Casseroles get a pretty bad rap in the food/culinary community. And yet, there are very few people I know who don’t find casseroles extremely comforting and tasty–maybe because so many grew up on them.
A lot of people automatically associate casseroles with Campbell’s cream soups, but they certainly don’t have to be made with them if you don’t want them to be. Like all convenience foods, the components of a casserole can easily be made from scratch. Not only is it easy to do with ingredients you more than likely have on hand, but this way you know exactly what you’re eating and can control the sodium level.
In the very, very few times I’ve made stuffing, I have always opted for staling the bread myself overnight, but at some point I bought unseasoned bread cubes to try out. Well, months and months later, half the bag was still sitting in my pantry, so I decided rather than just make stuffing, I’d make one of those nostalgic chicken and stuffing casseroles. If you have extra bread, just cut it into cubes and lay it on a cooling rack or cookie sheet to dry overnight.
I wanted to keep this relatively healthy so I didn’t use a lot of fat/flour in my roux. I still think my mixture was plenty thick enough but if you don’t, you can either start with more butter and flour, or you can add a cornstarch slurry at the end until you get the thickness you want. I also didn’t dot butter on top of the stuffing, but by all means, feel free to do so. This is pretty much the epitome of casseroles. It’s certainly not show-stopping but it’s easy, comforting, tasty & simple.
Chicken, Mushroom, Pea & Stuffing Casserole
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2 Tbsp. butter or Smart Balance
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup strong chicken broth/stock, divided (preferably warm or at room temp)
1/2 cup milk (preferably warm or at room temp)
1/4 cup grated (about 2 oz.) pecorino romano or parmesan cheese
1 lbs. cooked and shredded chicken breast (made from about 1.25 lbs. raw, I prefer roasting or poaching mine)
1/2 cup frozen peas
1.5 cups cubed, staled bread (left out overnight) or unseasoned bread cubes
1/2 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
scant 1/4 tsp. ground sage
scant 1/4 tsp. ground marjoram
Preheat the oven to 350 and lightly spray a 1.5 – 2 qt casserole dish.
Heat butter in a saucepan over medium heat, and add the mushrooms and bay leaf. Cook until the mushrooms are tender and have lost most of their moisture. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Stir in the flour. Cook until the mixture turns a light golden brown. Slowly add 3/4 cup of chicken broth and the milk. Whisk out any flour clumps and continue to simmer until the mixture bubbles slightly and begins to thicken, just coating the back of a spoon. Stir in the chicken and the peas, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into the caserole dish. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese over the top.
Mix the remaining 1/4 cup of broth with the staled bread and the herbs. Place the mixture on top of the chicken mixture. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes.