Chicken and Mushroom Pasta Bake

Pasta bakes have been a staple of my lunches since going to university. They are relatively economical, can be made with pretty much anything you have (including leftovers) and are delicious. You can use them to make a small amount of meat go very far which I have found to be a life saver when you are living off a student loan. They tend to freeze well and are also quite sturdy so once cooked, portions can be cut and put either in boxes or just wrapped in Clingfilm before being put in the freezer as the pasta has enough structural integrity to hold its shape when cool. This meant taking a slice of it in my bag to lectures was a simple task and provided me will a filling lunch during the day.

One of the things I find really interesting about this dish in particular (and to be honest, any dish involving mushrooms) is how they cook. As the fruiting bodies of a fungus, mushrooms hide beneath the soil and once ready to produce spores, they absorb liquid – rain in the wild – and sprout. They can appear out of nowhere overnight but this property is also what leads to them being very easy to burn when cooking. When you first add the mushrooms to an oiled pan, they absorb all the oil up too resulting in basically dry frying them. This can cause them to burn if they aren’t stirred constantly which is a faff if you are trying to get on with another part of the meal. To avoid this, small amounts of water can also be added which again, will be absorbed but if you manage your proportions well, can leave just enough liquid in the pan to prevent burning. Once the mushrooms get to a certain temperature, the heat breaks down the cells holding in the liquid resulting in the mushrooms releasing any water, juice and oil which is contained in them also causing them to shrink which is why the reduce down so much in volume whilst cooking.

The other interesting part of this dish (from a science perspective) is the cornflour. When I was younger, I used to be allowed to play with cornflour as a treat if I was well behaved. Whilst this was a messy, messy endeavour for all involved it did have the benefit of being an introduction to quite a complicated bit of science, the non-Newtonian fluid. As a small child, few things were more exciting than this bizarre mixture that ran through my fingers and I could sink my hand into but if I tried to jerk it out again, the mixture would turn solid and shatter with enough force. Even now as a 21 year old, I find it fascinating! In this recipe, you can only have this fun before the cornflour is added to the sauce as the moment it is mixed in, it thickens up massively giving the sauce a smooth texture.

 

 

 

 

Mushroom Chicken Pasta Bake    –     about £1.90 per portion, makes 6 portions

2 Large Onions (or three medium/small)

500g mushrooms roughly chopped

2 chicken breasts – cubed

½ cup of milk (125ml)

Chicken/mushroom stock

4 tbsp of cornflour

Oil

400g pasta shapes – I use spirals normally

Cheese

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Optional

Garlic

Basil/parsley

Salt and pepper

 

Dice up the onions and sautee in a pan with a small amount of oil.

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Once the onions are translucent, add the mushrooms and a small amount of water (I would go for about two tablespoons). This helps prevent the mushrooms from sticking to the pan. Keep stirring until the mushrooms start to release their liquid. (Should you wish to add garlic, one or two cloves either diced or minced should be added at this point)

Add the chicken and stir until it is sealed (that is to say that the outside of all the chicken has gone white.21104359_1686135108084854_1141188406_o

Add the milk and bring to the boil

Add the stock – if powder, just sprinkle it in and if it is a cube, crumble it up into the mix and stir it through

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Mix the cornflour with a small amount of water to create a slurry and add it a bit at a time to the mixture making sure that you stir well after each addition and wait for the sauce to thicken up before you add more. If there is more liquid in the sauce, you will need more of the cornflour but you may not need it all!

Let the sauce simmer for 5-10 minutes until the chicken is just cooked and then remove from the heat.

Season with salt and pepper and add the basil or parsley at this point

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (200oC) and cook the pasta according to the instructions on the bag.

Mix the pasta and the sauce and pour it all into an ovenproof dish pushing any exposed pieces of chicken down below the surface

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Add a layer or grated cheese over the top and place in the oven. Personally I use cheddar for this but you could use any cheese that you like (though I would avoid blue cheese in this scenario as I don’t think it would go with the chicken and mushrooms particularly well!)

