Sunday, 9 October 2011

Spaghetti with Chicken Ragu

During my second year of uni, several years ago, I decided to live in a private accommodation along with some new friends. On the second night, I cooked spaghetti with chicken ragu and the next thing I knew soon my meals became a custom. I cooked for almost everyday and many of the dishes I cooked have become personal favourites of my friend. Though I won't hide the fact that many times my experiment turned out to be disastrous. But we all just laughed about it. I believe that kind of moments of good times and memories are what cooking is all about. However, I am always surprised, regardless of the outcome of the cooking, my friends seem to enjoy and demolish everything I made.

Years passed, but the memory of all of us eating this spaghetti still remains. I love pasta and I ate loads of it when I was a student and still today. I have always considered pasta as one of the great pleasures of the table. Especially when feeding an army of friends, I know that there's nothing more satisfying and, more importantly, economical than a big bowl piled high with pasta. Everyone can serve themselves as much as they want, and it can either be a side dish or a main course.

With the beginning of the new term and the arrival of new students, I feel it's highly appropriate to share this pasta dish with all the readers who are students. Though honestly you don't have to be one to enjoy it.

This is not in any ways, complicated to make. To give the ragu extra flavours, I use carrot, leek and fennel as the mirepoix and also, marsala wine which gives such a great depth of flavour. By all means, use chicken breast if you prefer it, but I always think chicken thighs have more flavours and it's cheaper. What is not to like? I hope enjoy this.

Spaghetti with Chicken Ragu
Serves 3 hungry students

2 tablespoons olive oil, just the regular stuff, not extra virgin
1 fennel bulb, sliced
1 leek, cleaned and sliced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
100 grams diced pancetta or lardons or bacon
3 boneless and skinless chicken thighs, preferably organic, diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
60 ml (1/4 cup) marsala wine
1 x 400 grams canned chopped tomatoes
pinch of sugar
500 grams spaghetti
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Freshly grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped fennel, leek and carrot and sprinkle with a little salt to stop them from burning. Also add the dried herbs and red pepper flakes, if using and sauté for about 5 minutes. Next add the pancetta and the diced chicken thighs, salt and pepper and cook for further 10 minutes. After 5 minutes, add the minced garlic. I always add garlic at the last, so that it won't burn. Then pour in the marsala wine and scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the skillet.

Tip in the chopped tomatoes and swirl about the 1/4 can water around in the empty can and pour it in too. Add just a pinch of sugar to balance the acidity of the canned tomatoes. Bring to a bubble and then reduce the heat and let the ragu simmer gently until the flavours blend. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

In the meantime, salt the boiling water generously and cook the spaghetti to al dente according to the packet instruction, stirring occasionally. When cooked, drain and reserve a little of the cooking liquid. Add the spaghetti to the ragu and toss to coat, adding some of the reserved cooking liquid to moisten if it needs it. Transfer the pasta to a large serving bowl and sprinkle with the roughly chopped parsley. I let my friends grate the Parmesan at the table.

Last but not least, a huge thank you to eCollegeFinder for selecting this blog as a nominee for the Top Foodie Blogs Award. I am flattered. Thank you.


  1. With your first dinner was a hit, you become the designated cook! Not bad, Michael, and lots of fun besides. This looks like a super dish!

  2. Isn't it wonderful that chicken can be cooked a million ways (or maybe more)? This way looks very appealing. Two questions: what has been your experience with whole grain pasta; second, in your photo, what is that critter on your shoulder?

  3. I love the reminiscing about cooking for your friends! And I love the fact that you all laughed at your disasters.. it's really all you can do, right?
    The chicken ragu looks divine!! I wish I had a big plate of that right now.. I don't care that it's only 5:45am!!!

  4. You have some very supportive friends who are really lucky having you around! The pasta looks delectable.

  5. Hi Michael-Congratulations on being nominated on the Top Foodie Blog Awards!
    I enjoyed reading your post about the fondness of this delish chicken ragu spaghetti that brought you from your college days!
    I love your simple, and yummy recipe, and I know for a fact that my family would enjoy this, so I'm not wasting any time, but to copy, and print it out! Yumm!
    Thanks for, always!