Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Rustic Puglia Pasta Bake

Oh my goodness, this is a fabulous dish that is perfect for a family style dinner as well as a phenomenal offering for guests with a Caesar salad, old town rustic bread and a bottle of house red.

Why Puglia?  There is an area in Italy, Puglia, where some of the most incredible tomatoes are grown and in late summer you can walk the streets and find strings and racks of only the perfect tomatoes drying in the Italian sun.  Why Rustic?  This dish is meant to be enjoyed with family and friends around a table with good conversation, a comfortable atmosphere and a great bottle of red.  It's our kind of comfort food - nothing pretentious or fancy but superior in taste and definitely comforting.

I absolutely LOVE creating recipes but what I love even more is seeing (and hearing) the guys in the house absolutely fall in love with the dish.  Punk kid refuses to eat mushrooms - um, I didn't tell him they were in there and he never said a word - he ate them!  I chose the sun-dried tomatoes that were NOT marinated in oil.  Different people have different preferences but for this dish in particular I wanted to add my own seasoning and I didn't want the additional oil.  You can certainly experiment with oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes but just remember, you may have different results than I did. 

This pasta bake has a rich and creamy cheese sauce so you want to choose your pasta wisely.  I have found that the best pasta for cheese dishes is ridged pasta.  For this recipe I chose Ridged Ziti but you can certainly use what you like or easily find in your market.

First things first, right?  Grab your pasta pot and get that pasta cooking.  Please, SALT your water!  So many people neglect putting salt in their pasta water and it really does make a difference.  Cook your pasta according to package directions.

Season your chicken breasts with salt and pepper on both sides.  Again, it's the little seasonings here and there that really make a difference in a dish.  Heat GOOD olive oil in a large sauce pan then cook your chicken breasts for appx 3 -4 minutes on each side.  The thickness of your chicken breast will determine how long you need to cook on each side.  After you remove the chicken from your pan add your fresh mushrooms and saute.

After the chicken breasts have "rested" slice thinly.  Now is the time you want to get your roux started.

Once your roux has thickened add the sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms and remove from heat.  Add your cheese and stir until melted and well combined.  Add your chicken and pasta to your sauce and then pour into your casserole dish.  Bake for 20 - 30 mins until nice and brown on top.

Rustic Puglia Pasta Bake

  • 8oz pasta such as ridged ziti, ridged penne, ridged jumbo elbows
  • 2 fresh chicken breasts
  • 6oz fresh musrooms such as cremini or baby portabellos, sliced
  • 4 oz package sundried tomatoes, rough chopped
  • 3 tbs butter
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 tbs AP flour
  • 3 c milk
  • 2 c shredded italian blend cheese
  • 1 c freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp course ground black pepper
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and spray your casserole dish with non-stick spray.

Cook your pasta according to package directions.  SALT your water!

While pasta is cooking, heat appx 2 tbls of GOOD olive oil in a large saucepan.  Season your chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper and then cook in heated sauce pan approximately 3-4 mins on each side.  Once cooked, remove from pan and let rest on a cutting board.  Add your sliced mushrooms to your sauce pan and saute for appx 4 mins.  You may need to add a tad more olive oil to your pan for the mushrooms.  Once your mushrooms have a deep, rich color remove from heat.  

Once your chicken breasts have rested slice thinly and set aside. 

In a separate heavy duty pot melt your 3 tbls of butter.  Add flour and continuosly whisk for about 2 - 3 mins.  Add your minced garlic and slowly pour in your milk continuing to whisk.  Allow your roux to simmer (NOT boil) for appx 4-5 mins CONTINUALLY whisking until the sauce has thickened.

Add the sundried tomatoes and mushrooms to your sauce and mix well.  Remove your sauce from heat and add in the italian cheese blend and stir until cheese has melted.  Add your chicken and pasta to your sauce and mix well.  Pour into prepared casserole dish and bake in preheated oven for approximately 20 - 30 mins until brown and bubbly.

I hope you give this recipe a try!  We are positive that you will love it and want to share with friends and family.

I LOVE comments! Let me know what you think......

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