I may be showing my (relative…) age here, but when I hear “mascarpone,” I don’t think of a delicious creamy, buttery cheese or even all the desserts and dishes you can make with it. Nope, I think of Homestar Runner (which still exists!!!) and his girlfriend(?), who is apparently named Marzipan, and not Mascarpone. But you know, same thing. If you were in college circa 2003, you know exactly what I am talking about. If you weren’t…you probably don’t. But I bet you know all about other cool things, like the moon landing! Or whoever this “Demi Lovato” person is!
[Speaking of Homestar Runner, I feel like he is the perfect symbol for what the internet was like in 2003. Fun and interesting, but not really useful or necessary quite yet. But I digress.]
Anyway, this pasta was actually my first experience cooking with mascarpone (which can be found in small tubs near the “fancy cheese” portion of your supermarket). I like it a lot! It is rich and creamy but still less calorific than butter, and it doesn’t have any overpowering flavor of its own, so it blends really well with other things.
However, just because it’s lower in calories than butter does not mean you should just start eating it by the spoonful. It still has about 120 calories per ounce…as I realized, after I ate a big (delicious) bite of it by the spoonful. Ugh.
PASTA SHELLS WITH MASCARPONE, SUNDRIED TOMATOES, AND SPINACH (adapted from With Fronds Like These)
1 cup (8 oz) mascarpone cheese, room temperature
zest and juice of one lemon
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1-2 chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch cubes
lemon pepper seasoning (I used Penzeys)
1tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
1 (9 oz) bag baby spinach
half of a 16 oz box shelled pasta
Freshly grated parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)
1. Combine lemon zest, lemon juice, mascarpone, and pepper in small bowl, whisking to combine. Set aside. Bring pot of salted water to boil.
2. While waiting on water to boil, heat oil in large skillet. Season chicken breasts with lemon pepper and chili powder, and cook chicken until cooked through and beginning to brown, about 6 to 8 minutes.
3. Add garlic and crushed red pepper flakes to chicken, cooking another minute or two.
4. Cook pasta in salted water until al dente, following package instructions. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup past water.
5. Return pasta to pot, and set over medium heat. Stir in mascarpone/lemon mixture, chicken, sundried tomatoes, and spinach.
6. Add about 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water to the pasta mixture and toss all the ingredients together until the spinach has wilted and everything is piping hot, adding a little additional pasta water if needed. Serve immediately, topped with grated parmesan (if desired).
We liked this a lot! I love it when a recipe has a lot of interesting flavors working together — here we had creaminess from the mascarpone, tartness from the lemon, a little heat from the seasonings, and the unique tang of sundried tomatoes. I think this would also be good with a few chopped capers tossed in, or maybe some toasted breadcrumbs. This is a great company dish — both simple and elegant.
A note about the chicken — I made the recipe using 2 chicken breasts, but found that the chicken-to-pasta ratio was a little high for my liking (my husband disagreed). That’s obviously personal preference, though, so use your judgment.