From America's Test Kitchen Season 5: In an Italian-American Kitchen
This Italian-American restaurant favorite sounds appealing, but the fresh and light flavors of broccoli and chicken get lost in a fatty cream sauce that tastes overwhelmingly of garlic. In our version, we demanded crisp broccoli, tender chicken, and a flavorful sauce—all in a recipe that was easy and healthy.
In order to figure out this dish, we needed to tear it apart into its four components—chicken, sauce, broccoli, and pasta—and tackle each individually. Right off the bat, we decided that boneless, skinless chicken breasts were the best choice. After testing a variety of cooking methods, we found that we liked the flavor of sautéed chicken but wanted the tenderness of poached chicken. We combined the techniques—browning the chicken in a little butter, removing the chicken and building a sauce with the skillet drippings, and then returning the chicken to the skillet and simmering until fully cooked.
We settled on blanching (a quick dunk in boiling water) the broccoli. After scooping out the broccoli with a slotted spoon, we just had to return the water to boiling before adding the pasta. Leaving the broccoli to sit in a bowl turned it mushy, but dunking the broccoli in cold water made the broccoli so icy cold that they remained chilled even when mixed in with the hot sauce and pasta. The answer was spreading the slightly underdone florets over a large plate as the pasta cooked; they cooled off enough to maintain their bright color, but also remained slightly warm. When all of our cream-based sauce options tasted fatty and dull, we switched to a broth-based sauce simmered with aromatics (garlic, pepper flakes, fresh herbs) and finished with butter. Sun-dried tomatoes and a handful of Asiago cheese added a final kick to our perfectly cooked broccoli and tender chicken.
Be sure to use low-sodium chicken broth in this recipe; regular chicken broth will make the dish extremely salty. The broccoli is blanched in the same water that is later used to cook the pasta. Remove the broccoli when it is tender at the edges but still crisp at the core-it will continue to cook with residual heat. If you can't find Asiago cheese, Parmesan is an acceptable alternative.