November and December are a whirlwind of activity. There are holiday dinners to attend, shopping to do, gifts to wrap, cards to mail, trees to trim - and we still have to keep up with our normal work and family obligations. Is it any wonder that some of us find our holiday spirit wearing thin around mid-December?
Faced with an especially busy schedule over the next few weeks, I took some time over the weekend to make sure that in the midst of all my hustle and bustle, there will be food to eat when I take a break.
It's at times like these that casseroles are a godsend.
Chicken and Spinach Pasta Bake is an easy recipe to put together after a busy day. Make a second one to freeze and you have dinner for another busy day.
These days, I pretty much use Pinterest exclusively for finding new recipes to try, and this case was no exception. I have two strategies for pinning recipes: I either pin a bunch of different recipes for the same item or ingredient and cobble together bits of the different recipes to create my own. (I did this with the macaroons I made for a previous Tribune Cooks feature.) Or I pin something just because it looks easy and looks good. This Chicken and Spinach Pasta Bake falls into the latter category. I like chicken, I like spinach, and I love cheese, so what's not to like about putting them all together?
But because I can't leave well enough alone, I did make a couple of changes.
While some people may think that it would be difficult to convert a pasta recipe so that it's gluten-free, this is actually the easiest conversion there is. I substituted gluten-free macaroni for the rigatoni. Gluten-free pasta is pretty readily available now, so all those yummy pasta recipes you thought you couldn't have are well within reach. I actually eat more pasta now with celiac disease than I ever did before I was diagnosed.
Chicken and Spinach Pasta Bake
8 ounces uncooked rigatoni
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed
3 cups cubed, cooked chicken breasts
1 14-ounce can Italian-style diced tomatoes, undrained
1 8-ounce container chive and onion cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Prepare rigatoni according to package directions. Spread oil on bottom of 11x7-inch baking dish; add onion in a single layer. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes or just until tender. Transfer onion to large bowl, set aside.
Drain chopped spinach well, pressing between paper towels. Stir in rigatoni, spinach, chicken, and next four ingredients into onion in bowl. Spoon mixture into dish and sprinkle evenly with shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake covered at 375 for 30 minutes; uncover and bake 15 more minutes or until bubbly.
I also swapped out the frozen spinach for fresh, saving me a few steps since I didn't have to thaw and drain a frozen package.
While the recipe is good as is, I've already started envisioning ways to change it up a bit - bacon bits would be a great addition (what isn't better with bacon?), and since I find mozzarella a little bland, I'll probably experiment with different cheeses in the future.
Since I used a whole 16-ounce package of gluten-free macaroni and pretty much eyeballed the rest of the ingredients, I ended up with enough of the chicken and pasta mixture to make two casseroles. One went straight into the freezer to ease my stress a little when things get busy in a couple of weeks, and one went straight to the table.
A little time now and a casserole in the freezer will hopefully mean time and sanity saved in the future.