The beauty of a good casserole is that you throw a bunch of delicious things into one dish and bake it all together. Think about it: One scoop of casserole offers the perfect bite–you get a little bit of everything in the dish.
When the weather gets colder, casseroles tend to be my go-to dinner choice. They’re simple (if there aren’t too many ingredients) and they provide leftovers for the rest of the week (as long as your dining companions don’t eat it all).
I originally found this recipe on Mel’s Kitchen Cafe blog. It’s hearty with a mixture of penne pasta, broccoli, salty sun-dried tomatoes, chicken, and my favorite ingredient: smoky mozzarella cheese.
BAKED PENNE WITH CHICKEN, BROCCOLI, AND SUN-DRIED TOMATOES
1 bunch broccoli, stalks cut off and florets trimmed into 1-inch pieces
12 ounces penne pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
3 ounces smoked mozzarella, shredded (I liked to use apple-smoked mozzarella)
8 ounce jar oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped into pieces
For the topping:
¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons melted butter
- In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs and butter for the topping and set aside. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking dish and set aside. Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
- In a large pot, bring the water for the pasta to a boil. Stir in one tablespoon of salt and the broccoli. Cook the broccoli for 1 minute, until it is bright green.The broccoli will cook quickly, so keep an eye on it. Quickly remove the broccoli with a slotted spoon to a plate.
- Return the water to a boil, add the pasta, and cook until al dente, about 1-2 minutes less than you would normally (it will cook a bit more in the oven while baking). Drain the pasta and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Leave it in the colander and set it aside.
- Wipe the pot dry. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and return to medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until softened and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the flour, salt, and pepper, and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute.
- Slowly whisk in the broth and heavy cream. Bring to a simmer, whisking often.
- Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, about 6-7 minutes. Stir in the sun-dried tomatoes and smoked mozzarella.
- Add the cooked pasta and broccoli to the sauce and stir to combine. Transfer the pasta mixture to the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the breadcrumb topping.
- Bake until the casserole is bubbling and the crumbs are lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
- Serve immediately.