Thursday, April 09, 2009

Cheesy Chicken Pasta Cassarole

I'm not usually the one that cooks dinner at our house, as the DH is better at it and enjoys it more.

He hurt his hand (beware of circular saws!) about 3 weeks ago, so I've been trying to keep us fed.

Every now and then I do come up with something that's pretty good --- and it's usually something that goes in a cassarole dish and involves some kind of pasta.

Last night was no exception to that.

This is a sort of combination of upscale macaroni and cheese with an italian overtone. Like most of my concoctions, I started off with good intentions to follow a recipe, but as I get into it, that whole "it's just a suggestion" thing takes over, and I'm off and running.

Sometimes that's a disaster in the making, but last night's excursion was pretty good.

This thing takes about an hour to do, so it's not a "quickie", but once you've got it made up, the left overs will freeze well and reheat pretty quickly.

Oh yes, like doing an oriental stir fry, this one is definately something that will dirty a lot of pans and utinsels, so be prepared!

So here's the recipe:

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts
6 ounces (about 9 medium) white mushrooms thinly sliced
1/2 cup (about 1.5 ounces) sun dried tomatoes diced fine
1/2 cup green olives thinly sliced
1/2 small shallot diced fine
1 clove garlic diced fine
1 pound whole wheat rigatoni or penne pasta
2 ounces parmesian cheese very finely shredded
1 cup panko bread crumbs
6 ounces provolone cheese shredded or cut into very small dice
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 Tbls butter
2 Tbls flour
2 1/2 cups milk
2 Tbls olive oil
cooking spray

Prep work (to keep from needing more than one cutting board, I do the prep in this order):

shred or dice the parmesian cheese -- combine it in a dish with the panko and set aside (this is the crunchy topping)

shred or dice the provolone and mozzarella cheese, set aside in a seperate dish

thinly slice the mushrooms and olives, put in a dish

dice the sundried tomatoes, set aside in a dish

dice the shallot and garlic, set aside

split the chicken breasts to make thinner pieces, salt and pepper both sides


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Spray 9 by 13 glass pan with cooking spray

In a large pan, cook the pasta as the package directs (be sure to salt the water well before adding the pasta)

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil, cook the chicken breasts for about 4 minutes per side -- they should be lightly browned and almost cooked through --- remove from the pan back to the cutting board

In the same skillet, saute the shallot and garlic until translucent, add mushrooms and olives. Reduce heat and let "simmer"

In a small sauce pan, melt butter. Stir in flour and cook for a few minutes. Whisk in milk, bring to a simmer and let cook until slightly thickened. (This is a standard medium white sauce preparation)

Add tomatoes, provolone and mozzarella cheese to sauce, reduce heat to low and allow to combine. (I usually switch to a wooden spoon for stirring here)

Cut cooked chicken into 1 inch cubes.

When pasta is done, drain and return to cooking pan. Add chicken cubes and sauted vegetables, and mix. Pour sauce over mixture and combine well.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and spread panko/parmesian mixture over the top.

Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

1. Mushrooms or olives could be left out if one or the other is a "no go" item in your house.

2. This could be prepared using left over chicken from another meal --- just skip the chicken cooking and go right to vegetable saute in the skillet

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