Sunday, November 14, 2010

IHCC: Italian Baked Chicken and Pastina Casserole

This week's theme at I Heart Cooking Clubs is "Kid at Heart." I immediately knew which Giada recipe I was going to make. Why? Because the word "pastina" was in the title.

Pastina, to me, is quintessential kid food. It's tiny and cute. And it was one of my favorites when I was a child. My favorite Campbell's soup was, by far, chicken and stars. I just loved the itty bitty stars floating in there, and how they practically melted on my tongue. My mom used to make me pastina boiled in her chicken soup when I was sick. The restorative powers of the soup and the fun bits of pasta always made me feel at least a little better.

There's something about the texture that tiny pasta creates that I just love. I remember, when I was an early teen, discovering couscous. I had it for the first time in the Moroccan restaurant at Epcot Center. It was a revelation to me--a dish made solely of tiny pasta? And used in place of the (in my eyes, disgusting) mashed potatoes you see so often in America? Sign me up! I've been a couscous aficionado ever since.

This recipe was so promising. I mean, how can you go wrong with tiny pasta, cubes of chicken, mozzarella cheese, and breadcrumbs? You can't, really. But this recipe tried hard. It really turned out to be no more than the sum of its parts. Pastina? Check. Tomatoes? Check. Mozzarella? Yup, that's what's sticking to the roof of my mouth. Chicken? Uh-huh. But, there was just so unifying element that brought it all together. Instead, you just felt like you were eating a bowl of little pasta, tomatoes, chicken, cheese, and breadcrumbs. Nothing special. Kind of bland. Oh well.

Here's the recipe. I will say this--the bland flavors probably make this great kid food. I can see a picky four-year-old loving it. It's the adults who will be kind of disappointed.

Italian Baked Chicken and Pastina Casserole
from Everyday Pasta by Giada DeLaurentiis

1 cup pastina pasta (or any small pasta)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup cubed chicken breast (1-inch cubes)
1/2 cup diced onion (about 1/2 a small onion)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon butter, plus more for buttering the baking dish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

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 saute pan over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook for 3 minutes. Add the onions and garlic, stirring to combine, and cook until the onions are soft and the chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes more. 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 8 by 8 by 2-inch baking 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.

Serves 4
Cost: $1.65 per serving


Natashya KitchenPuppies said...

So sorry it underwhelmed. Wishing you better eating next week!
(but I am intrigued by the stars.. must buy some if I see them..)

Yvette said...

I'm not a big fan of mashed potatoes either. But now i'm verry curious about this pastina/couscous. Great choice

MM said...

This does seem like perfect kid food. Sorry it was bland for you.

Jessica {The Novice Chef} said...

This sounds delicious!a

Debinhawaii said...

I just bought a box of pastina. It is such a fun food. Sorry this one didn't wow with flavors, but you are right--it would probably be great for kids. ;-)

bella (roz) said...

Just like you, I immediately thought of pastina from growing up when my mother would make it in chicken broth all of the time, whether I was sick or well. I found a Giada recipe for the classic pastina chicken soup to post. She jazzes it up quite a bit more than is traditional, so I posted her recipe and indicated what we eliminate in the 'true' version of pastina soup. It was nice reading your post, we have similar memories!

girlichef said...

LOL, I think I'd heard this before about this dish...but gotta agree...little, adorable pasta is hard to resist!!

(p.s...we've been trying off and on to add you to the blogroll, but for some reason we can't get ur address to add. We'll keep trying...promise we're not ignoring you!!) :D

girlichef said...

It are on the blogll!!

Kim said...

I love pastina too and was recently lucky enough to find it on sale. Boy oh boy did I ever stock up (*ahem - 10 boxes)! I tried this recipe awhile back and we did like it, but I added A LOT of garlic. Without the addition of garlic I can see how this could be somewhat bland. Too bad - better luck next time!

Couscous & Consciousness said...

What a shame you were disappointed with this dish. It certainly does sound as though it would be a real "kid pleaser", and I can imagine that my partner (who likes food on the plain/bland side would like this), but I can see that I would probably want to add a few things to give it a bit of oomph!
Sue :-)