No stories from the “field” today, live is busy with work, garden stuff and just hanging with friends and the occasional dinner that is cooked from scratch like this awesome Chicken Pasta Bake. Its one of those dishes I like to start making on a Friday night when its not hectic and can make a huge portion so that I have lots of left overs to freeze that I then can reheat on one of those hectic weekdays.
This recipes makes 2 big casseroles, so make sure you have a couple aluminum casseroles with lid handy so that you can freeze a portion of the unbaked assembled pasta bake. Also you will have more stock left over than you need for the recipe. I keep some of the chicken back and then make a chicken noodle soup the next day by using the chicken stock, throwing in some more veggies (carrots, celery, onion) and the left over chicken into the stock and cook some pasta on the side and then combine everything. Although this recipe takes some time to make, you get a lot of use out of it and can make 3 different dinners out of it. If you decide to only make 2 small casseroles than you have enough chicken and stock left over to make chicken noodle soup plus a batch of homemade pot pie.
For the pot pie get some puff pastry, roll it out to the size of your baking dish (I would use individual baking dishes), put some of that puff pastry on the bottom, fill the dish with the pot pie sauce (butter, flour in equal amounts, add chicken stock and milk in equal amounts, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg), add some potato cubes (pre-cooked works best), peas and your cooked chicken and top with more puff pastry , bake on high for 30-45 minutes until the pastry crust is lightly brown and the inside is hot and bubbly.
Serve this pasta dish with a fresh green salad on the side. Also don’t skip on the breadcrumbs and cheese. It sounds like a lot but the breadcrumb crust really gives this dish a little bit of an edge, you need some crunch with the soft pasta and chicken. I love having this dish handy when I have a party and you have a few “lingering friends” till 10:00 p.m. or midnight and suddenly get hungry for something really zesty. So I take this out of the freezer in the morning in anticipation that I will have some people stay late and all the party food is gone …or its just party food and we are hungry for a real dinner and then bake it when needed that party night. Or if your friends all did leave on time, just relax the next day after the party with no cooking and bake this dish, since we all know how exhausting it is to cook for a party and then start over again the next day with a home cooked meal from scratch.
Ingredients: This makes 2 big casseroles, each casserole serves approx. 6 – 8 people
Ingredients for the chicken stock:
- 2 chickens
- 10 – 12 cups cold water
- 3 celery ribs chopped in big pieces
- 3 carrots chopped in big chunks
- 1 medium onion chopped in chunks
- 2 large clove of garlic smashed
- 1/4 teaspoon peppercorns
- 2 bay leaves
- 5 cubes or teaspoons of chicken broth concentrate
Ingredients for the cheese Sauce
- 1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter plus additional for greasing gratin dishes
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1 garlic clove smashed
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 cup crème fraiche
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 6 cups Gruyere grated (approx. 1 pound of Gruyere)
- 1 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated with a rasp (1¼ cups)
- 1 pound penne pasta cooked
- 6 cups fine fresh bread crumbs (from 14 slices firm white sandwich bread)
- Special equipment: 2 (2½- to 3-qt) shallow gratin dishes (13 by 9 inches)
- Poach the chicken and make stock: Put chickens in a 6- to 8-quart pot with water, celery, carrot, onion, garlic, thyme, salt, and peppercorns and bring to a boil. If they don’t fit as a whole then cut them into bigger chunks. Let the chickens simmer (water should slightly boil) for 1 hour until the chicken almost falls off the bone. Take the chickens out of the stock and let cool out. When chickens are cool enough to handle, remove meat from skin and bones, transferring meat to a cutting board and cut chicken into 1-inch pieces and reserve in a large bowl. Pour broth through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, discarding solids.
- Make sauce, cook pasta, and assemble the casserole: Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 425°F. Butter gratin dishes. Heat butter (1 stick) in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderate heat until foam subsides, then add garlic and cook, whisking, 1 minute. Add flour and cook, whisking, 1 minute. Add milk and reserved stock (4 cups) in a slow stream, whisking, then bring to a boil, whisking. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, until sauce is slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in crème fraiche, salt, pepper, cayenne, 2 cups Gruyère, and 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano. Taste and add more salt, pepper, possible nutmeg, cayenne to your liking.
- While sauce simmers, cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water , uncovered, until not quite al dente, 8 to 10 minutes (pasta should still be firm), then drain in a colander. Return pasta to pot, then add chicken and sauce, tossing to coat. Divide pasta mixture between gratin dishes. Toss bread crumbs with remaining 4 cups Gruyère and 3/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, then sprinkle evenly over pasta mixture. Bake gratins until crumbs are golden brown and sauce is bubbling, 20 to 30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.