The holiday season of 2020 was undeniably different. The global pandemic had changed the nature by which we celebrated all year long, so it came as no surprise that the upheaval tumbled into winter holiday planning. Many found themselves stewing over their decision of whether or not to go visit their families for fear of exposing themselves or their loved ones to coronavirus. As decking the halls began to look like it would have to take place over Zoom rather than around an open fire, I noticed that the people in my life were almost desperate to rekindle their broken holiday spirit.
Every year I imagined sugar plum fairies floating ‘round the heads of my loved ones as they make holiday plans; but this year I noticed a commonality in their festive fodder: an overwhelming emphasis on familial foods. I listened quietly as my family and friends, or coworkers, and classmates reminisced about holidays past and how they MUST find a way to incorporate those traditions and rituals into their holiday present. Some went on about how they couldn’t wait to make their great grandma’s secret gingersnap cookies with a coveted secret ingredient while others got misty eyed as I helped them search Amazon for the tools to make their dad’s “famous” latkes.
I felt a foreboding “bah-humbug!” creep over me as an outsider looking in on their quest for Christmas cheer. I could not for the life of me think of a familial recipe to bring me the feeling of normalcy of holiday nostalgia! Then a smile sprang to my face when a coworker asked me if my boyfriend and I had any special recipe I could bring to the upcoming Christmas party. This lit up the string lights of my heart as I was reminded that family tradition can be more than what you share with your genetic family. Valuable traditions can be made with the family you choose to cultivate through friends and other relationships.
My boyfriend, Ben Heminway, and I have been together 11 years now and something that connected us over a decade ago was a love of cooking. I’ll never forget the first time we cooked together; I consider the way we moved together in the kitchen that day as our way of sharing a first dance. Over the years we created a little book of recipes we have tried together with success and enthusiasm. This way we can return to them easily when we want to share this joy with others. The most worn down page in that book, one we don’t even need to turn to any longer as it is so ingrained in our memory, is for our cajun pasta. This recipe is one of the first that we perfected together and the flavors in it inspired our trip to New Orlean’s for my 30th birthday. The two times we have moved together it was the first big meal we cooked in each apartment. The fun of creating the dish and sharing it with others feels like a celebration every time to me.
Somehow an Indiana boy and California girl got together and made this Cajun Pasta dish their own and I hope that it can bring you all some comfort and joy beyond the holiday season.
Californian Cajun Pasta
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs*
- 4 Andouille sausages*
- 1 Red bell pepper
- 1 Green bell pepper
- Half of a red onion
- Half of a yellow onion
- Four green onions
- 3 Cloves of garlic**
- 1 lb Fusilli pasta
- ½ Cup Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley
- Cajun seasoning (my favorite is pictured on the right while the boyfriend prefers the hot version)
- Smoked Paprika
- Cayenne Pepper***
- Salt and Pepper****
- Vegetable oil
- Cheddar Cheese******
- I always begin by bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook a box of fusilli pasta to al dente and then set it aside to drain while preparing the rest of your ingredients.
- To prep, you will finely dice your red and green bell pepper and set them aside. Then finely dice your yellow and red onion and garlic and set them aside.
- Next, cut your sausages in half lengthwise then slice them into half moon shapes and set them aside.
- Slice up your green onion (greens and whites) and set aside.
- Finely chop your parsley and (shockingly) set it aside.
- Season your chicken on all sides with cajun seasoning, pepper and smoked paprika. The chicken should have a light coating of seasoning but not be completely opaque from the dry ingredients.
- Place a tablespoon of oil on a large nonstick pan over high heat and then cook for around 10 minutes (flipping at 5 minutes) or until cooked just all the way through.
- Once cooked, set chicken aside to rest.
- Wipe out your pan (carefully) and then return it to the stove bringing an additional tablespoon of oil to heat over medium- high temperature. (My boyfriend swears by omitting this step by the way! He says “to keep the good chicken bits in the pan.” Ah, the joys of cooking.)
- Add in your yellow and red onions to the pan and sweat them for around 1 minute. Then add in your garlic and stir for around 30 seconds until evenly dispersed with the onions.
- Next, add in your green and red bell peppers. Season all of your aromatics and vegetables lightly with cajun seasoning and cayenne pepper and cook until softened slightly.
- Add your sliced sausages in and cook until they are just starting to brown.
- Cut your chicken into bite size pieces and add them to the pan. Stir all ingredients until they are well incorporated.
- Add in your drained and cooked pasta.
- Add in some more cajun seasoning, cayenne pepper, pepper, salt, and smoked paprika to taste
- Add in your parsley and green onions and stir.
- Remove pan from heat.
- Scoop your serving into a bowl and top with some of your shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Your pasta is ready! I hope it brings you all, from 1 to 92, some semblance of coziness during this crazy time we are all in together.
* I often make this recipe without the chicken or sausage depending on who I am cooking for and whether or not they have meat related dietary restrictions. In this case I double the amount of bell peppers and add in some broccoli, mushrooms, tomatoes and/or tofu.. Really whatever veggies or meat substitute could be used to fill the space.
** I use more or less garlic depending on the size of the cloves. Measure garlic with your heart!
*** Pre-mixed cajun seasoning typically has a fair amount of heat to it. Additional cayenne can be added or disregarded based on preference.
****Pre-mixed cajun seasoning also typically is fairly high in sodium so use sparingly to taste.
***** I love the sharpness of the cheddar contrasting with the smokey and spicy profile of this pasta but use whatever cheese is your favorite or omit this ingredient altogether.