Thursday, March 15, 2012

Freezable, Shareable, Cheesy, Chicken, Broccoli Pasta Bake

There is something comforting about anything with a creamy cheesy sauce.  It makes us feel good after a long day, it fills your belly and your soul.  Short of macaroni and cheese, which is a all time favorite (check out my Best Macaroni and Cheese you will ever make post if you love mac & cheese), there are lots of easy cheesy dishes out there to satisfy that craving.  This dish is freezable (make ahead, freeze and bake when ready to use).  It is also completely sharable.  Great for pot luck dinners, giving as a gift to a friend or just for sharing.  Kids and the young at heart will gobble this up.  Plus it has some things that are good for you too.  It is not all fat and carbs!  :)

 In any event, this is a quick easy meal to make ahead and enjoy any time.  I promise your family will love it!

What you will need:

1 lb. Chicken tenders
1 bag extra wide egg noodles (also works well with penne, rigatoni, fussili, rotini, etc as they all hold together well so whatever you have that way)
1 head of broccoli
1/3 pound shredded/grated Romano cheese (can also use Parmesan or Asiago)
2/3 pound shredded Mozzarella (I bought a 16oz bag and used 2/3 of the bag)
2 cups of milk/cream/half&half depending on your taste
1tbs flour
Kosher Salt or Sea Salt for seasoning
Poultry seasoning (unsalted)
Garlic powder
Freshly ground black pepper

Let's get started:

Fill your pasta pot with water and season liberally with salt.  Turn on high to bring to a boil.  Meanwhile, lets get the chicken going.  I love chicken tenders for this as they stay nice and soft in this recipe.  Season both sides of your chicken tenders liberally with salt, a dusting of garlic powder, poultry season and some black pepper.  Cook your chicken tenders.  I prefer to cook mine on my grill pan so they get nice and brown on both sides.  To steal a bit of lingo from Anne Burrell, brown food is Mmmmm Mmmmm good! 

By now your pasta water should be boiling.  Throw in the whole bag or box.  (This is a large recipe, it will feed a family of 4 easily with left-overs).  Cook your pasta just a minute short of what the box says should be al dente.  This is going to bake in the oven later, so you don't want to over cook your pasta now. 

Once your chicken is cooked, set it aside to rest.  This is an important step, otherwise once the whole thing goes in the oven you will have dry chicken.

Drain your pasta once cooked but reserve some of your pasta water.  Maybe a cup... you may or may not need it or want it but reserve just in case.

While your pasta is draining, return your empty pot to the stove.  Add your milk/cream to the pot and turn your burner to medium.  Let your milk/cream start to get warm (do NOT simmer or boil).  Place your shredded cheese in a bowl and dust with your tablespoon of flour... mix well.  It just saves you from making a light rue.  Trust me this makes your sauce making super easy.  A little trick I learned from Martha Stewart back in the early 90's when I actually found her interesting.  Slowly stir in your cheese flour mixture.  Turn your heat down to low and cut your broccoli into bite size florets. 
Toss broccoli florets into the sauce.  Note, do not precook your otherwise it will turn to mush.  The warm sauce mixture will slowly cook the broccoli and the baking later will make it perfect.  Then stir in your pasta.  Then cut up your cooked chicken into bite size pieces and mix into your sauce.  Make sure everything is coated in sauce and it should still seem a little saucy.  If it doesn't seem too saucy, add a little reserved pasta water or a little chicken stock.  Remember you are going to bake this in the oven like a cassarole or at the very least reheat and the slightly under cooked pasta is going to absorb quite a bit of sauce. 

Get out a baking dish at least 9x12, coat with a little olive oil to prevent sticking.  I just use an olive oil spray.  Then pour your mixture of deliciousness into your baking dish.  Sprinkle your shredded mozzarella cheese over top and you are done.

Bake covered at 400 degrees farenheit until warm through out.  Should only take about 15 minutes.  Uncover and bake until cheese is bubbly and has those lovely brown spots.  I don't have any pictures of the one I made today as I took it to a friend who really could use a home cooked meal, but I guarantee she will love it. 

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