Pasta is a food group for me. Any form of pasta, I pretty much love. My all-time favorite is a simple spaghetti with robust marinara sauce and a pile of meatballs. But there are times where you need to deviate from the tried and true; the classic; the, let's face it, mundane. It's good to mix things up and turn a dish that you traditionally think of as one cuisine and bring in what seem like contradictory flavors that end up not being contradictory at all.
Let's face it, pasta is a pretty blank canvas. Whatever flavors and ingredients you add to it, the pasta supports it. So that's where this deviation from the expected came from. I also think I may have gotten this at some local restaurant growing up because it feels so familiar to me and I don't know why.
Spicy and bold cajun seasoning is cooled by luscious cream cheese and melty monterey jack cheese and the subtle punch of poblano peppers and the sweetness from the tomatoes all come together with lean chicken (and spinach for extra vitamins!) for a positively lovely and unexpected dinner.
Take note that not all cajun seasonings are the same. Some are MUCH spicier than others and some can be a lot saltier than others. Make sure to familiarize yourself with what cajun seasoning you're using (or mix up your own!) so you don't over spice or over salt your dish. I speak about this from very unfortunate experience when I bought a new (to me) cajun seasoning and didn't taste it before adding the usual amount to a recipe. It ruined dinner. Don't be past me. Be present me who is wiser from experience.
I just know you'll love this unique spin on your weekly pasta night. Whip it up and let me know what you think!
Cajun-Spiced Chicken Pasta
Makes ~ 4 servings
Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 20-25 minutes
Click the file below to download and print the recipe
I recommend reading the recipe all the way through, including the recipe notes at the bottom, before you start cooking.
1/2 of an onion, diced small (about 1/2 C.)
1 poblano pepper, diced small
1 tsp. minced garlic (about 1 clove)
2 - 2.5 tsp. cajun (or blackening) seasoning* (read this note below!)
4 TB cream cheese
1/2 C. shredded monterey jack cheese
1 10oz. can Rotel tomatoes with green chilies (do not drain)
6-8oz. farfalle pasta (or any short cut pasta you like)
2 oz. fresh spinach (about 3 handfuls)
1.5 C. cooked chicken** diced into bite-size pieces
Several dashes of hot sauce (optional)
Get a large pot of water boiling for pasta. Cook according to package instructions. If the pasta is done cooking before the next steps are complete, reserve 1/2 C. of the cooking water then drain the pasta and set aside.
In a large skillet, add 2 TB of olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook for about a minute then add the poblano peppers and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook an additional 5 minutes until the onions are translucent and the pepper is softened. Turn down heat if the onions and peppers are browning or sticking to the pan.
Add garlic and stir constantly for 30 seconds.
Turn the heat back up to medium to medium-low if you turned it down then add the chicken, 2 teaspoons of cajun seasoning, and 2 teaspoons of olive oil to the pan. Stir to evenly coat everything then cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the cream cheese to the pan and stir for a minute or so to melt the cheese and it starts to coat the chicken and peppers. Then add the can or Rotel, stirring everything together until the cream cheese is fully melted and incorporated and the liquid from the Rotel has reduced slightly. Add a few dashes of hot sauce, if desired.
Add the pasta and the spinach to the pan with the chicken and stir to coat in the sauce and wilt the spinach. This will take a minute or so. Check for seasoning. If you want more punch, add another 1/2 teaspoon or cajun seasoning.
Sprinkle in the monterey jack cheese and 2 tablespoons of the reserved cooking water. Stir to completely melt the cheese and evenly distribute all of the ingredients. If it's too thick and has not created a creamy sauce, add more of the cooking water, 1 tablespoon at a time (I usually end up adding about 1/4 C. total, but it could be more or less for you).
Spoon the pasta into bowls for serving and enjoy!
*Recipe notes + Variations*
*Be familiar with your cajun seasoning. Some brands are REALLY hot. If that's the case, add less to your personal taste preference. Some brands can also be very salty so adjust accordingly. You may need less than 2 teaspoons of seasoning and may just want to add more hot sauce or a sprinkle of cayenne if your cajun spice is too salty.
**I love using pre-cooked chicken for this recipe because it cuts down on a lot of prep and mess. My favorite is the Trader Joe's grilled chicken. You can also use anything you find at your grocery store from the deli area, including rotisserie. Perdue also makes great pre-cooked chicken that is usually in the case near pre-packaged deli meat, hot dogs, etc. If you don't have pre-cooked chicken simply grill, bake, or pan cook 1-1.25lb. chicken breast.
Make this vegetarian by excluding the chicken. Consider adding another hearty veggie in its place like mushrooms.
This is easily made gluten free by swapping for GF pasta.