Mac and Cheese With Chicken and Spinach
Serves 6 to 8. Recipe is by Corinne Cook, who says, “This can be made plain without the chicken and vegetables or add any vegetable you like. My grandchildren like it with sweet peas and no meat.”
2½ cups pasta (ziti, spirals, bowtie, elbow, penne, etc.), cooked according to package directions
About 1 tbl. olive oil to dampen cooked pasta
2 tbls. butter
½ cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 or 5 deboned chicken thighs, boiled in seasoned water until tender; drain and reserve broth for another use (or freeze broth for later)
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbls. flour
½ tsp. dry mustard
2 cups grated sharp cheddar
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 to 1½ cups fresh spinach, kale, sweet peas (For other vegetables, such as carrots, broccoli or squash, steam before adding, optional)
Salt, black pepper and red pepper to taste
½ cup of the reserved chicken broth, if needed
1. Prepare 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish or individual ramekins by lightly greasing with butter or nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. Preheat oven to 375 F.
2. In large saucepan or Dutch oven, cook pasta in boiling water according to directions on package. Drain. Place in large bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon olive oil to lightly coat pasta. Set aside.
3. In 2-cup microwavable bowl add butter, chopped onion and garlic. Microwave on high, stirring often until onions are soft. When cooked, add onion mixture to drained pasta and set aside.
4. Remove all visible yellow fat from deboned chicken thighs and cook in seasoned water. (I add a piece of onion, bell pepper and celery to the seasoned water.) Cook until chicken is cooked through. Drain but reserve broth for use later or freeze if desired. Cut chicken into bite-size pieces and add it to the pasta.
5. In saucepan, over medium heat, add milk and cream. Heat until warm. In small bowl, add flour and dry mustard. Using a little milk from the saucepan, make a slurry (or thin paste) of the flour, dry mustard and milk. Stir the thin paste into the milk in the saucepan and continue constantly stirring on medium-high heat until mixture begins to boil and slightly thickens.
6. Remove from heat and stir in grated cheddar and Parmesan cheese. Return to heat and heat until cheese is completely melted. Add spinach to hot cheese sauce. Stir until it is wilted.
7. Add cheese sauce and spinach to the pasta and chicken mixture. Toss.
8. Season to taste with salt, black pepper and red pepper. If mixture is too thick, thin it with some of the reserved chicken broth or more milk.
9. Spoon into prepared ramekins or baking dish. Bake in preheated 375 F oven until top is lightly browned and mixture is heated through and bubbly around the edges.