Food + Wine

Baked Angel Hair with Chicken And Cabbage

I made this meal the other day for some old friends of mine who have been going through a rough time.  I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to make them exactly, I only knew I wanted it to be freezable because their situation is a little up in the air, and I needed it to be healthy because health is greatly involved in the situation.  But I also wanted it to be comforting.  I thought about mac n cheese because that’s what I get a lot of requests for, but as much as I could eat mac n cheese by itself and be perfectly happy, I wanted to give them a complete, well-balanced meal…

I began searching for some inspiration in my kitchen… I had half a head of cabbage in the fridge, some raw chicken breasts, then I found myself in the pantry and saw an unbelievable amount of angel hair pasta.  I thought about how my mother in law makes her ‘mac’ n cheese with long noodles.  Then I started thinking of how I like to sneak veggies into mac n cheese and other casseroles, just to make them more healthy.  I’m lucky in that my family loves veggies, but I’ll still do it.  Brain wheels began rapidly turning… Thinly shredded cabbage looks a heck of a lot like noodles, angel hair to be exact. So I thought it would be cool to kinda sneak some in the casserole and see if I was right.

And I was!  The cabbage shreds blended in with the noodles perfectly.  I made a double batch of this so we could have some and both my kids went crazy for it, and neither one of them knew there was cabbage in there at first.  Cabbage, like any of the other leafy veggies, is kinda difficult for me to get my son to eat so I felt good about having him love something before I told him what he was eating.  And I got a good report back from my friend who said her family liked it too.  Success!

This is one of those super comforting dishes that combines the flavors of macaroni and cheese, braised cabbage and the creamy chicken casseroles most of us were raised on. It can easily please a crowd and really does freeze and travel well. 

I’ll be making this one again, for sure.

*Baked Angel Hair with Chicken and Cabbage
(serves about 8) 

This isn’t the prettiest of photos, I know.  But casseroles aren’t best known for their beauty…

-Boil 1 box of whole wheat angel hair pasta in salted water, cook until just before al dente and drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water. (You can use the same pot to do the rest of the steps if you have the time and don’t wanna wash any more dishes, or cut your time in half by boiling the pasta at the same time you’re doing the next step)
-Dice and season 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts with some kosher salt and pepper, and brown them in a hot skillet with some olive oil.  Once browned, remove and transfer to a plate (they don’t need to be fully cooked at this point).  Add to the still-hot pan 1/2 a large head of cabbage that you’ve thinly shredded (by hand preferably, the food processor makes it too small) and 1 medium onion, thinly sliced.  Season with kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper and a few pinches of sugar.  Stir the veggies and cook until softened and until the liquid has released and then evaporated from the pan.  Remove from heat and set aside.
-In the same pan, melt 2 TB of unsalted butter and a drizzle of olive oil.  Add 3 TB of flour and whisk until you get a thick paste. Let this cook for about a minute and then whisk in your reserved cup of pasta water.  Season with 3 good squirts of dijon mustard and lots of freshly grated nutmeg.  Whisk in 2 cups of milk and once there are no lumps, you can switch to a spatula.
-Add 8 ounces of neufchatel cream cheese that you’ve broken up into chunks.  Work this with the spatula to allow it to melt into the sauce.
-Add 16 ounces of shredded extra sharp cheddar and once the cheese has all melted into the sauce, check for seasoning.  You may need to add more salt and pepper.
-Take out a few spoonfuls of the hot sauce and put it into a small bowl, crack 1 egg into the bowl and whisk until beaten.  Pour the egg mixture into the sauce, rapidly stirring while you add it, and turn the heat off.  (You want to be sure you aren’t scrambling your egg here).
-Add in your pasta, chicken and cabbage mixture. Stir until everything is coated in the sauce.
-Transfer to a large greased baking dish and top with 8 ounces more of extra sharp cheddar.
-Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and bubbles have begun to form around the edges.
-Allow to cool for 30 minutes before eating.

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