Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chicken Spaghetti

I have been on the biggest comfort food kick lately. Maybe it's the winter winding down and the nagging awareness that I only have a few more weeks of icy cold weather in which to enjoy things like mushroom lasagna, veal stew, big pots of kale soup, and this--my latest favorite discovery--chicken spaghetti. Chicken spaghetti is simple country food at it's finest--rib-sticking, a little lowbrow, a lot delicious. And it's mercifully easy. It's even got a shortcut in it in the form of Campbell's cream of mushroom soup. Yep, you read that right. I dumped not one, but TWO, cans of the stuff right in there and mixed it all in with the rest of the fine ingredients. And you know what? It was good. Really good.

Along with the cream of mushroom soup, this casserole's got a ton going on--perfectly cooked spaghetti, onions, bell peppers, a freshly cooked chicken shredded into tender little bits, a shake of cayenne pepper for some heat, and a layer of creamy, melted cheese easing into every single bite. This is the kind of casserole that will easily infiltrate a rotation of weeknight family dinners. It's the kind of meal that your kids or husband or boyfriend or girlfriend or whomever may happen to be in your life will ask for time and time again. It's the kind of thing that harkens back to your homemade childhood meals, when times were simpler and kinder. It's comfort food, through and through. No wonder I love it. xo

Chicken Spaghetti
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks, by Ree Drummond 
1 whole organic 3 - 4 lb chicken
1 lb spaghetti
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
2 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1 small onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 4-ounce jar pimientos, drained and diced
1 teaspoon seasoned salt (I used good old Lawry's)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper to taste 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the chicken in a large stockpot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the chicken is cooked, about 25 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the water and set aside on a plate to cool. You can take a knife and cut into the chicken--that will release some steam and let it cool faster.

Remove 2 cups of broth from the pot and set aside. Bring the remaining broth back to a boil and add the spaghetti. Cook for 1 minute LESS than the recommended cooking time on the box. It should be a little underdone. You'll be putting the pasta in the oven for a good run and you don't want to end up with mushy spaghetti. Drain the spaghetti, discarding the cooking liquid. Place the spaghetti in a large bowl.

With your fingers, remove the bones from the chicken and shred the meat into bite-size chunks and add to bowl. Add to the bowl the cream of mushroom soup, 2 cups of cheese, the onion, green pepper, pimientos, seasoned salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and reserved broth. Stir well to combine, then taste to check the seasonings.

Pour the mixture into a large baking pan and top with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until bubbly.