Summer is a good time to cook with leftovers. Â When the weather is hot and the days are long and activity-filled, it’s nice to have a dinner that is quick and easy to prepare with a protein that has already been cooked. Â If we grill steak during the summer, we often grill an extra one or make sure they are big enough that we will have plenty left over for steak salad. Â A pork tenderloin easily creates two separate meals — the first one maybe grilled and served with pico de gallo; and for the second meal we might make pork fried rice. Â We also love to cook a whole chicken (either roasting it or grilling it, beer-can-style) on the weekend, then transform the leftovers into any number of second dishes, from casserole to saladÂ to pasta. Â When we recently had some leftover chicken, we consulted one of our go-to quick and easy cookbooks (they have an entire chapter called “Starting with Leftovers”), “The Best 30-Minute Recipe” for a new way to transform cooked chicken. Â We added kalamata olives to further enhance the Mediterranean flavors from the fresh oregano, feta cheese sauce and tomatoes, and liked how combining the chicken, pasta and spinach made for a single-bowl, square-meal dinner. Â And with minimal effort involved (cutting up the chicken, blending the sauce ingredients and boiling the pasta), it’s an ideal way to end a hot and lazy summer day.
Start by boiling the salted water and cooking the pasta (about a cup) until barely al dente (the pasta will cook for a few more minutes as the dish comes together.) Â We used elbow pasta because that’s what we had on hand, but the original recipe calls for penne, oreccheitte or farfalle pasta. Â Any pasta with a shape that will hold the sauce will work.
While the pasta cooks, puree or blend the sauce ingredients until smooth: Â 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese, 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper, adding a tablespoon of water at a time as needed to loosen the ingredients and facilitate blending. Â We ended up adding about 4-5 tablespoons of water by the time the sauce was fully blended and smooth.
Chop the tomatoes (about 1/2 cup) and olives (about 1/4 cup.)
Drain the pasta and reserve some of the cooking water to add later if the finished dish is too dry.
Chop about a cup worth of cooked chicken.
Return the pasta to the pot, then add the sauce, chicken, olives and tomatoes, bring the mixture to a simmer and cook until the chicken is heated through and the tomatoes begin to soften — about 3-5 minutes.
Off the heat, add the spinach, stir it all together and let it sit for a minute until the spinach begins to wilt.
Serve the pasta in low bowls, perhaps with some crusty bread and a nice RosÃ© wine. Â Then go do some star-gazing, have a night swim, catch fireflies, make a bonfire for s’mores, stay indoors to watch a movie in the air conditioning, or do whatever you do to make the most of your summer evenings.