Cheesy Chicken Pasta Bake

Let me admit something…no matter how many recipes I may have saved, nothing beats food I already know. Sometimes all it takes is just re-imagining to make something new again. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Italian (or Italian inspired) food. There’s only so many times in a row you can have chicken parmigana but you can still use chicken, cheese, pasta and sauce!!

This is something I came up with one night because I was bored eating chicken and pasta side by side. So, I figured why not combine it? It’s just as quick as a lasagna but definitely less labor intensive. You can make the pasta while you’re making the chicken but you want to give the chicken a little bit of a head start. If you do make the pasta first, toss it with a little olive oil so it doesn’t turn into a giant clump. I used sauce that I had frozen but you can use jar sauce. No need to make it fresh until you want to. I also used pre-shredded cheese. It melts pretty nicely.

In terms of pasta, you can use any kind you’d like. I used fusilli but that’s because its one of my favorites. I like the way the sauce sticks to it. But penne or rigatoni would also work well. When I season my chicken, I always use salt, garlic powder, season salt, and poultry seasoning. You can use whatever you like but that’s just me. And the sauce doesn’t have to be hot since you’re going to make it. Just reserve enough to spread over the top of the bake to serve. This is also a great meal to have as a make ahead. You can put it all together, throw it in the fridge and then bake it when you need it! That being said, here’s your recipe!

Cheesy Chicken Pasta Bake
1 lb. pasta
1 lb. boneless chicken breast
2 cups tomato sauce
1 8oz. package shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350. In a small container season chicken. Add a dash of Italian seasoning. Pour 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil and 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar. Let sit for at least 15 minutes to marinate.

Line baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place chicken on sheet and bake approximately 7 minutes per side.

In a medium pot, cook pasta to al dente.

When chicken is cooked leave out to cool. Chop into small to medium sized cubes. Drain pasta and return to pot. Spray or grease bottom and sides of 9×13 inch baking dish.

In pot mix pasta, chicken, half the cheese and 1 cup sauce. Transfer mixture into baking dish. Cover with 1/2 cup sauce and rest of cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 additional minutes to brown the top.

Serve topped with warm sauce.

cheesy chicken bake

Advertisements

Sa’iyda’s Yummy Tomato Sauce

Italian food is definitely one of my favorite types of food. It’s comforting, delicious and usually quite easy to prepare.

Growing up, a lot of my friends and my mom’s friends were Italian. That’s what happens when you grow up on Staten Island. I spent a lot of time at their houses and there is something very sensory about the smell of tomato sauce. It reminds me of Sunday mornings after sleepovers, big bowls of pasta and sitting around the family table.

Now making sauce is about convenience and affordability as well as nostalgia. Buying tomato sauce can get expensive nowadays and when I make it at home I can freeze portions that will last for months. This will come in handy if I’m low on money and still have a taste for pasta (because I always keep at least 5 boxes/packages in the cupboard). I also just love making my own sauce. The house smells delicious as the garlic and olive oil  begin to warm up. The tomatoes smell warm and homey. And there is something immensely satisfying about tasting your own sauce.

I used a few different kinds of tomatoes in my sauce. The foundation is crushed tomatoes and then I also used a can of diced tomatoes and a can of whole peeled tomatoes that I cut into cubes. I really like the taste of different sized tomato pieces. If you don’t want to use the whole I recommend using two cans of diced. But you definitely want to use some sort of chunky tomato. Make sure when buying your canned tomatoes that you aren’t buying anything seasoned or flame broiled. It will alter the taste of your sauce.

I only had a mild injury (we know boiling liquids and I don’t always agree), the sauce bubbled up and hit me on the wrist where I had previously burned my hand cooking chili. But fear not, it was a minor injury and left no additional scarring.

Also, make sure you cook the sauce at a low heat so as not to burn the bottom of the sauce. Don’t stir it constantly either, you want to let the flavors marry. Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of the pot because I think I got overly zealous about the eating of the sauce. Trust that it is delicious and sitting in my refrigerator and freezer.

Tomato Sauce

2 28oz + 1 14.5oz can crushed tomtatoes
1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes
1 14.5oz can of whole peeled tomatoes
1 1/2 tbsp. chopped garlic
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 6oz. can tomato paste
2 1/2 tbsp. italian seasoning
3 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese

In a large stockpot, brown 1 tbsp. chopped garlic in 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil on medium-low heat. Once garlic begins to darken and become fragrant, add crushed tomatoes one can at a time. Stir constantly to keep the garlic from burning.

After adding all 3 cans of crushed tomatoes, add 1/2 tbsp garlic and the diced tomatoes. Add the cubed whole tomatoes and stir. Once sufficiently mixed, add tomato paste to begin thickening. Add 2 tbsp. Italian seasoning and 2 tsp. salt. Let come to a boil.

Once sauce is boiling, add the last 1/2 tbsp. Italian seasoning and 1 tsp. salt. Stir and let boil for an additional 5 minutes. Taste and see if sauce is seasoned to your liking. If necessary add more sauce, lower heat and simmer for additional 10 minutes. Once ready, remove from heat. Stir in 2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese while still hot. Serve over pasta or in a tasty dish.

