is an easy weeknight meal, can be cooked in one pot, and works well reheated the next day. It is also a good alternative to one of my other favorite pasta dishes– Pasta with Pesto and Peas.

tortellini with chicken and pesto in bowl

Ingredients

  • 2 T. pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 bunch of broccoli cut into bite sized pieces (~3 cups)
  • 1 family sized package of cheese filled tortellini (~20 oz.)
  • 1 lb. boneless chicken breast, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. pepper
  • 1 – 1 1/2 c. pesto (purchased or homemade)
  • grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  • In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add the broccoil and cook until crisp-tender, ~3-5 minutes. Remove broccoli from the water with a slotted spoon (save the broccoli water!) and drain in a colander. Set to the side.
  • Return broccoli water to a boil. Add the tortellini and cook according to package directions. Drain well and set to the side.
  • Sprinkle chicken pieces with salt and pepper.

tortellini chicken

  • In the empty pot that cooked the broccoli and tortellini, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook through, ~3-4 minutes. Remove some of the excess cooking juice before continuing.
  • Add the broccoli and tortellini to the chicken, tossing until heated through. Remove from heat and add the pesto to taste. Stir gently until the tortellini, chicken, and broccoli are coated with pesto.

tortellini broccoli chicken

  • Garnish with pine nuts and grated Parmesan. Serve hot.

tortellini with chicken and pesto close

Notes

  • Can be refrigerated and reheated in the microwave. It is a great teacher lunch or meal at the office.

Mac and Cheese

macaroni and cheese baked

I eat carbs and lots of them. Some of my favorite carb alternatives are mashed potatoes, french fries, and chocolate chip cookies. The top of my carb list, however, has to be macaroni and cheese.

I have been perfecting my macaroni and cheese dish since 1993. I started out with the basic recipe my mom always used. She cooked the macaroni noodles, drained them, added butter, milk, and chunks of cheddar cheese in with the noodles and heated on the stovetop. Before baking in a casserole dish in the oven, she added some crumbled Saltine crackers and a few pats of butter to the top. I loved her macaroni and cheese. Little did I know how much better it could be.

Here is the recipe that kicked off the macaroni and cheese improvement plan. I am posting the original recipe but am also including some RoomMom modifications at the end. I will eat this dish for dinner, leftover for breakfast, or packed in a school lunch to be eaten at room temperature.

Ingredients

  • 6 T. butter
  • 1 lb. corkscrew pasta (cavatappi)
  • 5 1/2 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 t. freshly ground pepper
  • 2 t. salt
  • 3 c. grated white cheddar cheese
  • 3 c. grated orange cheddar cheese

macaroni and cheese cheese

Directions

  • Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 casserole dish with Pam.
  • Fill a large saucepan with salted water, bring to a boil, then cook pasta according to directions on the box. Follow the time for al dente.
  • Transfer pasta to a colander, drain well, and set aside.

macaroni and cheese noodles

  • In the empty saucepan, melt 6 T. butter over medium heat. When butter bubbles, stir in flour. Cook, whisking, for about one minute.

macaroni and cheese roux

  • Continue to whisk and add milk a little at a time. After adding all of the milk, whisk constantly for about 7 minutes or so until the sauce thickens and bubbles around the edges. Remove from heat.

macaroni and cheese sauce

  • Stir in salt, pepper, 2 1/4 cups of each of the cheeses.
  • Add cooked pasta to the sauce and stir until the sauce covers the pasta.
  • Add the pasta and sauce mixture to the casserole dish, sprinkle with remaining grated cheese, and bake until golden brown on top (about 25 minutes).

macaroni and cheese casserole

Notes

  • I use any non-spaghetti like pasta I have on hand. I make this dish with elbow macaroni, penne, bow tie noodles, shell noodles, or any other smaller sized noodle.
  • I like to mix up the cheese. I use about the amount called for in the recipe, but I usually use a combination of whatever is in my refrigerator. I always have cheddar as the main cheese. I like Cracker Barrel extra sharp orange and Cracker Barrel Vermont white. I usually reduce the cheddar amount a little and supplement with freshly grated Parmesan, some freshly grated Swiss, and I recently started adding several slices of American. Other than the American, I think the cheese needs to be grated at home. The pre-grated cheese does not have as much flavor or melt as well (in my opinion).
  • I eyeball the butter, flour, and milk amounts. If you are following this recipe for the first time, cook as instructed. Adjust to your taste the next time you make it (and I firmly believe you will be making this recipe a second time).

Lunch This Week

Not only am I tasked with making a lunch for my two children every morning, I also have to pack my own lunch. If you read about the Teacher Emergency Kit, you know teachers are trapped in the school building all day until after the students are gone. It is a rare day that we can step out and pick up a sandwich at lunchtime, and I want more than the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches my kids are getting in their lunch bags. If I am on my game, I make something for dinner Sunday night that can be re-heated over the next few days for lunch. This week, I was on my game.

I made a double batch of Orzo with Roasted Vegetables, which is delicious at room temperature or slightly heated. I do think it only has a leftover shelf life of 2 to 3 days, so I would not plan to eat it all week. Anybody have any other suggestions for adult school lunches?

Ingredients

  • 1 red bell pepper, 1-inch diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, 1-inch diced
  • 1/2 red onion, peeled and 1-inch diced
  • 1 medium yellow squash, 1-inch diced
  • 1 medium zucchini, 1-inch diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 c. good olive oil (or a little less)
  • 1 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 t. freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 lb. orzo

Dressing

  • 1/3 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
  • 1/3 c. good olive oil
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 t. freshly ground pepper

To Assemble

  • 4 scallions minced, white and green parts
  • 1/4 c. pine nuts, toasted
  • 15 fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
  • Toss the bell peppers, onion, zucchini, squash, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, and pepper on a large baking sheet. Roast for 40 minutes, until browned turning once with a spatula.
  • Meanwhile, cook the orzo in boiling salted water for 7 to 9 minutes, until tender. Drain and transfer to a large serving bowl.
  • Add the roasted vegetables to the pasta, scraping all the liquid and seasonings from the roasting pan into the pasta bowl.
  • For the dressing combine the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper and pour on the pasta and the vegetables. Let cool to room temperature, then add the scallions, pine nuts, and basil. Check the seasonings, add another splash of fresh lemon juice (if desired), and serve at room temperature.