Monday, April 5, 2010

my old favorite

I've mentioned before that my sister was my inspiration to start this blog.  And along with my mom, the reason I love to cook.  She always impressed me so much with her perfect meals.  It seemed like she never failed.  She could perfectly frost a cake, make an array beautiful Japanese dishes, and put together a casserole.  Now, casserole can seem quite quaint, not really gourmet, but hers were a different story.  Not your usual bland thrown in a baking dish and bake kinda thing.  And that's where tonight's dinner comes in.  When I was in high school I visited my sister and she made this fairly simple chicken, zucchini, and pasta with white sauce casserole.  But it was so ... Japanese, actually.  Not like soy sauce and miso kinda Japanese, but like the simple palate and skill that a typical Japanese mom possesses.  And I asked her to teach me how to make it.  And being the overachiever that she is, she made me a cookbook instead.  And this recipe was in it.  Along with the chocolate cream cheese frosting and vegetable curry that are still my go-to recipes.  I've never found an improvement on some her old classics.  Like I said, she's my foodie hero.

And tonight, after my big run, I wanted something hefty but not heavy.  If that makes sense.  And I remembered my favorite old classic that my sister used to make.  But I used broccoli instead, mainly because with broccoli you don't have to saute it ahead of time (unless you use big pieces, which I like), and because that's what I had in my fridge.  It makes a big 9x13 inch pan size, so we have leftovers, which is always nice, too.  And it was exactly what my body was craving.

Lisa's casserole
serves 6~8
1 lb penne or other short pasta (I used mini penne here)

1/2 red onion (any onion will do, I just used what I had on hand, and isn't it so pretty?), roughly chopped
3 C milk
3 T butter
3 T flour
pinch freshly grated nutmeg

2 chicken breasts, trimmed and cut into 1/2~1 inch cubes
neutral tasting oil
2 heads broccoli, stems removed and cut into bite sized pieces

crispy topping:
1/4 C panko or fresh bread crumbs
1/4 C finely grated parmesan cheese
1~3 T (depends on what you like) minced fresh flat leaf parsely

salt and pepper to taste
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, cook pasta to al dente.  Drain and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, season chicken with salt and pepper.  Heat a large skillet with 1 T oil over medium-high heat.  Once the oil is shimmering, add chicken pieces.  Spread to a single layer and let brown.  (don't move it around until browned on each side)  Brown on all sides, remove and set aside.  If your broccoli pieces are large, briefly saute just to brighten the color and soften the stems slightly.
  3. In a large sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat.  Add onions.  Cook until onions soften.  Add flour and stir, cook until flour slightly browns and loses the raw flour taste.  Add milk slowly while whisking quickly.  Continue whisking gently while the sauce thickens.  Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
  4. In a large bowl, stir the pasta, chicken, broccoli, and bechamel together.  Place in a 9x13 baking dish.
  5. In a small bowl, combine the panko, cheese, and parsley.  Sprinkle evenly over the top of the pasta mixture.  Place under the broiler until golden brown and slightly bubbling.


Lisa Allen said...

How funny-- I totally made this the other night... in fact, it may have been the same night! But I used asparagus instead because that's what I had :)

Lillian said...

Fun! I need to try it with asparagus. That sounds amazing.