This winter has been a weird one, hasn’t it? Crazy warm for a while, then a blizzard on the East Coast that has wreaked havoc. It is kind of hard to know which way is up. My response to such wackiness? Comfort food. Creamy, warm, nourishing comfort food.
My mom calls these foods nursery foods because it is what you would feed little kids in a nursery back in the day. And I’ve got an updated version of nursery food for you today! This is a recipe I developed for a cooking client, but it was such a hit with them and my own family that I thought I would share it with you. This Chicken and Kale Noodle Casserole is sort of like a baked chicken alfredo pasta with a bonus dose of kale. It is creamy, soothing, and warm—all those things we crave at this time of year. But it has the added perk of being healthy enough that it won’t derail your goal of eating healthier in the New Year (if that was a goal of yours)!
If you are a vegetarian, don’t lose hope! There is a vegetarian suggestion in the notes. Also see notes for freezer directions and other variations.
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about ¾ lb)
- 8 oz whole wheat noodles (I used shells but fusilli, penne, or egg noodles would also work well)
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 medium shallot, minced
- 3 tbsp all purpose flour
- 1 ¾ cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 cup milk
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- ¾ tsp salt
- pepper to taste
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 3 tbsp grated parmesan, divided
- 3 cups chopped kale
- 2 tbsp bread crumbs (I use whole wheat)
- Preheat the oven to 375. Spray a 9x13 pan with cooking spray.
- Put the chicken thighs on a cookie sheet, season to taste with salt, pepper, and a little garlic powder. Drizzle with olive oil. Put immediately into the oven, even if it isn’t preheated yet.
- Put a pot of water on to boil. When the water comes to a boil, put in 8 oz (half a box) of macaroni and set the timer to 2 minutes less than the normal cooking time.
- While the water is coming to a boil, mince your shallot and garlic.
- In a large saucepan over a medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the shallot and cook until soft, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the flour and stir. Pour in the broth and mix well until the lumps of flour are dissolved.
- Add the milk, garlic, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil. Immediately turn it down to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until it thickens, about 6-7 minutes.
- Grate the cheese and chop the kale.
- When the sauce has thickened, add the cheddar and 1 tbsp of parmesan and stir until the cheese is melted. Turn off the heat and mix in the kale. Set sauce aside.
- While you are waiting for the pasta to finish cooking, check the chicken. If it is cooked, then remove from the oven and shred it.
- Mix the shredded chicken into the sauce.
- When the pasta is done, drain it and then mix it into the sauce. Stir well to make sure everything is well combined.
- Pour the mixture into your 9x13 pan and sprinkle the remaining 2 tbsp of parmesan and the 2 tbsp of bread crumbs over the top.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is crisp and golden.
Note: If you don’t like kale, you can replace it with baby spinach or cooked broccoli florets.
Note: If you want to turn this into a freezer cooking recipe. Assemble the casserole and then cover well and freeze. When you are ready to eat it, defrost during the day and then bake it as directed.