Nothing beats a one pot family dinner and this creamy, nutmeg-infused broccoli and chicken pasta bake is just that.
I stuck to the classic elements of your typical, comforting pasta bake but elevated the nutritional content by swapping in whole wheat pasta and adding protein-rich chicken (can be omitted for a vegetarian option) and health-boosting broccoli. The heady aroma and flavour of nutmeg add warmth and complexity without overwhelming the dish and the classic Bechamel and melted cheese makes it creamy and satisfying.
We've now served this for a few play-dates and the kids have been very content, which is always, without a doubt, my happiest moment. It can be prepared in advance for a dinner party and finished in the oven at the last minute, also making it ultra convenient.
I hope your family enjoys it.
Yields: Serves a family of 4
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
2 chicken breasts
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups dry whole wheat pasta (penne or spirals)
2 tbsp butter
3 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup gruyere cheese
Preheat the oven to 220C / 420 F.
Steam the broccoli for 5 minutes until cooked, yet bright and crunchy. Set aside.
Next, cook the chicken. I like to use this genius technique from The Kitchn http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-cook-moist-tender-chicken-breasts-every-time-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-36891
Briefly, flatten the chicken breasts to 1/2 inch thickness by laying them between two sheets of plastic cling wrap and pounding with a meat tenderiser or the flat bottom of a wide cup. Salt and pepper the chicken.
In a heavy bottom pan for which you have a lid, heat the oil on medium high until shimmer.ing Add the chicken breasts and cook for 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low, flip the chicken, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Do not touch the chicken during the cooking process! Turn off the heat and leave the pan, covered for 10 additional minutes.
While the chicken is resting, cook the pasta in salted boiling water. Drain and set aside.
Remove the cooked chicken from the pan, slice and allow it to cool.
Next, prepare the bechamel sauce.
Heat the milk with a pinch of salt until just boiling. Take it off the heat.
In a heavy bottom saucepan, melt the butter on low heat. Stir in the flour using a whisk or wooden spoon and cook, stirring well for 2 minutes. Turn the heat off. Add in the warmed milk and stir vigorously until a smooth, creamy sauce forms. Put the pan back on high heat and boil the sauce for 1 minute, stirring well. Turn off the heat, add the nutmeg and salt to taste.
In a large baking dish, mix together the cooked pasta, sliced chicken, broccoli, Bechamel sauce and 3/4 cup cheese and give it a good mix. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper if necessary. Sprinkle the top with the leftover cheese and bake in the oven until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden brown, 15-20 minutes.
Serve for a decadent, nutritious, satisfying family dinner. You can prepare the pasta mixture in advance and cover and store in the fridge until ready to bake.