Winter is the time of year with the shortest amount of daylight. It’s cold outside. It’s cold inside. This really affects everything we do, which includes what we eat and how we prepare it. Dinner isn’t something we look forward to as much as we do in the summer when the weather is warm, the days long and the grill not buried under snow.
In winter, we like to just get everything ready for dinner, toss it all in the oven and wait for it to finish cooking — that is pretty much the definition of a casserole.
In winter, we like to just get everything ready and toss it all in the oven and wait for it to finish cooking — that is pretty much the definition of a casserole. All the ingredients are prepared, mixed altogether and tossed into one pan for cooking. Oh, yes, there also is often some type of crunchy topping as on the classic green-bean casserole made with condensed mushroom soup and topped with crunchy French fried onions. Potatoes au gratin and macaroni and cheese are other popular casseroles with crunchy toppings.
A casserole can be either a side dish or an entrée. Since we usually save the side dishes for special occasions or holidays, we might as well go for something you’ll make for dinner a few times over the course of the winter. Of course, there are exceptions to everything, such as the macaroni and cheese, but generally speaking, a casserole, besides having the crunchy top, contains everything you would normally have for a well-rounded dinner — the meat, vegetables and starch all in the one casserole dish or pan. There also is some kind of sauce that helps cook the dish without letting everything burn or dry out. Casseroles also are great because you can make enough for leftovers.
And, if you are serving this to others and want to make it sound fancier than saying you are having a casserole for dinner, you can say you are having Chicken Tetrazzini. The only difference is tetrazzini doesn’t have peas, but hey, that’s a small technicality that few people will call you on — and I happen to like peas.
6 oz. fettuccini, cooked, cooled under cold water & drained
4 chicken breasts, cut into 1- to 2-inch squares
2 C frozen peas
1 yellow onion, sliced
10-12 mushrooms, sliced
4 oz. sherry
1 stick butter
1 C chicken stock
1 C heavy cream
5 basil leaves, sliced thin
Salt & pepper to taste
1 C parmesan cheese grated
½ C ground stuffing mix or crushed Ritz crackers
Roux (if needed)
1 stick of butter
¼ C flour
Cook the fettuccini al dente and cool immediately. In a skillet, brown the chicken on all sides in half a stick of butter and remove from the pan to a plate. Brown the onions in 1/4 stick of the remaining butter, stirring often once they start to brown to caramelize them without burning them. Once browned, add the mushrooms and let these cook all the way through.
Add the sherry and let reduce by at least half. Add the stock and let boil for about 1 minute before adding the cream. Let this reduce until the cream starts to thicken. Here is the only tricky spot.
If the sauce seems thin — it doesn’t coat the back of a spoon — you can use the flour and one stick of butter to make a roux. Simply melt the butter in a sauté pan and add the flour letting it cook on the stove top until it is smelling a little nutty and has not started to brown. Take a little of the sauce out of the pan and use a little of the roux to thicken it before adding it back into your sauce. Repeat until the sauce coats the back of a spoon.
Toss the chicken, peas, fettuccini and basil together and pour into the casserole dish or back into the skillet. Sprinkle the stuffing or crackers over the top, sprinkle the cheese over that and place in a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes or until the top is nice and golden.