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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Chicken Parmesan Baked Pasta

Oh man, I've been waiting to try this one for months!  It's been calling my name all week... "Sara, cook me."

Seriously, I've wanted to try this since I first pinned it in, like, February.  The pictures on the original post look so appetizing, which is saying a lot because most photographed food doesn't look appetizing at all, including mine.  I frequently wonder how Ree and Annie (Pioneer Woman and Annie's Eats) get such amazing photographs of their food, but then they probably spend hours setting up the food just so and perfecting the lighting and such whereas I usually snap a photo of my plate just before I dig in.

My food photography has improved since I started this blog (and got my digital camera fixed so I don't have to use my iPod anymore) but it will never be professional grade.  I debated taking some photography courses, but I decided it would probably be a waste of money and only tempt me to spend even more on equipment.

Back to the food!  This is a one pan meal (well, two for me because I don't have an oven-safe skillet) which is always helpful.  I can't tell you how many nights I have wished I could just throw dinner into a casserole dish instead of cooking everything in separate, hand-wash only pots and pans.  I was just thinking Monday night about how nice it was that I had all of the dishes done after making the Chicken, Bacon, and Ranch Macaroni and Cheese before I even served our plates.  After dinner I only had to clean the baking dish and our three plates and forks.

This is also a nice alternative to Fried Chicken Parmesan which can be less than healthy (especially if you like to smother it in cheese and serve it with a huge plate of pasta) and the whole meal is hot and ready all at once instead of chicken going cold waiting on pasta to cook which happens more often than I'd like to admit.  I'm not great at managing my time when cooking and have a horrible habit of letting something boil over, overcook, or even burn while I'm worried about something else.  This is especially true when I reheat leftovers on the stove.

Speaking of leftovers, the original poster, Tracey from Tracey's Culinary Adventures, said that there would be plenty left over and she wasn't wrong.  Feeding only 2 (2 1/2) people, this meal made enough for at least one lunch tomorrow and maybe another for the weekend.  Since I hate to buy lunch foods (sandwich meats, potato chips, other snack foods) leftovers are usually my go-to lunch.  Unfortunately we haven't had any leftovers all week so I've been starving between breakfast and dinner.

This dinner was the perfect mixture of tender pasta, hearty chicken, delicious sauce, and wonderfully melty cheese.  Try this as soon as possible!

Chicken Parmesan Baked Pasta

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch chunks (about 2 chicken breasts)
1 (28 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 Tbsp olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups water
1-1 1/2 cups chicken broth
12 oz pasta shapes (I used shells like Tracey)
2 oz grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
1/4 tsp pepper
4 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped (optional)

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.  Spray a 9x9 baking dish with vegetable oil spray (unless you are using an oven-safe skillet in which case you can just transfer the whole skillet to the oven when the time comes) and set aside.

Spray a large skillet with vegetable oil spray and heat over medium heat.  Add the chicken and cook until it is cooked through and no longer pink inside.  Transfer the chicken to a bowl and set aside.

Meanwhile pour the entire can of tomatoes into a food processor and pulse until you reach your desired consistency.  (Tracey said about 10 pulses for chunky, but our family prefers smoother tomatoes so I pulsed mine a few extra times.)

In the same skillet add the olive oil, garlic, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, and salt and heat for about 1 minute.  Add the tomatoes, water, 1 cup of broth, and the pasta and stir to combine.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.  Cover (I had to use foil because I don't have a lid to fit my large skillet) and simmer until the pasta is done, about 16-18 minutes, stirring frequently.

Once the pasta is cooked add 1.5 oz of the Parmesan, black pepper, and the cooked chicken and stir to combine.  If the mixture is dry add the remaining 1/2 cup of broth until the consistency is right (I added about half of it.)

Transfer everything to a 9x9 baking dish sprayed with vegetable oil spray.

Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese and the remaining 0.5 oz of Parmesan evenly over the top.

Bake in the preheated oven 5-10 minutes, until the cheese melts starts to bubble and brown in spots.

Garnish with the fresh basil if desired and serve hot with garlic bread of some kind.

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