I was tasked with preparing a pasta dish for an upcoming family meeting of sorts. Not knowing exactly how many people would be there, or anything about the kitchen, combined with two aunts cooking other two other pasta dishes simultaneously, I decided to try this oven-baked recipe. Making it ahead will free up the stove top for our aunts, and all I will have to do on Saturday night is pop it in the oven! (That's my kind of cooking, as you may know).
I plan to make this dish tomorrow, then pop it in the freezer until we leave Friday morning, and it should travel beautifully in a cooler. When we get there, the dish will go directly into the refrigerator to thaw, and be completely thawed and ready for the oven Saturday night.
Every recipe from The Best Make-Ahead Recipe has been a winner, and I expect this will be no different.
UPDATE: Although I removed this dish from my freezer early Friday morning, and stored it in a refrigerator until Sunday evening, evidently the refrigerator was too cold because my dish was still frozen when it was time to bake! Ack! So, I was forced to bake it longer than I had anticipated, and it came out of the oven after most of the dinner was over. Our gracious family valiantly sampled some, and everyone declared their love for this dish. It really is quite flavorful and bright, I love the texture of the shredded chicken and the fresh tarragon enhances everything. Just be sure to check on the temperature of the refrigerator in which you are attempting to "thaw" your dish...
Also, a double batch is a LOT of food. Just so you know. For more on the family dinner, go here.
Creamy Baked Penne and Chicken with Artichokes, Tarragon and Lemon
If you can't find frozen artichokes, you can substitute3 (14-ounce) cans artichoke hearts; you will need to drain, rinse and pat them dry thoroughly before using. Shredded Italian cheese blend is a mix of 4 to 5 cheeses, often including mozzarella, provolone, Parmesan, fontina, and Asiago.
1 pound penne
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 (9-ounce) boxes frozen artichokes, thawed, patted dry and chopped coarse (or see note above)
1 medium onion, minced
8 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 8 teaspoons)
1/4 teaspoon grated zest from 1 lemon
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 5 breasts), trimmed
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
8 ounces shredded Italian cheese blend (about 2 cups)
3 tablespoons juice from 2 lemons
Ground black pepper
3 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon leaves (for serving)
1. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Stir in tablespoon salt and the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Drain the pasta through a colander and toss with 1 tablespoon of the oil; leave in the colander and set aside.
2. Wipe the pot dry, then add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil, and set it over medium heat until shimmering. Add the artichokes, onion, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until the artichokes are lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes.
3. Stir in the garlic and lemon zest and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the broth, wine and cream.
4. Add the chicken breasts and bay leaves, partially cover, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover completely, and cook until the thickest part of the chicken registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 10 to 15 minutes.*
*If I remember correctly, the last time I cooked chicken using this method, it took a lot longer for the chicken to cook--even twice or three times as long. I'm not sure if this is due to altitude or what. I will report back tomorrow with exact cooking time for the chicken...
UPDATE: After 15 minutes, my chicken was barely at 125 degrees. So yes, it took longer for me; about 25 minutes total.
5. Remove the pot from the heat and discard the bay leaves. Remove the chicken and set aside to cool; keep the sauce covered. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it into bite-sized pieces. Stir the shredded chicken back into the sauce with the cooked pasta, peas, 1 cup of the cheese, and lemon juice; stir until well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a 13 by 9-inch baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining cup cheese.
6. To Store: Wrap the dish tightly with plastic wrap and then foil and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 1 month. (If frozen, the casserole must be thawed completely in the refrigerator, about 24 hours).
7. To Serve: Thaw completely in refrigerator, about 24 hours. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees. Unwrap the dish and cover tightly with aluminum foil that has been sprayed with vegetable oil spray (or use nonstick foil). Bake until the sauce is bubbling around the edges, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until hot throughout and browned on top, 25 to 30 minutes longer. Sprinkle with the tarragon before serving.
To Serve Right Away:
Bake the casserole in a 400-degree oven, uncovered, until the sauce is bubbling and the top is browned, 25 to 35 minutes. Sprinkle with the tarragon before serving.