Gone are the days of rich (though delicious) meat sauces and rich casseroles when it comes to pasta. Instead summer ushers in a new take on carb comfort. One that’s light and full of seasonal produce but still cozy as heck. Say hello to our Summery Chicken Ragu.
Summery Chicken Ragu
This lighter take on a traditional bolognese echos the same fundamentals with plenty of veggies and a tomato-based sauce but we use fresh cherry tomatoes, a bright white wine for a punch of acid and tangy goat cheese to make sure you finish this meal still light on your toes.
Using ground chicken instead of beef or pork used in a traditional ragu lightens the meal up even more but still retains the same texture as the original. Hints of basil give it freshness and of course, no pasta is complete without a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
Let’s get started.
Ingredients in our Summery Chicken Ragu
Veggies. We keep the veggies very true to a bolognese with lots of carrot, onion and celery. Although instead of cutting the carrots into a dice, I like to shred them so it almost disappears into the tomatoes and sauce.
Chicken. As we mentioned before, for our chicken ragu we are going with ground chicken breast. You could also use regular ground chicken which has more fat in it if you want a richer sauce.
Tomato paste. Even though the bulk of our sauce is going to come from fresh tomatoes, it helps to start off with a little bit of tomato paste for a very prominent tomato flavor.
Wine. In the winter I almost exclusively use red wine when cooking tomato sauces but in the summer, it’s all about those crisp whites. I believe I used a sauvignon blanc here but any dry white wine will work.
Tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes are the real star of the show here. When they slow cook in the wine and are gently pressed with the back of spoon the ooze our sweetness and pure tomato flavor which creates the sauce.
Goat cheese. I don’t know why I associate goat cheese with the summer, but it’s often the cheese I add to everything from sauces to tarts. The tangy, soft cheese melts beautifully into the tomatoes creating a truly luscious sauce.
Let’s make Chicken Ragu
Sweat the veggies. The goal of the cooking process of the veggies isn’t to brown them but to slowly sweat them. Keep the stove on a medium to medium low heat to slowly soften them.
Cook the chicken. Add the ground chicken to the pan along with some salt and thyme. I find one of the keys to mimicking a sauce that’s been simmering all day is to season well as I go. You’ll note we season in many steps of the process. This is going to build flavor as we go.
Use a wooden spoon to break the chicken into very small pieces. Continue to cook until the chicken is cooked through.
Stir in the tomato paste and wine. Tomato paste is a super concentrated form of tomato and raw so it’s important to cook it a little bit before adding anything else. After the tomato paste warms in the pan, pour in the wine. (Don’t forget to pour yourself one too!)
At this time, you want to scrape up all those brown bits at the bottom of the pan, this is where a good amount of flavor will come in to play.
Make the sauce
Add cherry tomatoes. When the wine has cooked down a bit, add your cherry tomatoes. This is where the real magic happens. When the tomatoes get super hot, the inside juices start to burst out of the skin. With a little help from the back of your spoon, you coerce the juice out which in turn, creates a really luscious, light tomato sauce.
Cook the pasta. It’s really important you don’t cook the pasta too soon. You want it to be just UNDER aldente because it will continue to cook with the sauce. I like to drop the pasta in after the tomatoes are completely done cooking to ensure the pasta doesn’t over cook while I’m waiting for the sauce to finish.
Add the rest! While the pasta is cooking, add the goat cheese and the basil to the tomatoes and chicken. to the tomato mixture. Stir until the goat cheese has melted. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
Toss. Use tongs to transfer the cooked pasta to the chicken and sauce. Toss until coated. Add a little bit of pasta water to loosen the sauce up and to reach desired consistency (I used 1/2 cup). Season to taste!
What’s the difference between Ragu and Bolognese?
In short. There isn’t. Bolognese is a TYPE of ragu. Because we are changing things up with fresh cherry tomatoes and ground chicken, our version is a ragu.
Should I use ground chicken or breast?
You can use either. I use a ground chicken breast to ease up on calories and fat but regular ground chicken will also work great and bit a little bit richer.
- Swap out ground chicken breast for regular ground chicken or ground turkey,. You can also use ground pork or ground beef.
- If you have fresh thyme, use it!
- Use your favorite pasta. I love linguine here but fettuccine, spaghetti, rigatoni or penne would be great as well.
- If you don’t like goat cheese, try ricotta or you could add 1/3 cup of heavy cream.
Tips and Tricks
- Use regular ground chicken, ground turkey or leann ground beef. If you don’t care about calories, feel free to use full fat ground beef or ground pork.
- Save that pasta water! We rely on it to create a cohesive sauce.
- Season season season! The key to this Chicken Ragu is to season as you go. Don’t underestimate the power of salt.
- Don’t overcook the pasta. You want the pasta UNDER aldente and to get to an aldente state IN the chicken and tomato sauce.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 1 carrot, shredded (about 1/2 cup shredded carrot)
- 1/2 cup finely diced celery
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, divided
- 4 large garlic cloves
- 1 lb ground chicken
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 3/4 cup white wine
- 1 lb cherry tomatoes
- 3/4 lb linguine
- 4 oz goat cheese
- 1/2 cup basil, chopped (plus more for garnish)
- 1/2 cup pasta water
- 1 Large skillet
- Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Season generously with salt. It should be almost as salty as the sea.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet with high sides to a medium heat. Add olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion, carrot, celery and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Sweat the veggies, stirring often until they are slightly softened, about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minutes.
- Add the ground chicken to the pan along with another 1/2 teaspoon salt and thyme. Use a wooden spoon to break up the meat into very small pieces. Continue to cook until the chicken is cooked through.
- Stir in the tomato paste. Cook for 1 minute. Stir in the white wine. Use your wooden spoon to scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer until the wine is slightly reduced. Add cherry tomatoes. Stir. Cook the mixture over a medium heat until the cherry tomatoes start to blister. Use the back of your spoon to smash 3/4 of the tomatoes. This should create a sauce. Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer for another 3-4 minutes.
- After you add the tomatoes, drop the pasta into the boiling water. Cook until just under aldente. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water.
- Add the goat cheese and basil to the tomato mixture. Stir until the goat cheese has melted. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
- Use tongs to transfer the cooked pasta to the chicken and sauce. Toss until coated. Add a little bit of pasta water to loosen the sauce up and to reach desired consistency (I used 1/2 cup). Season to taste with salt and pepper.