It’s been a tense week, here in this house. My hard drive crashed.
It wasn’t ahead-on collision. More of a series of fender-benders, repeated with such dependable idiocy that I could have told you, one year ago today, that total disintegration was inevitable. Like that concrete post in the parking garage you always narrowly miss, until the day you don’t.
She’s a drama queen, this one. Every time she misstepped—I hate to be sexist, but this computer has to be a she—she’d give me this whole back-of-the-hand-to-the-forehead song and dance about being worked so hard, when really, her extra memory was just installed wrong from the beginning.
This week, she just couldn’t take it any more. We’ve been talking, since she came out of the ER, and she explained it was the technological version of a complete mental breakdown. Sometimes a black screen and a white blinking cursor are all one can muster.
I know what’s done is done, but I can’t help thinking that maybe it’s all my fault. That after months and months of feeding this computer recipes and photographs, without actual flavors, she finally cracked, with a close-up of what to her just looked like creamy mac and givemesome.
Anyway. I’m giving her a second chance, because without her, I simply felt naked. I’m depending on her, even though last night, she was nothing more than a paperweight. (That’s when Jim picked her up and shook her. Sort of like a defibrillator, I suppose.)
I’m trying to go easy on her—trying not to get mad when I have to reload all my applications, like one does with a new machine. Even though I can still only see my photographs in miniature, and I can’t seem to edit them. Even though I have to find passwords to everything all over again. Even though I haven’t installed Office yet, and the temporary version doesn’t have a print function. (Why would one want to use a version of Word that doesn’t print, I ask?)
So for today, just a recipe, the very warm, gooey, comforting recipe whose photographs may or may not have sent her into the coma. If I could open up the CD slot and shovel a bite or two in, I’m sure she’d be happy, but alas, it’s not the kind of drive that slides out, and my husband would be so angry if I fed pasta casserole to the computer he’s spent two late, late nights fixing.
So for now, I’ll focus her little eye on me, eating the leftovers of a recipe sparked by the one for modern turkey tetrazzini in Food & Wine. I’ll be her seeing eye human—or wait, would that be tasting mouth human, then?—and tell her how the goat cheese-spiked sauce slides over roasted chicken, mushrooms, peas, and caramelized onions with just the right speed, lingering only as long as it takes for me to dig another crunchy-topped piece of rigatoni out of the bowl. She’d recommend stirring in a sprinkle of crispy bacon, I think. (I can’t imagine her skimping on anything.)
“Why didn’t you put something red in?” she’ll ask, when you’re not here. I’ll explain that it might have looked better, but when you’re making Cream of Refrigerator Casserole, with all the things that need to be used, there isn’t always something red available. (Like memory, I’ll remind her, if I can’t leave well enough alone.)
And besides, if it’s going to be called “casserole,” peas and mushrooms are the rule. At least, they’re my rule, for my first (ever) homemade casserole. And they made it just what it needed to be: Creamy. Filling. Comforting. A little old-school. And quite delicious.
For a version as creamy as the top photo, substitute crushed potato chips for the breadcrumb topping and bake just 10 minutes.
Updated a bit with goat cheese, whole wheat pasta, and caramelized onions, this casserole (inspired by a recipe for Modern Turkey Tetrazzini in Food & Wine magazine) skips the can-of-soup approach, to good effect.
This recipe requires doing a few things at once—please read through it before beginning, so you don’t miss a step.
TIME: 1 hour active time
MAKES: 6 to 8 servings
For the casserole:
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, halved, cut into 1/4” slices
2 whole chicken legs (legs and thighs together, about 1 1/2 pounds total)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup heavy cream, divided
6 ounces crimini mushrooms, halved and sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1 pound whole wheat rigatoni, or other bite-sized pasta
6 ounces goat cheese
1 cup frozen peas
For the topping:
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, then the onion slices, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, until the onions are soft and golden brown.
Once the onions have started, rub the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil onto the chicken’s skin. Season with salt and pepper, and roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until cooked through. When cool enough to handle, chop the meat (reserving bones for stock) and set aside.
Put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta.
Make the sauce: Melt the butter over low heat in a saucepan. When melted, add the flour, and stir and cook at a bare bubble for a minute or two. Add the broth in a slow, steady stream, while whisking—the sauce will first thicken, then thin out. Add 1/2 cup of the cream, then slowly bring the sauce to a simmer, whisking occasionally so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Cook for 2 minutes at a simmer, until the sauce is thick and velvety. Remove from heat and set aside.
When the onions are golden, add the mushrooms and herbs to that pan, season with salt and pepper, and cook another 20 minutes, until the onions are a deep brown and the mushrooms have given up all their water. Add the remaining 1/4 cup cream, and stir for a minute, scraping any brown bits up off the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta al dente, according to package instructions. While it’s cooking, mix the topping ingredients together in a bowl until moist. (I find fingertips work best.)
Drain the pasta, return it to the pot, and stir in the onion/mushroom mixture, along with the sauce, the goat cheese (crumbled), the peas, and the reserved chopped chicken. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then transfer the mixture to a 9” x 13” pan (or two 8” x 8” pans). Top with the breadcrumbs, and bake for 30 minutes, or until the filling bubbles and the topping is lightly browned.
Let cool until the bubbling stops, then serve warm.