A tale of two pastas: one decadent and delicious, the other a healthier bake that still tastes impossibly fresh and cheesy. After David and I planned our Thanksgiving menu, we bent our heads together over the grocery lists and divvied up the ingredients we needed to buy by store: Whole Foods will have happy turkeys and chorizo sausage, let’s get them there and Trader Joe’s has the cheaper frozen corn and potatoes, it makes sense to get those there. But when we came home on Wednesday night with our bags of goodies, we found that we hadn’t exactly sorted out who should buy the staples and ended up with three pints of heavy cream. Whoops. Some got used up in a rather lackluster cauliflower gratin, more of it in a pre-Thanksgiving clam chowder David made, and a little topped off the pumpkin pie. But as the weekend drew to a close, we still had 2 almost-full pints sitting in the fridge.
One of my all-time favorite food combinations is pasta with a creamy sauce. Even though it isn’t the healthiest ingredient in the world, it made more sense to use up what we had in the fridge rather then let it go to waste. Using a little extra sweet Italian sausage and chorizo leftover from the cornbread stuffing I made, I turned to this dish found on Simply Recipes, which received rave reviews. Later in the week, I made a similarly creamy pasta bake with kale, lemon, and ricotta cheese. Up to this point, I hadn’t been a big kale eater, but this pasta was a good introduction. It doesn’t hit you over the head with its good-for-you healthy attributes. Instead, the kale lent a gentle flavor, the ricotta and Parmesan crisped up nicely in the oven, and a full lemon’s worth of zest made the whole dish seem fresh and vibrant. While making the pasta bake with whole wheat pasta makes it healthier, I used white pasta, which allowed the lemon flavor to shine through.
Cheesy Chicken and Kale Casserole
Adapted from marthastewart.com
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or you can use about 1.5 cups of shredded or cut cooked chicken or turkey)
1/2 cup white wine (I used sauvignon blanc)
1 medium onion, diced
2 Tablespoons butter or olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 bunch kale (about 3/4 pound), stems removed, washed, and roughly chopped
4 Tablespoons lemon juice (usually from 1 lemon)
15 ounces ricotta cheese
7 ounces plain Greek yogurt
1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup + 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1) Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Add about 1 Tablespoon of olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook about 5 minutes on each side, flipping once, until the meat reaches 160 degrees on a meat thermometer. Using tongs, remove the chicken from the pan and set aside on a plate. Deglaze the pan by adding the white wine and using tongs or a wooden spoon to scrape up all the brown bits. Cut or shred the chicken when it is cool enough to handle.
2) When the white wine has cooked down (there should still be liquid in the skillet but not much), add the olive oil to the skillet. (If using cooked chicken, start the recipe here by heating the olive oil.) Add the onions and garlic and sauté until soft and starting to color, about 5-10 minutes.
3) Add the kale to the skillet with the garlic and onion. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, until wilted. Use tongs or a spoon to turn the kale every few minutes to ensure all of the leaves wilt with the heat. Add the lemon juice.
4) Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions (usually about 8-10 minutes, depending on the pasta shape). Drain and return to the pot.
5) In a separate bowl, mix together the ricotta, Greek yogurt, and the first part of the Parmesan cheese.
6) Transfer the kale and onion mixture to the large pasta pot. Add the cooked chicken, ricotta mixture and mix thoroughly. Spoon into a large, greased casserole dish (usually a 9×13 glass dish). Top with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.