Smokey Chicken Baked Pasta

There is this really great locally-owed restaurant here in Mobile called The Hungry Owl. They make this great pasta dish with shredded chicken and smoked sausage in a spicy cream sauce. I ordered it our first time there and while I liked it very much, I wasn’t aware that green chiles were going to be an ingredient. There were a lot of them and it was just too much for me, but Jason *loved* it. However, the few bites I was able to get without the chiles were absolutely delicious. I kept thinking about it for weeks but since it is a single restaurant and not a chain, there are absolutely no copy-cat recipes for their yummy creative dishes on the internet (at least not anywhere I could find), so I gave up looking.

Almost a year ago I went to a cooking party at my friend Brittney’s house during which we purchased and used Wildtree seasonings to make lots of freezer meals. Over the last several months my family has been enjoying the meals and the other night we used our last one, the Chipotle Lime Chicken Fajitas. Problem was, the recipe had six chicken breast halves and since we are down one child (Jeremy is in California), we only ate three of the portions. What to do with the other three?

The next day I wasn’t really feeling a simple chicken quesadilla and I felt like this really yummy marinated chicken had great flavor to lend to a dish instead of just nuking it in the microwave. So I applied my new favorite kitchen activity… throw a bunch of things into a casserole dish and hope for the best! In this case, it was a tremendous hit!!

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You’ll need:
1 1/2 cups chicken, cooked & chopped (that was about three chicken breast halves)
1/2 pound penne pasta, cooked and drained
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cups shredded cheese (divided 1/2 cup + 1/4 cup)
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
2-3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
salt & pepper to taste

1) Marinate the chicken in Wildtree’s Chipotle Lime Rub (or seasoning of your choice – just make sure it’s very flavorful). Heat a little olive oil in a skillet and cook the chicken. Let the chicken rest on a cutting board for ten minutes or so then chop it up into bite sized pieces.

* This is a great dish to use up leftover chicken. Keep this recipe in mind for when you have some extra chicken from a meal earlier in the week. If you just have one chicken breast, use that and maybe throw in some chopped veggies like onions/celery/mushrooms.

2) In a bowl, combine the cream of chicken soup, milk, 1/2 cup shredded cheese, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Stir in the chicken and cooked pasta.

3) Pour the mixture into a medium casserole dish (mine was an 8×11″) and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese over the top. Now that I think about it, a little bread crumb added to the cheesy topping would be an incredible crunchy boost to the creamy texture. I’m going to try that next time. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

I went in just wanting to make something yummy with some leftover stuff I had in the fridge. We loved it and you know what Jason said? “It tastes familiar. Smokey and just a little bit spicy.” Just then we knew I had somehow thrown together an almost exact replica of the yummy dish at The Hungry Owl that we’d both liked. Theirs had smoked sausage in it, which would be tasty, or you could put some bacon, but we liked it just with the chicken. That’s the best thing about casseroles, they are so versatile!

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