Over the last few months rather than potlucks and get-togethers, I have found myself making casseroles for friends and neighbors to help out after surgery, commiserate after a job loss, or just be a smiling face with food on the doorstep.
Chicken Spaghetti is my absolute favorite recipe for sharing or an indulgence every once in a while at home. What could be better than everyone's favorite pasta meets queso dip with chicken?! Even though there are 1000 different recipes out there for this American Classic, my family and friends like this trial-and-error extra-cheesy version the best.
- 9x13 inch baking pan, sprayed with cooking spray
- Assortment of aluminum cooking pans/covers
- Pots and pans
- Meat thermometer
- 16 oz Velveeta
- 1 lb spaghetti
- 3 medium chicken breasts, poached and diced (Or meat from a roasted chicken, diced)
- 1 can cream of mushroom soup (can substitute your favorite cream soup, generic is fine)
- 8 oz cream cheese
- 1 can cream of celery soup (can substitute your favorite cream soup, generic is fine)
- 1 can Rotel chiles and tomatoes undrained
- 1 T whole peppercorns (or a few shakes of pepper if you don't have whole peppercorns)
- 2 t garlic powder not garlic salt
- 2 t onion powder
- 2 bay leaf
- 1 T combined dried green herbs Check your pantry. Choices include thyme, rosemary, parsley, oregano, or Italian seasoning herbs.
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 1 pat butter optional
- Assemble and prepare your ingredients.Measure out the spices.Cut the Velveeta into cubes. Cut the cream cheese into cubes.Take the lids off all the cans.Check the cooking time on the box of pasta.Set everything aside ready to put them into action.Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Put chicken breasts in a deep skillet or pot large enough to accommodate them. Add enough water to just cover them. Add dried herbs, bay leaves, and peppercorns. A small palmful of this, a little of that. Consider poaching chicken an excuse to use herbs that have been sitting unused on the shelf.Bring the water up to a simmer. A roiling boil will toughen up your chicken breasts so resist the temptation to speed up this part of the process.Simmer chicken for about 15-20 minutes until a thermometer inserted into the middle of the largest breast reads 165 degrees. Set a timer for 15 minutes to do a first check. Set a timer in 5 minute increments to check the temperature. Chicken goes from perfect to overdone in just a few minutes.When the chicken finally reaches the correct temperature, set it aside in a bowl to cool. (This step can be done a few hours or a day in advance. Cube and keep the breasts in the refrigerator for up to three days until ready to use.)
- Halfway through cooking the chicken, put a big pot of water on to boil for your pasta and put it on high heat. Add a big pinch or two of salt to the water. Add a lid.
- Now it's time to start the sauce. Grab one of your biggest pots and put it on medium heat.
- Add the cans of tomatoes and chiles (with their juice) and the undiluted soup.
- Stir everything together as the pan heats up and add Velveeta cubes
- Add the cream cheese.
- Add powdered garlic and onion.
- Continue stirring the sauce over medium heat. Be sure not to boil itd.
- Glance over at your boiling water. If you see a rolling boil, add your pasta and stir it around. (If you have someone else handy, request that they add the pasta for you.) Ask for forgiveness for yelling that request and get back to stirring the sauce. Set a timer for the pasta cooking time.(You already know the time because you read it in step one.)Keep stirring.When everything is gooey, warmed through, and mixed together, your sauce is finished. You shouldn't see any chunks of cream cheese. You may feel as though you are just getting queso ready for a tailgate party. Resist the urge to grab a chip to dip and turn off the heat.If you are cooking on an electric range or flat top, be sure to move the sauce off the heat.
- Simultaneously, listen for the pasta timer. Drain the pasta into a colander. Add a pat of butter and toss to keep it from sticking. Let it hang out in the sink while you get to your chicken breast.
- Cut the chicken into cubes while that pasta drains. Make the cubes about half inch or so. Precision is not critical here. It's nice if they are neither too big or too large.
- Add the chicken to the sauce. Stir.
- Fold the pasta in with the sauce and chicken. If necessary, eyeball the two pans you are using and move everything to the biggest pan. Don't overstir and break up your chicken. Gently, mix it all up.
- Pour everything into the sprayed casserole.
- Sprinkle cheddar cheese over the top. If you use more than 1/2 cup, no one will be bothered.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes until everything is bubbly around the edges and the top is beginning to brown.
- Cool 10 minutes on the counter before cutting and serving.
This dish is nicely served next to a green salad, green beans, or broccoli. When I take this dish to someone's home, I'll green beans or a salad in a bag.
We keep a selection of foil pans on hand for sharing or freezing for the future. Choose the size based on the number of people to serve with a 3-4x4 inch rectangle counting as a lovely and reasonably generous portion.
If you plan to freeze this recipe, don't bake it. Cover with foil or the cover that came with your aluminum pan and pop it in the freezer. For cook day, set the casserole out into the fridge the night before so it's defrosted before baking.
Here are a few optional additions:
- 1/4 - 1/2 t cayenne pepper
- canned diced green chilis
- 1 diced sauteed onion
- black olives
- top with sour cream (as if it weren't gooey enough!)
Planning to try this recipe? Let us know if it's the best you've had.
We'd love to hear from you and see your photos in the comments below.