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Bake for half an hour or until the cheese has melted and the top layer has gone crispy.

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For a vegetarian alternative, use more mushrooms instead of the chicken! It is still delicious and will reduce the price too.

This can be eaten cold and freezes well.

 

Whether batch cooking for yourself or making dinner for friends, this recipe is wonderful for many occations and is super versatile. You can add or take away ingredients or even change up the sauce completely to keep things fresh. Personally, chicken and mushroom is a favourite of mine so I tend to make this one quite a lot!

Let me know in the comments if you try this one yourself and pop a picture in if you can!

See here for the last recipe in the Cooking From Basics series – a delicious bolognaise sauce – or if you fancy trying your hand at some bread making, why not have a look at my recipe for Artisan Bread from last week.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a super chocolatey recipe that you do not want to miss!!!

H

Bolognaise Sauce

 

For me, pasta with bolognaise is very much a comfort food. We used to have it when my mum worked away as I wouldn’t get home from school until 18.30 and my dad from work at a similar time so there was never time to cook on those days. Luckily mum would make up a huge vat of this stuff and freeze it so we would come home and have a fab dinner which just needed to be reheated.

One of the best things about this sauce is how versatile it is! You can use it just on pasta, you can make it into a lasagne. I have been known to just have it on toast if I’m super hungry. The recipe I use is very basic, it only has 4 main ingredients with a smattering of seasonings but I know that some people put in mushrooms and sweetcorn too so if you like them in your bolognaise, feel free to add any extras!

The recipe itself produces a large amount of sauce so make sure that you have boxes to store it in! It’s perfect for after a long day as all you need to do is bung it in a pan (either defrosted or still frozen – though I would add a little water in the second case to prevent burning), cook up some of your favourite pasta and hey presto! You have yourself a delicious meal!!

 

Servings ~ 10                                                                                            Cost per portion ~ 50p

 

Ingredients

Passata/chopped tomatoes

500g Beef Mince (Or for a vegetarian option, use quorn or soya mince!)

2 Large Onions – I use cannon onions (about twice the size of a fist)

3 Large Carrots

Oil

Garlic

Red Wine

Basil/mixed herbs

Chopped Tomatoes

Salt and pepper

Worcestershire Sauce (about a tsp)

Ketchup (about a tbsp)

Soy sauce (about a tbsp.)

 

 

Equipment

A large saucepan (with a lid)

A chopping board

A large knife

A wooden spoon (or equivalent)

 

Optional, if you are using passata, you can thicken it up (so the final sauce is less wet) by boiling it in a pan for 15 minutes or so to reduce it down. Add about a teaspoon of sugar while it’s boiling and should you wish to add garlic to the sauce, this is where you put it in!

 

Dice up the onion and place into a large pan on a medium heat.

Grate the carrot and add it to the pan and fry until it starts to soften.

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Onions and carrots in a pan with a little bit of oil at the bottom

Make a well in the middle of the vegetables and add the mince a little at a time (I generally go for a quarter of the pack and break it up as I put it in).

Make sure the majority of the mince has gone brown before you stir it through and add the next potion of the meat. If you wish to use quorn mince instead, this is where you would add it but unlike meat, you do not need to brown it, just stir it all in and move on to the next step.

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Make sure to brown most of the meat before stirring it througt!

Once all the mince is incorporated, add the tomato and stir it in.

If you wish to add red wine, garlic, salt and pepper, basil or mixed herbs, now is the time to do so.

 

Leave the sauce with a lid on a low heat to simmer for at least half an hour or even longer if possible!

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The sauce will darken a little while it is simmering so don’t be alarmed if you come back to find it a different colour to when you started!

I go for a medium ladle per portion as that suites me just perfectly.

The sauce is so versatile and can be used in pasta bakes, lasagne or just as plain bolognaise – I have been known to just eat it on toast too!

 

Let me know what you think of it in the comments and I’ll see you all next week for another baking post – this time, bread related!

H