Pasta is one of my comfort foods. There is something so satisfying about a big bowl of pasta, the flavors of the sauce melting into the noodles, grated or shaved Reggiano Parmigiano cheese topping the dish and there, at the bottom of the bowl, the final liquid-y bites ready to be sopped up with a hunk of great Peasant bread. The warmth a pasta dish can bring to a cold winter’s night is irresistible but I really don’t want to give it up once Spring arrives. And with this take on pasta sauce, you don’t have to. It’s a lighter sauce, a ragù with a velvet-y texture that uses whole milk in lieu of the heavy cream used in winter’s sauces. And with green English Peas, fennel fronds and parsley, it even looks spring-like. The chicken is tender to the bone and has a nice smoky flavor that comes from its being cooked with bacon. It’s a great dish and it won’t take all day to make. Not quite.
Having said that, it’s a not a 30-minute dish. The preparation is not at all long but the cooking is done in parts. First, you sauté the bacon, then brown the chicken. That takes all of 15 minutes. You can prep the rest of the dish while the bacon and chicken cook. Then another 15 minutes is given over to the onions, fennel, thyme and the reduction of a half cup white wine. Here’s where the time comes in the recipe. You return the chicken and bacon to the pot where they simmer until the chicken is cooked through. You can take that hour off only returning to cook the pasta at the same time you finish off the dish in all of another 15 minutes. The recipe, which I adapted from Bon Appetit, says that this is a make-ahead which you can gently re-heat before serving. Here is the recipe:
Recipe for Spring Pasta with Chicken Ragù, Fennel and Peas
Makes 4 servings. Takes 2 hours total.
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces bacon, thinly sliced
1½ pounds skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (about 6 total)
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 fennel bulb, finely chopped, plus ¼ cup coarsely chopped fronds
6 sprigs thyme
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup whole milk
1 cup shelled fresh peas (from about 1 pound pods) or frozen peas, thawed
Freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces of pasta. ( I chose Mezze Rigatoni, but Gemelle or Orecchiette would be wonderful. The original recipe called for Pappardelle which is harder to find.)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
½ cup finely grated Parmesan, plus shaved for serving
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1. Heat oil in a wide large saucepan or a Dutch oven over medium. Cook bacon, stirring often, until browned and crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl with a slotted spoon.
Increase heat to medium-high. Season chicken all over with salt, then set in pan, skin side down. Cook, turning halfway through, until golden brown on both sides, about 6 minutes total. Transfer to a plate.
Pour off all but 2 Tbsp. fat from pan. Add onions and chopped fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden, 6–8 minutes. Add thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in wine and simmer, stirring and scraping up brown bits, until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Return bacon and chicken to pan (chicken should fit snugly in a single layer); pour in water to barely cover chicken. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and set lid askew. Cook until chicken is tender, 45–60 minutes.
2. Transfer chicken to a clean plate; let cool. Finely shred chicken meat; discard bones and skin.
Add milk to pan and set over medium-high. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until sauce is nearly reduced by half and slightly thickened, 8–12 minutes.
Mix peas and chicken into sauce and cook until peas are just tender, about 4 minutes for fresh peas and 2 minutes for frozen. Season ragù with salt and plenty of pepper. Keep warm while you cook the pasta.
Cook pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water, stirring occasionally, until very al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
Add pasta, butter, ½ cup grated Parmesan, and ½ cup pasta water to ragù and mix to coat pasta with sauce. Increase heat to medium (sauce should be bubbling just a little) and continue cooking, stirring and adding more cooking liquid as needed if sauce is too thick, until butter and cheese are melted and incorporated into ragù and pasta is well coated in sauce. Add parsley and toss to evenly distribute through pasta.
Divide pasta among bowls. Top with fennel fronds and shaved Parmesan.
Do Ahead: Ragù can be made 2 days ahead. Let cool, cover and chill. Reheat gently.