Every once in a while I get nostalgic for...I'm not sure what. School lunches? My grandmother's dinners? Something very seventies and filling: a casserole. Most of the time when I get this longing, I stick to proper dishes like lasagna or moussaka. But there are times when you just want to throw all your favorite ingredients into a deep dish and see what happens when they mingle together.
It's very filling and rarely low-calorie. It's never very pretty. But it's deeply satisfying. It has to include something starchy. It should have something gooey and cheesy. And as a nod to healthy living, it should have something vegetable in it. The casserole I made last night had all of these things. Oh yeah, and cream.
Chicken Casserole (serves two hungry pigs generously or four normal human beings. oink.)
You could omit the chicken from this casserole easily and it would still be delicious. If so, you might want to increase the amount of pasta and mushrooms.
2 chicken breasts
1 large onion
1-2 cloves garlic
250 g spinach, wilted and drained
250 g pasta - ribbon or shaped but probably best not spaghetti
75 (5 thick slices) Pont l'Eveque cheese
3-4 heaping Tbs Pamesan
1/3 cup crème fraîche
1/2 glass of white wine
2 tsp fresh (or frozen) chopped thyme
1 Tbs flour
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 Tbs butter
Preheat the oven to 200c/400f and begin heating water for the pasta in a large sauce pan. When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta. Butter a small soufflé pan. In a large frying pan, melt the butter. Cut the chicken in bite-sized pieces and add them to the butter when it begins to froth. Chop the onion roughly and the garlic finely and add them to the chicken. Keep the heat high in order to brown the chicken and stir occasionally to brown all sides. Turn down the heat a bit and add the mushrooms, duly washed and sliced. When they are soft, sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir for a few minutes until it is all sticky. Pour in the white wine and use it to deglaze the bottom of the pan, scraping up any brown bits that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. (You may want to turn up the heat a bit to get things bubbling properly.) Turn off the heat and stir in the crème fraîche. Add the thyme and taste for salt and pepper: it will probably need a good dose of each.
By now your pasta is undoubtedly done. Drain it and toss it with a little more butter and salt. Lay the pasta in the bottom of the buttered soufflé pan. Spread the spinach over the pasta. Lay the slices of cheese on the spinach. Top with the chicken and mushroom mixture. Sprinkle with Parmesan and bake in the oven for half an hour or so, until it is hot and bubbly and you are certain that cheese will have melted. If you can bear it, let it sit for ten minutes before serving so that it doesn't completely collapse on your plate. It probably will anyway, but you can try to make it look appetizing.
It will certainly smell appetizing with the garlic, onion and cheese competing for your attention. Filling, comforting and extremely tasty, it's also appetizing on your tongue. And, hey, it's got spinach so it HAS to be healthy, right?