Sauce can be stored in refrigerator or freezer. I like to freeze sauce in small portions so make defrosting easier.

Tiramisu

I discovered my love for tiramisu a couple years ago. I stumbled upon it in whole foods’ dessert section. in some places, they sell individual servings of cake. Having never tried it before I gave it a shot. It was love at first bite! There’s something about the cold creamy filling, the coffee soaked ladyfingers, the way it all mushes together…its bliss. I think it’s also because I like coffee and not overly sweet desserts. That’s one of the good things about tiramisu; you can control the sweetness of the dessert. While a traditional tiramisu recipe calls for rum, I like mine alcohol free. I think sometimes when you add liquor, it detracts from the taste of the dessert.

Another thing I love about tiramisu is that it is fast! The prep time is about 15 minutes and it takes a minimum of 2 hours to chill and set. This means you can make it in the afternoon and it’ll be ready after dinner! The recipe I adapted is from one of my favorite Italian chefs, Giada DeLaurentiis. It can be found here.

Here’s a little shortcut I was lucky enough to stumble upon. At my local grocery store (I shop at Ralphs for all of my CA friends), there is a coffee flavored marscarpone cheese. I still mix a little coffee into the marscarpone but I use it more to enhance the coffee flavor. I also don’t have a coffee maker at home so I just get a grande iced coffee (no ice!) at my neighborhood Starbucks. Grande is a perfect size to have enough to soak the ladyfinger sufficiently. I also like to taste the cream after I’ve mixed in all of the ingredients and see if it’s sweet enough. If not you can always add another tablespoon of sugar. Here we go!

6 egg yolks
3 tbsp. sugar
1 lb marscarpone cheese
1 1/2 cups strong coffee, chilled
24 packaged ladyfingers
unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

In a large bowl beat or whisk egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale, approximately 5 minutes. Add marscarpone and beat until smooth. Add 1 tbsp. of coffee and mix until thoroughly combined.

In a shallow dish, dip ladyfingers in coffee for a few seconds. You want them to be fully absorbed but not too absorbed or they will fall apart. Line the bottom of baking pan (I use a 9×9) with half of the ladyfingers. Smooth half of the marscarpone mixture over the top of the ladyfingers.

Arrange the remaining ladyfingers over the top of the mixture. Top with the remaining  marscarpone mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours.

Before serving, dust with unsweetened cocoa powder.

Image

Chicken and Spinach Lasagna

Because I work nights, I’m always on a quest to make things that I can quickly reheat when I get home and I’m hungry. I also like to have things at home that Jon can reheat for himself. I love lasagna but I’m not a huge fan of traditional ground beef so I use chicken. Adding the spinach is also a great way to add veggies.

Lasagna is also a great meal to make when you’re having guests over. It is a definite comfort food. I love comfort foods, especially in winter. Once I decided I was going to make a lasagna this week I invited over a friend and her boyfriend to join us. At the store I grabbed a quick loaf of bread to serve and a little pre-packaged salad. It was just greens but I added some black olives, tomatoes and dressing.

Making lasagna can be a little time consuming, so if you’re having guests plan accordingly. It was also be a bit messy but totally worth it. My friends brought over a lovely bottle of red wine but you can serve it with any wine of your liking! Enjoy!

Image

12 lasagna noodles
4 chicken breasts
1 15oz. container ricotta (I used whole milk)
Shredded mozzarella cheese (I shredded my own but you could buy pre-shredded)
1 1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach thawed and drained
tomato sauce of your choice
dried basil and oregano

In a large pot bring well salted water to boil. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

To prepare chicken, pierce skin lightly with a fork on both sides of each breast. Season well with salt, poultry seasoning, basil and oregano. Add a splash of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Line small baking sheet with tin foil and bake chicken for about 5-6 minutes per side. Let cool before cutting into cubes.

Once water has boiled, add lasagna noodles. Cook for about 8-10 minutes. Drain and lay noodles flat on paper towels, layering noodles and paper towels to dry them.

Mix ricotta cheese, basil, oregano and spinach in a medium bowl. Grate mozzarella cheese. I used about a cup per layer but if depends on how cheesy you like your lasagna. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray bottom of a 9×13″ baking pan with cooking spray. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce before laying down the noodles.

To construct: layer 3 noodles on bottom of pan. Drop 2-3 spoonfuls of ricotta mixture on each noodle. Sprinkle with chicken and add a layer of tomato sauce (thickness is up to you). Sprinkle with mozzarella. Repeat for 2 more layers. On top of the last layer, add tomato sauce and mozzarella only. Bake covered for 50 minutes.

Uncover and add more mozzarella. Continue to bake until cheese is bubbling and slightly browned, about 10 minutes. Edges of noodles should be a little crisp and sauce should bubble. Cool before serving. Serve with garlic bread (recipe below)

Image

Garlic Bread

1/2 loaf of crusty bread (I used french bread)
4 tbsp. salted butter at room temperature
1 tbsp. crushed garlic (I used the jarred kind)

Cut bread in half. If necessary preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mash together garlic and butter with fork. Spread over bread.

Bake until bread has absorbed butter and edges are golden brown, about 10 minutes. Spread remaining butter on bread before serving.

Image