Chicken and broccoli casserole

This recipe came out of me wanting to make a healthier version of mac n’ cheese. Macaroni and cheese is one of my favourite dishes, and as I did research on the Internet, I looked for healthier options that called for whole wheat pasta and less cheese. I thought about the kind of mac n’ cheese I like – Pret a Manger has a really good mac n’ cheese with cauliflower, and I thought about adding some kind of vegetable to my version. I liked the cauliflower of the Pret, but I prefer broccoli to cauliflower, so I chose that instead. I also had half a red bell pepper, so I chopped that up to include in the recipe.

One time I had something really amazing called lobster mac n’ cheese, and oh my god it was good. I don’t really like lobster on its own, but in a mac n’ cheese it was insane: the delicate meat nestled in the velvety sauce.

Oh, I forgot to mention how much I love that thick, gooey, silky sauce. That kind of viscous consistency can only be achieved by using Velveeta which is magic cheese food product that emulsifies beautifully. I live in the UK now, so Velveeta isn’t a thing here. They like cheese – mostly cheddar, in various degrees of sharpness, but I can’t find that familiar orange, yellow box with the familiar red letters.

So, back to the lobster thing. Since I’m not a billionaire, I opted out of boiling lobsters. Besides, cooking something alive would worry me to no end: I don’t want to re-live the scene from Annie Hall, as charming as that film is, so I decided to use chicken breasts which I poached.

The other thing is, now my kitchen is clean and the sink is empty of dishes. I wanted to do a one-pot recipe, or as close to one-pot as possible. That means I used the same sauce pan to boil the veg, the pasta, and poach the chicken. To amp up the flavour, I boiled the chopped bell pepper and broccoli until tender (but still al dente), then the chicken to create a stock, and finally the pasta, so that the pasta can absorb any of the flavours in the cooking liquid.

At the end of cooking my meal, it looked less like mac n’ cheese and more like a casserole, instead (which is what mac n’ cheese is, anyways) Mac n’ cheese has a white sauce, which adds cholesterol and fat, so I did away with that. I also used low fat cheese, and a little bit of it. As a result, the casserole was pretty good, but not the thick, luxurious mac n’ cheese I was aiming for, but that’s okay, it still worked.

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 200 g of elbow macaroni (or any other small, tubular pasta)
  • 60 g of sharp cheddar, shredded – I used low-fat
  • 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 300g of chicken breasts, chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 60g of broccoli, diced
  • 1 can of cream of chicken soup
  • 2 tbl of mustard – I like brown mustard
  • 1 tbl of soured cream
  • 1/3 cup of crushed potato crisps – I used slightly salted
  • Olive oil

Preheat your oven to 200 C

So the first thing I did was boil some water in a small saucepan, and threw in the broccoli and red pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes, so that the woody part of the broccoli is tender, but the veg is still vibrantly green. I fished the veg out and put in the chicken and poach until cooked through, 15 minutes. Afterwards, I fished the chicken out and diced into bite-sized pieces, and added the pasta and cook in the broth until the macaroni is tender, but al dente – about 6 minutes. Drain and leave aside.

Take the saucepan, rince it out with cold water and dry out and return the pasta to the pan. Add the veg, the chicken, and the cheese and stir until well-combined. Add the chicken soup, the sour cream and stir – it’ll look like the innards of a pot pie. Spoon in the mustard and mix to blend.

Oil a small-ish casserole with your olive oil (you can use butter – it tasted better with butter, but olive oil is healthier – do want you want, I’m not the police) Pour your gloppy mixture into the casserole and smooth the top with a spoon. Then take the potato crisp and crush and sprinkle over the top of your casserole until you cover the whole surface in a thin layer of potato crisps crumbs. If you have any chips left over, shove them into your maw, while you stand over the sink, looking out the window of your kitchen.

Put your casserole on the middle rack and bake for about 20, 25 minutes. I keep an eye out to make sure the crisps don’t burn – my oven has a glass door so I can keep an eye on it. Once it’s 20, 25 minutes, and the crisps are browned and the sauces is bubbly, pull out and leave it out to rest for about 10 minutes. Then spoon some – not just some, but a lot – really, you’re not meant to be restraint when eating this, you’re supposed to devour this. Oh, and enjoy.