Dull and rainy days can be depressing, especially if you love the sunshine. Therefore, to cheer us all up, those are the days of indulgence in the shape of a comforting Crunchy Cheesy Chicken Pasta Casserole.
This recipe is very easy to make by taking a couple of shortcuts and using rotisserie chicken from your deli and one jar of good cheese sauce as a starter. The rest is simple. If you cannot find the Queso Chihuahua brand of quesadilla cheese (Costco sell this), you may substitute any other Mexican cheese from the dairy case in your supermarket.
For the waistline conscious people among us (like me), you can pretty much eat a healthy salad before your casserole (try and avoid your daily fats and carbohydrates throughout your day, saving them for dinner) which will make you feel fuller - then my recommended portion of 1 1/2 cups of the casserole, which you will find is plenty, will let you enjoy the comforting cheesiness of this recipe.
1 lb. penne pasta
3 cups broccoli florets
4 cups cooked chicken, cubed
1/3 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped + 1 tbsp.
1 jar Bertolli Alfredo sauce
1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 cups sharp cheddar, shredded
1 cup mozzarella, shredded
1 1/2 cups Queso Chihuahua (quesadilla cheese)
1 tsp. ground black pepper
The Crunchy Topping
1 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1/4 cup melted butter
1 tbsp. chopped fresh Italian parsley
1. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until it is pre al-dente (becoming soft, but still crunchy), approximately 3 minutes before cooking time ends. Two minutes before cooking time ends, drop the broccoli into the pasta water - cook two minutes. Drain the pasta and broccoli and immediately spray with cold water and let drain again.
2. Chop the broccoli florets into small pieces and add them to a large bowl with the chicken and parsley. Over a medium flame, heat the Alfredo sauce, milk and heavy whipping cream (do not boil). When the mixture shows signs of bubbling, add the cheddar, mozzarella and quesadilla cheeses. Turn off the heat and stir until everything has melted.
3. Add the cheese sauce to the chicken mixture and stir well to combine. Please note that if you wish your casserole on the dryer side, do not add all of the sauce. This can be served on the side if guests would like it wetter. Combine the breadcrumbs, butter and parsley mixing well.
Grease a 13 x 9 inch casserole glass or ceramic dish with cooking spray and add the mixture. Sprinkle the breadcrumb topping evenly over the ingredients and bake until the top is golden brown. Serve with a garden salad.