As soon as I think it’s time to write about colder weather, a blast of warm tropical air comes rolling up from the south. We keep asking each other, “Can you believe this weather … in October?” If we’d only stop and think about for a minute, we’d realize it’s hardly unexpected. It’s hurricane season. A quartet of mass destruction, Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria have plagued countless lives and ruined even more property. Turning northward, they brought heat and humidity to New England. Fortunately, we were spared high winds and flooding.
Warm weather has postponed my semi-annual changing of the drawers. For those who don’t follow this tradition, it happens twice a year. In the fall, turtlenecks go in the drawer. T-shirts and shorts take their place in plastic storage bins. The reverse happens in the spring.
Anyway, the delay has been a good thing. What with the new kitchen coming together, I needed the extra time to wipe down cabinets and counters, wash dust-covered dishes and find places for everything. You’ll be happy to know, I’m down to the last few strays. The fondue stand needs a good spot by the weekend. Otherwise, it and all the other homeless bits and bobs are going to the freecycle table at the dump. I’ve already filled a couple of boxes.
As soon as that’s done, I can start rockin’ and rollin’ and casserolin’. A classic casserole sounds like the perfect dish to break in my new kitchen. After all, everyone loves them. Casseroles are a part of our heritage. Think back to all those hearty dinners after hiking, biking or skiing. Maybe it was raking leaves and shoveling snow at your house. There was a bit of both at mine.
Fast forward and who could forget all the casseroles we took to potlucks in our twenties? I was living in Vermont and then western Massachusetts. It was cold a good part of the year so a casserole made sense. Besides, let face it, if you are in your twenties, you’re probably broke. A good casserole is as cheap as it is filling and delicious.
Perhaps the best thing about casseroles is their versatility. From classic French or Italian to spicy Tex-Mex, there are no limits to possible combinations. However, there are a few basics when it comes to assembling a great casserole. Start with your starch of choice. They’re all good – spuds, rice, tortillas or my favorite, pasta. Next, you’ll need some protein and veggies. Don’t forget, the end result is a one pot meal. You need to cover all the bases. Think beans for a vegetarian treat; create a delicious surprise with leftover pot roast or sauté up some chicken. You probably have yours but my favorite vegetables to put in a casserole are mushrooms, broccoli and spinach along with the requisite onion and garlic.
You’ll need a sauce. Any of the basics will do – Béchamel or the lighter Velouté, cream sauce, pesto or tomato sauce. Use any one in a multitude of variations or combinations. You can find most of them in a jar but give homemade a try. I promise the result will be worth the extra trouble. Finally, there is the cheese. From the king of cheeses, Parmigiano-Reggiano, to a humble cheddar, a great casserole is all about the cheese. Goat cheese, feta, ricotta, gruyere and fontina, we love them all.
With the last of the tropical heat and humidity surely gone, there is no excuse … it’s time to get rockin’, rollin’ and casserolin’. Bon appétit!
Cheesy Chicken & Broccoli Pasta Bake
Try this warm and cozy casserole the next time you have a crowd over. Enjoy!
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine or chicken broth
Classic Velouté Sauce (recipe follows)
1/2-1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup dry Sherry
1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
About 8 ounces (2 cups freshly grated cheddar cheese
About 1 ounce (1/2 cup) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
12 ounces pasta – cavatappi, penne or rigatoni
1 – 1 1/2 pounds broccoli, cut in bite-sized florets
Heat a little olive oil in a skillet over medium-high. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add it to the skillet. Reduce the temperature to medium and cook for 4-5 minutes. Turn the chicken, add the white wine and cook for 4-5 minutes more. Remove from the heat, cool to room temperature and cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Place the chicken in a large bowl and reserve.
Make the Velouté Sauce. (Recipe follows.)
Put the sour cream, sherry and herbs in a bowl and whisk to combine. A little at a time, whisk the Velouté Sauce into the sour cream. Return the sauce to the saucepan.
Lightly coat a skillet with olive oil, add the onion, season with salt and pepper and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes more. Add the onion and garlic to the sauce.
If necessary, add a little more olive oil to the skillet. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and sauté until golden. Add the mushrooms and 2/3rds of the cheeses to the sauce and, stirring frequently, bring to a simmer over medium heat. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a large casserole.
Cook the pasta according to package directions, less 2 minutes. When the pasta has about 3 minutes of cooking time left, add the broccoli. Drain the pasta and broccoli and add it to the bowl with the chicken.
Add sauce to the chicken, pasta and broccoli and toss to combine. Transfer everything to the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheeses.
You can make ahead to this point, cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before baking.
Cover and bake the casserole at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until piping hot and golden, about 15 minutes more.
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking continuously, for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the broth and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg and add salt and pepper to taste.
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Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!
What are your favorite casserole recipe? Feel free to share!
Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017