Friday, November 13, 2009

Gourmet Casserole

If there was such a thing as a gourmet casserole (in my head, those two just don't go together - casseroles are good and all but gourmet?!), this would be the one! It takes a little longer to prepare than most but it is oh-so tasty and makes a huge dish full. Plus, it is full of veggies and other yummy ingredients! I found this recipe in a Cookin' With Chicken pamphlet I received who-knows-when. And, no, no picture. My food pictures aren't that great anyway! Just make and see what it looks like and take a picture if you really need one!

Country House Chicken Penne

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 onions chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 1/2 pounds ground chicken
1 can crushed tomatoes (28 oz/796 mL)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp dried basil
1 tsp salt
pepper to taste
4 cups cooked penne pasta
1 package fresh spinach (10 oz)
1/3 cup grate parmesan cheese

Cheese Sauce
3 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup flour
3 cups milk
1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat; stir-cook chicken, breaking up chunks, until no longer pink. Add onions, garlic, carrot and red pepper; stir-cook until softened. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, salt and pepper. Simmer for 30 minutes. Toss penner with chicken sauce and spoon into a 9x13-inch casserole. Top with spinach. Pour cheese sauce over spinach and sprinkle with parmesan. Bake at 375F for 45 minutes. Let stand 15-20 minutes at room temperature before serving.

Cheese Sauce
Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and stir-cook for 2 minutes. Whisk in milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes or until thickened. Stir in mozzarella, salt, pepper and nutmeg and stir until smooth.

**My personal substitutes/modifications**
  • First of all, I don't use chicken. I know, it is called Chicken Penne but I don't use ground chicken. I use ground pork as I seem to have an abundance of it! I also don't use 1 1/2 pounds, I use 2 because trying to cut a frozen 1 pound package of ground pork is next to impossible!
  • I add more veggies whenever I have them around. Yesterday, I added chopped zucchini and parsnip.
  • I don't just use 2 Tbsp of tomato paste, I use the whole little 5.5 oz container. For me, the extra would just go to waste so I might as well use it up.
  • I add a layer of cottage cheese when I have it on hand. I add it just after putting the chicken sauce into the dish and before sprinkling with parmesan.
  • I never measure the amount of spinach, I just use however much fills up my dish.
  • Finally, I don't use a 9x13 pan. I use a large stoneware bowl that I got at a garage sale somewhere. It is so fantastic for this meal and keeps it hot for a long time.
  • I love to serve garlic bread/biscuits/toast with this meal. It seems to compliment it so well.
  • This reheats really well!

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