Anyone else feeling a bit MAN-ic today? No? Just me? Oh well…. <sigh>
So what do I make for dinner when I’m feeling manic and out of sorts? Easy!
I head to a dish that I came up with back in the early 90’s. I’m officially calling it an Italian Baked Chicken with Creamy Pasta dish, but around our house it’s always called “Pink Chicken”.
I know, sounds kinda raw and gross, right? But it’s not – I promise! It’s just a big platter of delicious, creamy comfort food that you’ll want to go back to again and again.
So here’s how and why this dish became a family favorite:
After a very large celebration back in the early 90’s, I found myself stuffing my freezer with bag upon bag of breaded, baked chicken breasts, tubs and tubs of Italian sausage in spaghetti sauce and several containers of some sort of homemade cream cheese dip that was big on cream cheese and low on flavor.
About a month later I was wracking my brain for something quick to make for a manic Monday, looked at the piles of frozen party food in my freezer and had the idea to combine it all in one dish, served over noodles
The dish was a huge hit with my teenaged sons that night and they asked me what it was called. I told them it didn’t have a name, and they promptly nicknamed it “Pink Chicken”… because the deep red spaghetti sauce had run into the cream cheese dip based sauce on the noodles and turned them a pretty shade of pink.
The name stuck, and so did the dish.
There’s no actual recipe for my Italian Baked Chicken with Creamy Pasta. Instead, it’s a jumping off point for getting creative with what you have in your fridge, pantry and freezer.
I love to buy several pounds of boneless skinless chicken breasts and thighs, then bread and bake them on a Saturday afternoon. Once they’ve cooled I split them into meal sized portions and freeze them. They thaw quickly and stay nice and moist during reheating thanks to the light coat of breading.
Oh and the breading doesn’t have a recipe either! You can make it using any kind of cracker crumbs, plain bread crumbs, fresh bread crumbs that you whirl in the food processor, crushed corn flakes or even a blend of any of the above – mixed half and half with parmesan cheese. Add seasoning, or leave them plain, it’s all up to you, just promise me that you’ll bread them with whatever you already have in the house and that you won’t make a trip to the store for special ingredients!
Personally, I love to mix together some italian dressing with mayonnaise, then thin it out till it has the consistency of heavy cream. Once that’s done, I crush some crackers (for today it’s Saltines) and add pepper to them, then dip the chicken pieces into the dressing mix and roll in the crumbs.
They bake on un-greased pans in a 375F oven for 20 – 30 minutes. Cool them, split them into meal sized portions and freeze. To reheat them, thaw in the fridge for 8 hours (if you put them into the fridge in the morning, they’re ready to reheat at dinner time)…. then heat at 350F for 20 minutes.
My spaghetti sauce is much the same – I cook a huge batch on Saturdays while I’m making the chicken and then cool and freeze it in meal sized portions. I personally love mushrooms and mild Italian sausage in my sauce, but use what you like best.
These are some of my favorite kitchen helpers. They're Dang Good and I love 'em!
FULL DISCLOSURE: I no longer use cans of expensive Italian tomatoes, cloves of garlic or piles of chopped onions for my basic spaghetti sauce. I cheat! My sauce of choice is now a dressed up, very cheap, canned spaghetti sauce. Four Cheese flavor is great because it doesn’t have any suspect little bits of meat “stuff” in it.
The final component for my Italian Baked Chicken with Creamy Pasta is the sauce that goes on the egg noodles. I make this sauce fresh on the day I make the casserole… cuz it’s easy and tastes better when it’s fresh.
The ingredient are super simple!
So this is a basic white sauce, using 3 cups of milk, 4 tablespoons of butter and 1/3 cup of flour. Once the sauce is boiling, add the cream cheese and 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese, stirring constantly till the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Turn off the heat and then add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, a dash of pepper and 1 tablespoon of basil.
To put the dish together, cook egg noodles for 6 minutes, then drain and stir into the cream sauce. Place the mixture into a large casserole dish, then top with the chicken, cover with foil and bake at 350F for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, gently reheat the spaghetti sauce.
To serve, place the creamy noodles on a large platter, top with the chicken breasts and then spoon the spaghetti sauce over the top. For extra cheesy flavor, grate some fresh parmesan cheese over the top of the dish.
Oh yeah, in case you were wondering about that wheel of parmesan in the picture, uh huh, that’s homemade! I made a 5 pound wheel in February and it’s finally aged just right and ready to eat. I’ve been grating it everywhere….
Be sure to spoon enough tomato sauce onto the chicken so that it oozes over and into the creamy noodles… after all, you want to be able to tell your family that they’re eating Pink Chicken, right? Right?