Cooking pasta traditionally starts with getting a big pot of water on the stove and bringing it to a boil before tossing in the pasta to cook until it's al dente. That's how every Nonna in Italy has been doing it forever. So why rethink it?

Then, several years ago, food scientist Harold McGee published an article in the New York Times that proclaimed a big pot of boiling water wasn't necessary to cook pasta. You only needed enough to cover the pasta, and it doesn't even have to be boiling. What?

That seemed impastable (cue eye roll), but as it turns out, the method worked and had some clear benefits. It took less time, as there was no need to bring a large amount of water to a boil. In addition, it also concentrated the starches sloughing off the pasta, which could be added to the pasta sauce for more body and a nice mouthfeel. That was a game changer.

Then, industrious cooks everywhere took the concept a step further and figured out that pasta could be cooked directly in the sauce, if properly diluted with a little water, saving unnecessary steps and extra dishes to clean. To no one's surprise, cooking pasta in flavorful ingredients made it — drum roll please — more flavorful.

It's a technique I now use in many of my favorite dishes, like this week's Creamy Chicken Parm Skillet Pasta.

Chicken Parmesan, with its crispy breadcrumb coating, dabs of marinara sauce and melted cheese, is an iconic Italian American dish, usually served with a side of spaghetti. I've loved it from a young age and could always be counted on to request it for my birthday, making me popular, at least momentarily, with my siblings.

My mother, though, was less enamored. Breading and frying the chicken, making the sauce and cooking the spaghetti took time and left her kitchen littered with dishes.

Although this pasta dish doesn't replicate chicken parm exactly, it has many of the same flavors. It's made even better with a splash of cream in the sauce and a toasted breadcrumb garnish that delivers the expected, addictive crunch. It's all done in under 30 minutes, making this the perfect choice for a weeknight dinner or even a birthday dinner. Either way, it's sure to make you popular, at least momentarily, with everyone at the dinner table.

Creamy Chicken Parm Skillet Pasta

Serves 4.

Note: With all the flavors of chicken Parmesan but only a fraction of the effort, this quick and easy pasta is sure to be your new weeknight favorite. A toasted breadcrumb garnish brings a lovely crunch to the dish. From Meredith Deeds.

• 3 tbsp. olive oil, divided

• 1/2 c. panko breadcrumbs

• 1 tsp. salt, divided

• 1 medium onion, finely chopped

• 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

• 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

• 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

• 2 c. water

• 1 (14.5-oz.) can crushed tomatoes

• 1/2 c. heavy cream

• 12 oz. penne

• 2 c. shredded rotisserie chicken

• 1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish

• 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella

• 3 tbsp. torn basil leaves


In a small skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs and 1/4 teaspoon salt and stir to coat. Cook and stir 2 to 4 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until onion softened, about 4 to 6 minutes. Add garlic, remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in water, tomatoes and cream. Stir in pasta and keep stirring until the pasta comes to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 12 to 16 minutes, until al dente. Stir in chicken and Parmesan. Remove from heat. Sprinkle mozzarella over the top. Cover and let sit until cheese is melted, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Sprinkle half of the toasted breadcrumbs over pasta, along with basil. Serve with remaining breadcrumbs and more Parmesan on the side.

Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at Follow her on Instagram ­at @meredithdeeds.