Today I want to share with you a modern take on a traditional Sicilian pasta dish. This recipe takes all the wonderful ingredients that distinguish the culinary tradition of the island from its mainland counterpart, like fresh tomatoes, capers, olives, and wild fennel (or dill), and gives them a twist with the simple addition of some chicken bites. This way, you have all the great Sicilian flavors in a dish that also features some lean protein.
In fact, traditional Italian cuisine never calls for meat together with pasta, with the exception of ragus (slow-cooked minced meat sauces). In the last few years, however, as fewer people have time to prepare full traditional meals with different courses, it’s becoming more and more common to add proteins to pasta dishes. That said, there are still a lot of people here in Italy who might consider this a real abomination!
On the other hand, my amazing Sicilian grandmother actually invented this modernized recipe when she was already 90 years old. As she always used to say, “It’s never too late to do something new and creative!” As this is a quick and easy Sicilian pasta recipe, I usually prepare this dish as a simple weeknight dinner. It takes just a few minutes and the result is great.
This is one of those Sicilian pasta dishes that call for very few ingredients, so it is really important that you use the best possible quality you can find. This is true especially for the extra virgin olive oil and the cherry tomatoes, as there is nothing worse than a Sicilian pasta sauce that tastes bland and watery. I hope you enjoy my grandmother’s Sicilian pasta with chicken.
Here are some easy substitutions and variations you can make to this Sicilian pasta recipe:
- Substitute the cherry tomatoes for chopped plum tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, or even canned tomatoes.
- Use green olives rather than black olives or a combination of mixed olives.
- Add two tablespoons of tomato pasta to enhance the tomato flavor.
- Garnish with chopped fresh parsley or fresh basil.
- Substitute the white wine for red wine.
- Substitute the chicken for roasted eggplant (more on that below) or anchovies/sardines. One can of chopped anchovy fillets will work too and is a popular addition to Sicilian pasta recipes.
What can I use instead of wild fennel fronds?
The original version of this Sicilian pasta dish calls for wild fennel fronds, which are pretty common in southern Italy but almost impossible to find anywhere else. If you can’t find any, you can simply use some fresh dill instead, as the taste is pretty similar.
What pasta should I use?
Really, you can use any type of pasta. However, I prefer to serve this as a Sicilian spaghetti dish with a long pasta variety, such as spaghetti, linguine, angel hair, bucatini, or fettuccine.
Can I make this into a vegetarian Sicilian pasta dish?
Yes, if you like, you can substitute the chicken for eggplant, which is a common vegetable used in many Sicilian recipes, like caponata. You can use roasted eggplant (toss two eggplants in oil and salt and cook in a 425-degree oven for approximately 25 minutes). Alternatively, cook the eggplant in a skillet coated in olive oil over medium heat until golden brown and tender.
How do you store leftover Sicilian pasta?
You can store leftover pasta in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days and quickly reheat it in the microwave. If you’d prefer to store it in the freezer, it will last up to three months. Thaw in the fridge overnight before reheating in the microwave.
Sicilian Pasta with Chicken, Cherry Tomatoes and Capers
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6 ounces dried linguine or other long pasta variety
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 8 ounces skinless boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional
- 2 tablespoons white wine
- 10 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 tablespoon black olives
- 1/2 tablespoon capers
- 1 teaspoon pine nuts
- 2 to 3 wild fennel fronds, cut into ¼-inch pieces (or 1 bunch of dill)
- salt, to taste
- freshly grated parmesan cheese, optional
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once it starts boiling, add the salt and pasta.
- In the meantime, drizzle the olive oil into a large frying pan. Over medium-high heat, cook the chicken, garlic, and crushed red pepper, if using , stirring occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the chicken is browned and crisping at the edges. Then, remove the chicken from the skillet and set it aside.
- Add the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan with a spoon. Simmer the wine for a minute to allow the alcohol to evaporate.
- Add the cherry tomatoes, olives, capers, pine nuts, and fennel fronds (or dill). Season the mixture with the salt and cook it for 8 to 10 minutes. If the sauce becomes too dry, add a ladleful of pasta water. When the pasta is almost ready, put the chicken back into the pan.
- Drain the pasta and toss it together with the sauce for 2 minutes, until the remaining liquid is absorbed.
- Serve as is or with the Parmesan on top, if using.
Interested in more traditional Italian recipes?
Check out our favorite healthy Italian recipes here!
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