What to Do With Leftover Chicken: Italian Baked Chicken and Penne

When I started this blog in June,  my original intention was to strictly post about baking and other desserts.  However, since this fall I have toyed with the idea of expanding topics to include other food items, but have yet to do so.  After months of thinking, I have finally decided to go ahead with the expansion: so welcome to the first non-dessert Pink Apron Post.  

As I post non-desserts my goal is to incorporate reccurring topics. I would like to focus on tips and shortcuts for preparing meals.  I love baking and cooking meals from scratch, but let's face it, most of us do not have the time to make a time consuming dinner every night during the week. 

Since Mr. Apron and I moved in together I have become skilled in planning meals, planning ahead and using ingredients from one dinner in another.   I am by no means, an expert, but I have learned alot about how to have well rounded meals on weeknights, while working a fulltime job, and not spending an hour in the kitchen after getting home.

My first topic is What to Do with Leftover Chicken and this installment is Italian Baked chicken and Penne.

This weekend I decided to make a roast chicken.   Mr. Apron and I did not have any dinner guests so, the 8 pound chicken produced a lot of left over meat.   One of my favorite recipes to use leftover chicken is Italian Baked Chicken and Penne.  Mr. Apron and I love this dish. For a pasta dish it is light but it also has a lot of flavors.

I adapted this recipe from Giada on the Food Network.  Her original recipe used chicken breasts. When I first tried Giada's recipe's  I made it according to her instructions.  But the dish seemed like it could be easier and didn't need freshly cooked chicken.

Leftover chicken is not hard to come by, and I am also looking for creative ways to use it.  I eventually started using  leftover roasted chicken rather than cooking chicken breasts.  I also doubled the recipe, so that I would have two meals made and Mr. Apron would have some lunches.  This not only made the recipe easier, but I think it tastes better with roasted chicken.

If you decide to make this, you do not want to over cook pasta.  The pasta will absorb the tomato juice while cooking, and if the pasta is overcook, it will come out watery. I made this dish with penne, but you really could use almost any pasta you have on hand.  I've used elbows, cellentani, and ziti.  All produce great results, and the shape of your pasta shouldn't cause any additional stress on weeknight.

This is also a great make ahead dish.  My normal practice is to put this dish together the night before I plan on cooking it.   I cover it, put in the refrigerator, then bake it the next night. If you do this, add about 5 minutes extra cooking time.  

Italian Baked Chicken and Penne
1 lb box of penne
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup cooked chicken breast cut into one inch cubes
1 cup diced onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes with juice
8 oz shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup bread crumbs
½ cup grated Parmesan
2 tablespoon butter, plus more for buttering the baking dish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until just tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Drain pasta into a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, stirring to combine, and cook until the onions are soft add the chicken and cook for two more minutes. Put the chicken mixture into the bowl with the cooked pasta. Add the canned tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Place the mixture in a buttered 9x13 inch dish. In a small bowl mix together the bread crumbs and the Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle over the top of the pasta mixture. Dot the top with small bits of butter. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis


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