Saturday, December 17, 2011

Chicken, Artichoke and Parmesan Penne

What do you do with leftover cooked chicken? or even deli roasted chicken? I welcome it to use in enchiladas, tortilla soup, filled crepes, quiche, chopped salad, sandwiches, quesadillas, etc. Today, along with a handful of ordinary pantry ingredients, shredded chicken transformed a mac 'n cheese casserole into a zippy, company-worthy entree. Not that I'm having much casual dinner company the week before Christmas, but it's nice to note for feeding impromptu guests in the future.

This penne dish featured mozzarella and parmesan cheeses melted into a smooth bechamel (white) sauce flavored with Italian herbs, chipotle and garlic. Chopped artichoke bottoms, capers, kalamata olives, green onions and Italian parsley nestled alongside the chicken pieces to add both flavor and crunch to the dish, providing a snappy bite that balanced the richness of the sauce. 

I will eat almost any version of pasta with cheese sauce and love it, (well, maybe not blue cheese) but today's recipe offered an especially savory combination of flavors. I'm still smiling 'cuz there's just a little bit left, a snack for me to enjoy late tonight or for breakfast tomorrow.

Chicken, Parmesan and Artichoke Baked Penne

1 cup cooked chicken, shredded

2 tablespoons butter (1/4 stick) and 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 or 3 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tablespoon mixed Italian spices (basil, oregano, thyme, etc.)
a generous pinch of chipotle chili powder, or cayenne
a pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper, as needed

1 heaping tablespoon flour
2 cups milk (more as needed to thin the sauce)

2 cups penne or other short pasta, cooked
6 pitted, chopped Kalamata olives
2 or 3 artichoke bottoms, chopped small
6 green onions, chopped small
1 tablespoon capers or green peppersorns, rinsed
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan, divided
a sprinkling of breadcrumbs (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Spray or butter a small baking dish or casserole.
  2. Grab a heavy skillet and melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, herbs and seasonings, stirring constantly for 2 or 3 minutes until fragrant. Be careful not to burn the garlic.
  3. Sprinkle the flour over the top; use a wooden spoon to mix it in thoroughly; cook for a minute or two, stirring constantly. Add the milk and whisk it in vigorously to incorporate and eliminate lumps. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally until thickened. Aim for a loose sauce, not a paste, so add milk as needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. In a large bowl (or the skillet if it’s big enough) mix the sauce and pasta. Use a spatula to fold in the olives, artichokes, onions, capers, parsley, mozzarella and half of the Parmesan until evenly coated and well combined. 
  5. Turn the mixture into the prepared dish and sprinkle the remaining Parmesan and some breadcrumbs on top. Bake in the middle of a 375 F oven for half an hour until the cheese is bubbling and the top begins to brown. 
This served 2 for a light supper, but a really hearty appetite could consider this a single serving.

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