Last Friday night, my husband’s four day work trip unexpectedly turned into nine with a trip home to Ohio. On Saturday night, with the novelty of spreading out in bed and not having to share the remote control wearing thin, I invited my friend Seth over for dinner. During the evening conversation wandered to those rare instances in our youth when our Moms travelled, leaving us alone with Dad.
There were only two possible outcomes when it came to mealtime: one, we would get some form of breakfast from fried eggs to waffles. Two, our community of women – grandmothers and aunts, friends and neighbors – would instinctually mobilize to save helpless children from hapless men left alone in the kitchen. Casseroles and frozen foil pans would arrive at the house in quantities usually reserved for moves to a new home, births and funerals.
Thanks to lasagna, cabbage rolls and carefully written instructions taped to the foiled covered dishes, our mothers would return to find us still alive, and possibly a couple of pounds heavier that when she left. Which is good, because she would need to save her energy for dishes and laundry, something our fathers were apparently equally unable to tackle. (Note: my Dad can rock out some dirty dishes. His laundry skills, however, I’ll need to get back to you on.)
Cooking for a living – and living in our modern world – however, seems to preclude the delivery of covered dishes. I suppose not having children also relegates one to a six pack and a pizza. However, with more than a little nostalgia, I will be baking some pasta in a casserole dish, and heating up the leftovers, covered, at right around 350F. Just to make sure I remember, I’ll write the instructions right on the foil.
Chicken Mushroom Artichoke Bake, Two Ways
You can make this easy pasta bake lighter and savory or rich, cheesy and creamy by swapping out a few ingredients and one easy step in the instructions below. Either way, by using dry, uncooked pasta, you can throw this together quickly and keep busy drinking wine while it bakes in the oven.
- 1 lemon, halved
- 2 pounds baby artichokes or 1 can artichoke hearts, halved*
- 4 tbs olive oil, divided (1 chicken, 1 mushrooms, 2 artichokes)
- 1 1/2 pounds chicken – boneless skinless thighs, cut in 1″ cubes
- 1/2 pound Crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 pound dry (uncooked) rigatoni pasta
- 2 tbs basil pesto
- 2 tbs capers
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
- 2 tbs butter
Light(er) and savory:
- 1 additional cup dry white wine
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 1/4 cup grated mozzarella
Or rich and creamy:
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan
- 4 cups (1 lb) grated mozzarella
- 2 cups cream
- 2 cups chicken stock
*Baby artichokes are usually available in late winter to early spring. There is a little prep and a lot of waste, but trust me, you don’t want to leave any tough leaves around the outside. They will never soften up.
- Prep baby artichokes: Fill a large bowl with water. Squeeze one half of the lemon into the bowl then drop it in. Cut the top third off each artichoke. Peel off the tough outer leaves until you reach the tender center ones. This will feel like you are taking off more than you should but don’t hold back. Now cut a third of the stem and peel the remaining stem with a vegetable peeler or paring knife. Rub all the cuts with the remaining lemon half and drop the artichoke into the bowl of lemon water. Repeat with remaining artichokes.
- Preheat oven to 400F.
- Drain artichokes and pat dry. toss with salt, pepper and 2 tbs olive oil. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in preheated oven and roast for 20 minutes. Reserve.
- Warm 1 tbs oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper and add to pan. Brown on all sides and reserve. The chicken does not need to be cooked through.
- Return pan to heat with remaining tbs olive oil and add mushrooms. Cook until browning on edges. Season with salt and pepper and reserve.
- Return pan to heat and add 1 cup of the white wine. Reduce to 1/2 cup while scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Reserve.
- In a large bowl, combine artichokes, chicken, mushrooms and pasta with pesto, capers, parsley and lemon zest. Butter a 3 quart (like a 9×13″) casserole.
Light(er) and savory: pour mixture into buttered casserole, leveling off the top. Combine the reserved white wine, lemon juice and stock and pour over the pasta mixture.
- Or rich and creamy: Stir garlic, Parmesan and 3 cups of Mozzarella into the pasta mixture. Pour mixture into buttered casserole, leveling off the top. Combine the reserved white wine, lemon juice, cream and stock and pour over the pasta mixture.
- Cover tightly with foil and bake for 50 minutes. Uncover and top with reserved mozzarella and return to oven for 10 more minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes while sauce thickens.