Living in Chicago, it's hard to definitively say we're on the cusp of spring. Honestly, it doesn't feel like it, though we mentally checked out of brutally cold weather two months back.
So, what does one do to cope? Eat bright, springy things, and dream of warmer climes.
It's in that spirit that I made this simple, satisfying dish, ultra-lemony dish: Spaghetti and chunks of chicken in a creamy sauce flavored with garlic and sweet red peppers.
I start by sweating shallots, copious amounts of garlic, and sweet red peppers in olive oil before deglazing with a splash of sherry. (You can substitute dry white wine in place of the sherry, although the sauce won't be quite as sweet and bright if you do.) I add heavy cream and spike it with a bracing combination of lemon juice and zest. You can use shredded leftover cooked chicken, or just do what I do: poach chunks of chicken breast directly in the creamy sauce, which keeps the meat much moister than searing the chicken in oil first.
A little butter thickens the already rich sauce and makes it even more luxe. The sauce is then used to finish cooking al dente pasta and infuse it with extra flavor. The trick here is to slightly undercook the pasta so it can finish cooking in the sauce—pull it out of the pasta water a good 30 seconds to a minute before the package directs you to.
Speaking of pasta, a long, not-too-thick noodle works best here so the rich, creamy sauce has something to cling to. Rigatoni or penne works fine if that's what you have on hand, although it won't have the same effect.
The whole shebang is tossed with Parmesan cheese for a final flavor boost.
The nice thing about a dish like this is you can add everything but the kitchen sink. Leave the chicken out, if that's what you prefer, or use shrimp in its place. Incorporate broccoli or spinach. Consider adding zucchini. Keep it colorful, though, whatever you do. Have some capers on hand? Toss some in (just rinse them under cold water and adjust the amount of salt you use accordingly). Fresh herbs like basil work particularly well here. Lemon basil—if you can get your hands on it—is even better.
About the author: Jennifer Olvera is a veteran food and travel writer and author of "Food Lovers' Guide to Chicago." Follow her on Twitter @olverajennifer.