Casseroles usually take a lot of work, in my opinion. I’ll take a quick look at a recipe and think it will be no big deal, but it only seems that way because the assembly and cooking are easy. I think the hidden kicker with casseroles is the beforehand prep. There is almost always a lot of chopping involved, often pasta cooking too, and even meat cooking. As an aside, one of the biggest things I’ll often miss in looking at a recipe is when an ingredient reads “cooked chicken.” When you’re figuring out how much time you need to make a meal, that is not an ingredient to gloss over! It’ll require an extra twenty minutes of course.
In any case, casseroles are just too handy to do away with completely. How could I live without homemade lasagna? More importantly, casseroles are great for transporting. I am constantly trying to build up my repertoire for our new baby friends, sick friends, etc. I do like the payoff too. When I make meals to bring to other people, I’ll often make some for Chris and I as well… and casseroles make great workday lunches!
In the spirit of avoiding casserole repeat fatigue and building up my pasta bake portfolio, I wanted to share a recipe which I call Mexican Chicken Casserole by the Pioneer Woman. I renamed the recipe, because I decided to use penne pasta instead of spaghetti. I’m just not the biggest fan of spaghetti in pasta bakes for some reason. Another fickle preference of mine is that I like red peppers over green, so I made that change as well. I also shredded the chicken versus mixing in chunks of it. Those were my nitpicky changes.
After diving into the recipe, I realized that I had no broth–chicken or vegetable! I frantically began Google-ing instructions to make broth, and ended up boiling water with an onion, red pepper, garlic, and jalapeno soaking in it for 45 minutes or so. This seemed to work just fine.
I also had some leftover pureed garlic, jalapeño, onion, red pepper, and cilantro from guacamole earlier in the week, so I also added all of this into the casserole for a lovely smoky taste.
Chris and I brought this dish to friends with a new baby earlier this month, and it definitely turned out to be a winner. On the side, I served a baguette and doctored butter (butter mixed with chopped cilantro and fresh lime juice) along with a basic Mediterranean salad. It turned out to be quite the satisfying meal, though a bit thrown together. That is a perk of casseroles, however… they are versatile and forgiving of haste as well as an imperfect ingredient selection.