This pasta gratin is something that I had in my head to create for a long time, and I finally did it! The combination of mushroom, chicken, and kale turned out really well. The kale in particular was a great addition because the green gave the dish extra colour, in the way that parsley would, but it tasted better than parsley.
The sauce is just a basic bechamel (white sauce). I think of my mom whenever I cook this kind of sauce because it was she who first taught me how to make it for a tuna macaroni bake one afternoon when I was back home for the summer. I treasure that memory deeply, and I think it’s because we naturally cling to memories of our parents teaching us how to do something new.
The bechamel recipe I learned from Mom is most probably from the 12th edition of the Fannie Farmer cookbook, which was a culinary bible if you will for many home cooks throughout the 20th century—Wikipedia tells me it was first published in 1896! Bechamel makes for a simple base for any white sauce you’ll ever need to make. Add herbs like thyme or rosemary or nutmeg, or minced garlic and onion, to give it extra flavour.
Creamy Pasta Gratin with Mushroom, Chicken & Kale
Ingredients (for 3 portions)
0.75 lb dried pasta, your pick
0.5 lb chicken breast, diced and marinated in salt and black pepper
6 large mushrooms, diced into same size as chicken
kale leaves, 3-4 stalks worth, chopped finely
1 cup cheese mix, your pick (mozzarella, cheddar, etc)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced finely
1 tablespoon + extra olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk + a bit extra
salt and black pepper
1. Cook pasta as per package instructions. Tip into an oven-safe 8×13 dish or equivalent.
2. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (about 205 Celsius).
3. Bechamel sauce: in a small saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Gradually add in flour, mixing it in thoroughly. When flour is well incorporated with butter, add milk. Heat to boil, then simmer while stirring thoroughly. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Set aside.
4. Heat olive oil on medium heat in skillet. Pan fry chicken, leaving to brown on one side before flipping.
5. When chicken is thoroughly cooked, remove from pan. Add extra olive if needed, then cook garlic and mushrooms together until fragrant. Mix in kale last and cook until soft.
6. Mix in chicken, mushroom, kale mixture with pasta in oven-safe dish ready for baking. Pour in bechamel sauce and stir to mix.
7. Top pasta with cheese and extra black pepper.
8. Bake until cheese is nicely colored, at least 20 minutes.