5 September 2015

Chicken Penne Pasta Bake

We've had a few tummy issues in the family just lately, so I've been trying to avoid the heavily spiced, full of chilli, rich with tomato sort of flavours so as to give everyone a chance to recover.  Inevitably, my first port of call is always what my hubby refers to as "brown food", or "something in some sort of gravy".  Now that is okay by me because I love gravy of all kinds, but it's not necessarily so okay with the remainder of the assembled throng.

So I began pondering the thought of how to adjust foods that we normally eat but that are very tomatoey, or contain a hefty whack of chilli for instance, but exchange something else for those troublesome ingredients.  Something that will deliver a good flavour in exchange for the tummy-troubling effect.

Amazingly - I think probably because I've a talent for comfort food - I've been fairly successful in most of these "calmer" dishes and this one proved to be particularly good.

Cooking the chicken through
Now I know that some of you will raise your eyebrows and move on at the mention of the use of a tin of condensed cream of chicken soup.  Well, if that's the way you feel about it then fine, I won't try and convince you otherwise.  However, for those of you who are left, the use of the soup as a sauce base is invaluable when you're either a little bit pushed for time, or are just worn out and can't face the "from scratch, infuse with chicken, add an hour to the cooking method" version.

I don't recommend that you use the soup alone for your sauce - although it would do at a pinch - but if you work on adding complimentary flavours, you can create a multi-layered flavour profile resulting in a really quite interesting sauce which will keep your taste buds interested through to the last bite.

Mmmmn ... had to stop myself from "tasting" too often!
I started my layers of flavour with sweated down onion and garlic in olive oil, then added chopped celery and a green pepper (which was a late addition, but made all the difference).  The tarragon made a huge impression on the sauce flavours, of course, as did the use of goat's milk instead of cow's.  You just get that slight tang of goat's cheese coming through - and the little bit of Philadelphia helped that along by providing the creaminess.

Again, it was one of those "put things into the pan in order, boil some pasta, combine the two and eat" dinners that are always so welcome.  Plus, with the extra little bit of breathing space that you get when it goes into the oven, you've got time to beat back the washing up or put together a little side salad, if the idea moves you.

As for Cook's Tips, well I've a few :

With any vegetable that you are using for flavour, chopping them finely instead of just chopping them into bite sized chunks, will increase the flavour they can deliver by a factor of many.  So don't be tempted to leave your onions, celery and green pepper in large chunks - small pieces will work so much harder.

It really isn't necessary to use goat milk for the sauce, cow's will do the job perfectly well - and if you're using a semi-skimmed of whole milk, then there is no need to add the Philadelphia as that was really just there to provide the creaminess lacking in a skimmed milk.  Likewise, if you're using skimmed milk but don't have any Philadelphia but do have some cream - use that!

Do try to find - and use - low salt chicken stock granules or cubes.  It makes all the difference if YOU can say how much salt you want in the mix, rather than some manufacturer deciding for you.

Again, it isn't essential to use petit pois - ordinary peas will do perfectly well.  Petit pois are just smaller and sweeter, but were what we had in the freezer at the time.  If you don't have any peas, then some frozen sweetcorn would do a similar job!

Also, it isn't essential to use the mozzarella ball.  It just provides some "stringy cheese" which my son always enjoys and adds a nice creamy flavour to the cheesy layer on top of the bake.  However, if you're strapped for cash or can't find any - don't worry about not including it, nobody will notice.

It's a great mid week dinner, this one.  It can be dressed up for more than four by the addition of a side salad and garlic bread, or just eaten as is.  Very flexible where ingredients are concerned and forgiving to cook, it's a very civilised little recipe.  The evenings are beginning to draw in and the temperatures have dropped, so I think it's time for a little bit of comfort food.  What say you?


Ingredients :

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1 stick celery, de-strung and chopped finely
1 green pepper, cored and diced
10g salted butter
half a tsp ground black pepper
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced
1 tsp dried tarragon
295g can of Batchelor's condensed cream of chicken soup
250ml skimmed milk (I used goat milk)
1 tbsp Philadelphia cream cheese
1.5 tsp Knorr reduced salt chicken granules (stock powder)
2 tbsp frozen petits pois
300g penne pasta
125g mozzarella ball, sliced
150g mature cheddar cheese.

Method :

Two thirds fill a large saucepan with water and put on to boil over a high heat.

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep frying pan over a high heat and add the onion, garlic, celery and pepper.  Make sure to stir the contents regularly so as not to allow them to brown, but cook until the onion is transparent and the celery & pepper have softened.

Add the black pepper and stir through.

Add the sliced chicken and continue to cook, stirring regularly, until the chicken has all turned from pink to white.

Reduce the heat to moderate and add the dried tarragon and stir through.

Once the water comes to a boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente.  You don't want it to be cooked all the way through, as it will finish cooking in the oven.

Add the soup, milk, cream cheese and stock powder and gently stir until all is amalgamated.  Allow the combination to come to a gentle simmer.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary, but remember that there will be cheese on top - so go easy on the salt!  Add the frozen petit pois and stir to combine.

When the pasta is done, drain and make sure to retain a little of the pasta water, just in case you need to reduce the thickness of the sauce a little.

Replace the pasta back into the hot saucepan and add the sauce contents.

Stir through gently.

Decant into an ovenproof dish and lay the mozzarella slices over the top.

Cover with the grated cheddar and put into a pre-heated oven at 180degC/350degF/Gas4 for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese is melted, bubbly and just beginning to turn golden.


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