It’s no secret that I love myself a good meal plan. I feel like my whole week is set up for success if I start Monday morning knowing exactly what I’m going to be putting on the table for dinner all week. Sometimes I even go so far as to plot out what Rob and the boys will take for their lunches – this usually involves ensuring there are a lot of leftovers from our dinners – AND I even do a rough sketch of what I’ll feed Matthew all week so I can be sure I don’t default to scrambled eggs and broccoli too often. Some weeks I’m only about seven breakfasts away from having all 21 meals planned, and that’s when I know I’ve taken things a little too far.
Then there are the weeks in which I plan nothing for any meal. That’s been the case for the past month. Once Thanksgiving passed I kept “forgetting” to meal plan, and then I was grocery shopping almost every day, and never knowing what to make or what would land in the lunch box the next day. Most of the time, living like that is such a waste of my mental energy, but sometimes it’s exactly what I need to jump start a winning dinner idea the whole family loves.
Chicken and kale aren’t classic additions to spaghetti carbonara, but based on how quickly this dinner went down the hatch, I’d say they probably should be. Last week I opened the fridge on Monday morning and unearthed some leftover chicken, and lifeless looking bunch of kale, and four pieces of back bacon. I also had an oversized hunk of Parmesan cheese, a few eggs, and some cream. Pasta is a pantry staple (I dare you to find a house full of boys where there isn’t enough pasta to stock a fallout shelter) so I knew I could rustle up a package of noodles, and I had just plucked the last of the herbs from the garden so parsley was also plentiful. The wheels were turning!
The end result was a spiffed up carbonara loaded with lots of veggies and extra protein. I even threw in some frozen peas I found tucked in the freezer. The sauce is nothing more than a slurry of cream, egg yolks, Parmesan cheese and parsley, plus a generous dribble of the pasta water because we all know that’s the secret to making really good pasta sauce, right? We do know that, right? Oh, thank goodness.
As I was making this, admittedly a little too enthusiastic about my brilliant creation despite having no plan in place, it made me wonder if I should be a little less rigid about my meal plans. Then, when I stood before the fridge the next night, with not a drop of inspiration in sight, I kicked myself for being cocky and served the boys the saddest dinner they’d seen in days. Naturally, my meal plan is back this week. We’re having roast chicken with whipped sweet potatoes and Caesar salad on Thursday, in case you were wondering.
Chicken and Kale Carbonara
- Kosher salt
- 1 lb. dried spaghetti
- 2-3 tsp. olive oil
- 4 slices back bacon, cubed
- 1 bunch of kale, centre stems removed and leaves thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 ¼ cup whipping cream
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 egg yolks
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- 3 cups shredded or chopped cooked chicken
- 1 cup frozen peas
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the spaghetti according to package directions. Drain the pasta, reserving ¾ cup of the cooking water. Set aside.
2. While the pasta is cooking, warm oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring, until no longer pink, 3-4 minutes.
3. Transfer the bacon to a plate and add the kale to the skillet, drizzling in a little more oil if needed. Toss with tongs until it begins to wilt. Add the garlic and season with ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Cook for one minute more.
4. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the cream, Parmesan cheese, egg yolks and parsley. Set aside.
5. Return the bacon to the skillet. Add the chicken and peas and stir to combine. Next, add the spaghetti and the cream mixture and toss over medium-low heat until the chicken and peas are warmed through and the sauce coats the pasta. Add some of the reserved cooking liquid if you think it looks too dry (I always add a generous pour because I believe it helps the sauce bind to the noodles better).
6. Season the pasta with salt and pepper if you think it’s needed. Transfer to a large platter or serving bowl and serve with extra pepper on the side.