I mentioned some time ago that I have new neighbors. The young couple, Kirby and Annie, who moved in down the block, went to college with my son Ryan and his wife Amanda. I am excited to have them in the neighborhood and am really excited about their new addition – a beautiful baby girl. Kendall was born on February 5. I have offered to be their neighborhood babysitter. Now, I know that the grandparents have first dibs but, seeing that I live just down the block I wanted them to know that I would love to help out once in awhile. I really hope they take me up on my offer!
I know from first hand experience bringing a new baby home from the hospital is an exciting, wonderful, scary, stressful event. The last thing new parents want to be worrying about is what to make for dinner. So, I decided I would deliver dinner to the happy family. I wanted to drop off something that would be easy for them to prepare and would be enough for at least a couple of meals (and maybe even a lunch or two). Chicken Pesto Bake was the perfect recipe! This easy to assemble casserole includes make-ahead directions so they can finish it off in the oven. It uses a few “short-cut” ingredients making it quick to assemble so I included a copy of the recipe in case they decide to add it to their dinner repertoire.
If you are planning to bake the casserole, immediately heat the oven to 350°. Just follow the package directions to cook the pasta. Once cooked, drain and set it aside. If you are making this casserole to give to a friend like I did, or you are making it ahead and plan to bake it later, shorten the cooking time of the pasta 2 minutes so it’s still a little firm (al dente).
Here’s where the “short-cut” ingredients come in. The recipe calls for 3 cups of cubed cooked chicken. I used a 2# rotisserie whole chicken from the deli at my local grocery store. Rotisserie chicken is one of my favorite “short-cut” ingredients. I often buy them and have a couple of chicken dinners. All I do is add a baked potato and steamed broccoli and dinner is served! Once the chicken is just about gone I use the carcass to make homemade chicken soup.
For this recipe I cubed the chicken meat and found I had about 4 cups. Since I only needed 3 cups I ate the remaining chicken for my dinner.
The other short-cut ingredients include purchased pesto sauce, Alfredo sauce and roasted red peppers. Here’s a photo of the ingredients ready to go.
In a large bowl combine the cubed chicken, milk, pesto sauce, Alfredo sauce, red peppers and pepper.
Stir the mixture to combine.
Stir in the cooked pasta.
Spread the pasta mixture into a greased 3-quart baking dish. If you are making the casserole to bake later, cover the dish and refrigerate. Plan to bake within 24 hours of making.
If you are ready to bake it right now, cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Note: increase this first bake time to 30 minutes if you make-ahead and refrigerate the pasta mixture.
While it’s baking (or to have ready once you bake the casserole) prepare the breadcrumb topping. In a small bowl combine the dried breadcrumbs (I bought ready made at the grocery store), Parmesan cheese and melted butter. Stir to combine.
Once the casserole has baked 20 minutes, sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top of the pasta mixture. Save the bread crumbs if you followed the make-ahead instructions. I just put them in a plastic food bag to bring along with the casserole to the new parents.
Continue baking the casserole, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes or until the edges are bubbly and the topping is golden brown. See how the breadcrumbs get all toasty?
I added a fresh green vegetable salad and home made artisan bread to fill out the menu when I delivered the meal to the neighbors. I’ll be blogging about the bread sometime up ahead. I also served this exact meal to my son and a couple of his friends. They gave Chicken Pesto Bake a thumbs-up.
When I delivered the meal to Kirby and Anne I included some homemade cookies so they had dessert too. It was my way to welcome baby Kendall into our neighborhood. I couldn't resist taking a picture of this sweet new baby. I thought you would like to see her too. What a cutie!
Do you have a favorite meal you like to share with friends or neighbors? Leave a comment and tell me about it. Once you try Chicken Pesto Bake, please rate and review the recipe.
Becky Wahlund is the Director of the Test Kitchen for Land O'Lakes and writes for our Recipe Buzz® Blog