I think that I have a relationship with chicken and broccoli casseroles that no one will ever fully understand. I love them and when I make them at home I expect hubby to declare it the best thing EVER. But he just shrugs and says “it’s okay”, terribly confused I wonder, “isn’t this the best chicken and broccolli casserole ever, haven’t I made this better than any other chicken and broccoli casserole on the planet”.
The truth is that even if I made the most divine version of this dish and perfected it completely it is still only a chicken and broccoli casserole and it’s star may just never burn as bright as say a steak.
My love of chicken and broccoli had humble beginnings as Chicken Divan, a combination of chicken thighs, broccoli and cream soups, plus some cheese and either noodles and rice. It was creamy and pretty tasty and I’m sure a saviour for a lot of moms. It is inexpensive and includes green vegetables in a way that most kids still ate them. My mom made it occasionally and we all loved it.
But I remember a fateful birthday where it took on a new meaning for me. My parents were struggling and still trying to make sure that everything was as normal as possible. My sister and I knew and in our awkward ways attempted to make things a little easier. Then came my birthday, in January of course when things were already at their tightest and my mom asked what I wanted for my birthday dinner. I remember thinking of all the things I could ask for and knowing that they would make it happen but I just couldn’t do it. So I asked for humble chicken divan.
My mom just stared at me wondering and asked if I was sure, and I was. It had become my absolute favourite thing to eat in that moment and it was what I wanted.
And since then I have happily included it in my cooking repetoire, updating it occasionally and trying to bring new life to a dish that is so special to me. I’ve done a good job I think but I have to say this pasta may be a new pinnacle. From lowly roots I think I have created something really delicious and I will probably ask for it on my birthday.
One of the things I always hated about broccoli in a casserole is how mushy it gets. My new version roasts the broccoli and by doing this the broccoli stays crisp and is super flavourful. Roasted food just tastes better.
In the recipe I’ve written it as cooked chicken for ease of preparation. For my dish I quickly broiled some chicken tenders but a rotisserie chicken or leftovers would make this a really easy meal. You could even replace the chicken with ham or leave the meat out entirely and increase the amount of broccoli for a really tasty vegetarian version.
Plus a home made Alfredo is just AMAZING. If you have never tried a real Alfredo prepare to be let down for ever more by the cream cheese or flour and milk versions. Don’t get me wrong, I like to watch what I eat so I use the cream cheese trick to still have creamy pasta but nothing compares to the real thing.
A proper Alfredo sauce calls for a 1:1:1 ratio of 1 stick butter (1/2 cup), to 1 pint cream (2 cups), to 1 cup parmesan. I didn’t need this much so I went with a reduced version but now if you ever need an amazing Alfredo you know what to do.
And since this recipe goes all in with butter, whipping cream and parmesan cheese go with the good stuff. I buy a block of parmesan and grate my own and I think it’s well worth it. It’s not low fat or particularly healthy but really neither was the original so just go for a walk after you eat…
Roasted Broccoli and Chicken Alfredo
2-3 heads of broccoli cut into florets (about 5-6 cups)
1-2 Tbsps olive oil
Salt and Pepper
2 cups cooked chicken
1 500g package of penne
About a tsp of lemon zest
Preheat oven to 400F
Lay the broccoli on a parchment lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for about 15-20 minutes looking for the tops to brown slightly
Once this is in the oven I would get the water ready for the pasta and cook it to package instructions for al dente
1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
3/4 cup fresh grated parmesan
2 cloves crushed garlic
In a large saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and allow to it to cook for about a minute taking care not to let it brown. Pour in the whipping cream and stir with a whisk. Once bubbles begin to form add the parmesan and continue regularly stirring. Allow the sauce to bubble but not boil reducing the heat to medium low if needed. Continue cooking until the sauce has thickened and is able to coat the back of your spoon.
Season with pepper. I personally find parmesan salty enough but season to your taste
Once the sauce is ready, the broccoli is out of the oven and the pasta is cooked its just a matter of combining all this goodness
Layer the pasta into a large serving dish. Top with the chicken and broccoli than pour over the Alfredo sauce. Toss together and finish with the lemon zest and a touch more parmesan
I hope your family and friends enjoy this dish as much as I do. I may have a soft spot for the original casserole but I think everyone can share in my love of this one,
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