I’ve been training for the 21-mile power walk portion of this year’s Big Sur Marathon and have hit the 14- and 17- mile weekend training milestones. The walks are more fun than I anticipated; my friend and I have been wandering up and down residential streets along the coast, admiring the artistic and whimsical ways people adorn their homes, like this shell and driftwood egret we stumbled across on Depot Hill:

shell and driftwood bird


And this clever home for lost sand shovels:

sand shovel tree

As rewarding as the walks have turned out to be, they take a good chunk out of my day – 5 or 6 hours – which means dinners those nights are hastily made affairs. Hearty, too – because unsurprisingly, I have the appetite of a 14-year old boy for a day or two after putting in 14 miles!

Here is a post-walk improvised dinner that was absolutely, fabulously divine, with a hint of earthiness from the mushrooms, flavor from the leeks, and brightness from the artichoke hearts. It’s easy to make, with a simple broth of just artichoke water, butter, and olive oil thickened with a bit of flour. I figured the boys would eat it, but I wasn’t expecting them to love the flavors as much as they did . . . they actually made it a point to tell me how delicious it was! We ate this as a main course one night and as a side dish with an Italian-style salad the next.

If you’re going gluten-free, just substitute potato flour as a thickener, and polenta would be the perfect gluten-free starch substitute for the penne.

If you’re vegetarian just leave out the chicken. The dish doesn’t depend on it at all, really, the vegetable flavor combination is so tangy and inviting.

I’m afraid my photo won’t convey the wonderfulness, but as this is a blog it’s necessary:

leek, chicken, and artichoke pasta


Here’s the recipe – it’s a keeper. Enjoy!

Penne with chicken, leek, and artichoke hearts

Life in a Skillet
This richly flavored pasta is a perfect quick family dinner.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Course entree
Servings 6 - 8


  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1 large leek the white/light green portion washed, quartered, and thinly sliced
  • 2 cups chopped crimini mushrooms
  • 1 can artichoke hearts packed in water
  • 6 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • shredded parmesan cheese


  • Start your penne in one pot as you start making the sauce; the pasta will be done about the same time as the meat and vegetables.
  • In a separate pot, heat the olive oil and butter together in a large pot until the butter is melted.
  • Add mushrooms and leeks and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring often.
  • Open the can of artichoke hearts and pour the water into the pot.
  • Place the hearts on a cutting board and cut into quarters lengthwise, and then in half crosswise, so that you have small pieces.
  • Add the artichoke hearts to the pot and continue cooking for another 2-3 minutes.
  • Whisk is 1 tbsp flour.
  • Add chicken to the pot. Cover and cook on low heat 20 minutes or until cooked through.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve over penne garnished with parmesan cheese.