Chicken was a staple in my childhood; I recall my mother ate it at lunchtime, simply boiled; she’d carefully pull pieces of white meat off the bones, avoiding any fat; always careful to watch her figure. (Because of Mom focus on diet, she didn’t eat much of my father’s sweet baked goods from our bakeries.) Back to chicken, I too call chicken a favorite, eating it many different ways – baked, fried, sautéed, bone in or boneless, in soups, just to mention a few. I love chicken all these ways, but especially when it mingles with other foods, like vegetables, these additions create a rainbow of nourishing flavors.
I rarely make homemade chicken stock – truly too much work, unless I’m in a certain mood, feel motivated, and have the ingredients; otherwise I simply buy the boxed varieties. However, one time recently all the stars aligned, and I was happy to prepare a homemade stock. It genuinely boosted the flavors to this casserole.
INGREDIENTS Serves 8-10
8-10 pieces of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, or a whole chicken cut-up, minus tips of thin chicken wings
16 oz of spaghetti, broken in half
2 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, grated, or half cheddar and half parmesan, or substitute fontina for the Parmesan
1/4 cup green pepper, chopped
1/4 cup red pepper, chopped
10 oz fresh mushrooms, any variety, cut in half
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
3 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp olive or vegetable oil, divided
3 carrots, peeled and cut coarsely or in half in chunks
2 stalks celery, cut in half inch segments
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
3 tsp salt, divided
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add one teaspoon of salt. Add the chicken, one piece at a time; let it simmer for 40-50 minutes, covered, until nearly tender. halfway through, add the carrots, small onion , celery and bay leaves. Cook another 20-30 minutes. Remove the cooked chicken and cool it. Then remove the skin, and most of its fatty parts and toss them in the trash. Remove the mostly cooked vegetables to a side bowl, cover and keep handy. Do not toss the flavorful water; keep it on the stove. Heat the water up again and cook the pasta in it, about 3 minutes less than the package directions.
2 Once the chicken has cooled enough to handle, shred or cut it roughly in 1-2 inch pieces, until you have 4 cups. Set this aside.
3 In a large frying or cast iron pan, heat to medium two tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion, two peppers and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they soften some. Add the mushrooms, cook, covered, about 5 minutes as the mushrooms release their moisture, stirring occasionally. Add 1 teaspoon of salt. Add the garlic, lower the heat and cook 1-2 minutes. Turn off the heat. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
4 In a 7 or 8 quart pot heat the remaining oil to medium. Add all the ingredients from step 3 into the pot. After it heats for several minutes, add 3 tablespoons of flour, stir to coat.
5 Stir in one cup of the pasta water. Bring it to a boil, lower t he heat, letting it thicken which will take a few minutes. Add the chicken pieces and one cup of the pasta water, stir in the cooked pasta, fold in two cups of cheese, the cooked vegetables, the Worcestershire sauce, Italian seasoning and the remaining salt and pepper. Gradually add another cup of pasta water, or more if needed to make the sauce thick and creamy. Stir to incorporate. Adjust seasoning. Remove bay leaves.
6 Pour ingredients into a 3 quart casserole. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake 40-50 minutes, until bubbly, cover with foil if cheese browns too much.
Tips and Tweaks
Add 1 cup of frozen peas to the pot when adding the vegetables at step 5.
Add 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper with the Worcestershire sauce at step 5, for spice.
Sauté 2 small zucchinis, sliced to the cut vegetables at step 3.