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 + 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 subtle lemon flavor to shine through.
Cheesy Chicken and Kale Casserole
Adapted from marthastewart.com
1/2 pound shell pasta (or similarly shaped pasta)
1 medium onion, diced
2 Tablespoons butter or olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 bunch kale (about 3/4 pound)
1 1/2 cups cooked shredded or cubed chicken (I used leftover turkey)
15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
zest from 1 lemon
1/3 cup + 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1) Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions. Drain thoroughly and return to the pot.
2) Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until soft and starting to color, about 5 minutes.
3) Wash the kale. Fold the leaves in half along the stem and slice the stems off using a knife. Chop the kale leaves into smaller pieces. Add to the skillet with the garlic and onion. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, until slightly wilted.
4) Transfer the kale and onion mixture to the pasta in the large pot. Add the cooked chicken, ricotta cheese, 1/3 cup Parmesan, and lemon zest 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.