January 30, 2011

Chicken Orzo Casserole

Let me stand a bit on my soapbox again, and shout out the benefits of eating organic. No pesticides, no dyes, preservatives, or imitation anything. You wouldn't add these ingredients if a recipe called for it, so why purchase food altered from it's natural state, or made artificially?  Yes, it is shocking how much more expensive organic produce, dairy and meat can be, but my overall grocery bill is actually lower because I no longer buy processed food. (whew!)  All done, and thanks for reading!

If I'm lucky enough to get to our local farmer's market on Saturday morning, I make it a point to stop at Flour City Pasta. (For Central New Yorkers, it's inside the second building at the Regional Market, and they never cease to amaze me.) They make organic pasta in just about every flavor you can imagine. The best part is, every flavor I've tried is absolutely delicious. Last time, I couldn't resist purchasing a blend of cranberry and pistachio pasta, called "Holiday Orzo".
If you'd like to check out their website and online store, click on this link: http://www.flourcitypasta.com/
(You can also find their page on Facebook).

I've been contemplating how to use these little beauties, and thought I'd try mixing things up with brown rice, chicken and veggies. What really inspired me, is that I remembered I still had a bag or two of cranberry beans in the freezer from summer, and after that, my wheels were set in motion. If you don't want to cook fresh beans, then by all means, use a favorite canned variety, drained and rinsed.
A lone tomato on the counter became the finishing touch! This dish came out flavorful with a creamy texture, and was so comforting, perfect for a cold, January night.

Chicken Orzo Casserole
(makes a 13x9 pan)

1/2 cup cooked orzo (plain or flavored)
1 cup cooked brown rice
1/2 medium onion, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 skinless, boneless organic chicken breasts
6 basil leaves, torn
1 and 1/2 cups organic chicken broth
1 and 1/2 cups whole milk
2 generous handfuls of fresh, baby spinach (about 4 cups uncooked)
1 cup of your favorite white beans (canned variety, drained/rinsed)
1 small tomato, sliced thin
salt and pepper
olive oil
5 tablespoons butter
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 teaspoon parsley

Lightly grease a 13x9 pan (I use a little olive oil on a paper towel), and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Cook or steam the rice and orzo until "al dente", (a little firm), and set aside. Rinse the chicken, then cut into 1-inch cubes. Sprinkle with flour, then salt and pepper.

In a deep frying pan, saute the onion and garlic in a little olive oil until softened. Push to one side, then add the chicken, and quickly saute until no longer pink.
Add the torn basil,
then the spinach,
and finally, the orzo, rice and beans!
Mix together and spoon into your pan.
In a small saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Add a handful of flour, then stir to make a paste. Add broth, heating well, then add the milk or half and half. Season with salt and pepper and continue stirring until the broth mixture thickens. Stir in 1/4 cup of the grated parmesan cheese.
Slowly pour the over the orzo mixture in the pan.
Place slices of tomato on top. It may seem like a lot of liquid at this point, but while it's baking, the rice and orzo really absorb it.
Melt the other two tablespoons of butter. Add one cup of panko crumbs, salt, pepper, paprika, parsley, and 1/4 cup grated parmesan. Mix well, spoon over the top, and pop in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes, then allow to cool for 10 minutes more.
Enjoy, and know you're eating healthy!

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