Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tomato Eggplant Pasta Casserole with Pulled Chicken, an easy meal with lots of leftovers

The last few weeks I have been talking, a fair amount, about leftovers. I remember when I was a kid- leftovers were rarely a good thing. That says nothing about my mothers cooking, which, as I've stated before, was and is always completely delicious, but leftovers were always just sort of "meh". Normally they'd get to a stage of being rather over cooked- lifeless green beans, odd proteins...they were just shadows of their previous selves. However, leftovers don't have to be disappointing- leftovers can, just as easily, be new stars, with half the effort!

This week I designed some ideas around this concept of making things a bit easier.  I started on Sunday evening, realizing that I had a very busy week planned ahead of me, I decided to make a lot of something that I could then easily morph into fun, creative, and delicious dinners and lunches throughout the week ahead. I decided to go with something both easy and fun to make, and settled on pulled chicken. Pulled chicken is just so versatile as it can be added to any number of different dishes. Additionally, if you poach skinless breasts, there is the added benefit of lean chicken without additional fats added in. The other great thing about it- "pulling" chicken is so much fun! I do it with two forks and just pull against the grain, but it can also be done with just your hands. If you let it cool enough- this is a perfect task to have your kids help you with :-)

I made a quick broth for my chicken to poach in using just what I had in my fridge- the end of a pack of parsley, three cloves of garlic, half a red onion, three stalks of celery cut into chunks, a few sprigs of thyme, and then two cans of low sodium chicken broth, 10 cups of water, and a dash of white wine vinegar. I started by lightly sauteing the veggies and herbs in just a little vegetable oil, with salt and pepper, and then when they started to smell amazing, I added the liquids. I had four large chicken breasts to add to a big pot which is why I used so much liquid- if you are doing just two breasts, then you can use less liquid- I would cut down on the water front if possible than the stock side. The four breasts too about 35-40 minutes in the boiling liquid to cook fully. Once my trusty meat thermometer read the right temperature I pulled them from the liquid, and placed them into a Tupperware container to cool, and to pull into when they were sufficiently cooled.

Once the chicken was done, and fully pulled- it was ready for my week of dishes!


I started with an Italian themed dish utilizing some of the great fresh veggies I purchased at Wilson Farms over the weekend. I started with five cloves (most on the smaller side) of garlic, and a quarter of a red onion that I chopped and added to a big saute pan with a tablespoon of olive oil. I heated this slowly, over a low heat so that the garlic and the onion would become sweet and really flavorful. Too high of a heat would have made them burn and bring out more of an acrid taste. While I waited for them to cook, I chopped up two tomatoes, and two of what were called Second Eggplants on the label at Wilson Farm. For the life of me, I have no idea what that means, other than that they were longer and thinner than a regular eggplant with lighter purple skin. The inside looked identical. As the case may be, I halved and then sliced two of these, and then added them and the tomatoes to the pan with a healthy addition of torn basil. I maintained the pan over low heat hoping to achieve really deep and rich flavors. The tomatoes broke down to a gorgeous sauce like consistency, and the eggplant softened and lost it's purple hue. The bitterness of the fruit raw went away and a creamier flavor shown through. At this point, I lightly blended the chunks with my immersion blender (silly idea as my gray t shirt is now freckled with red stains). Despite my t-shirt casualty- the sauce did take on a nice texture, if I were you- I would use a blender to complete this step :-). Then I added a bit of the pulled chicken. Maybe a breast worth. The rest, I put away for other uses. In a separate pot I boiled water for pasta, and then when the pasta was complete, I added it to the sauce pan so that it became covered in the tomato and eggplant mixture. I transferred this into a quick casserole dish, topped with shredded mozzarella cheese and put into a 350 degree oven for about a half hour- or until the cheese was completely melted.

This was a great meal for a Sunday afternoon. It was incredibly easy to prepare, required no real attention to detail, and basically cooked itself. It was warm, hearty and satisfying. Personally, I would have enjoyed a bit more onion flavor, or perhaps a little spice, but this is one of those recipes you can play with as you see fit. There are no rights or wrongs here. I love that about cooking- you can figure out what tastes the best to you and go with it.

As you may have realised- I have a LOT of pulled chicken left over now. Don't worry- I have a few more dishes to utilize it for, even faster uses for it that make hearty and delicious dinners and lunches. It's amazing how far a simple chicken can take you, especially as the summer winds down and hectic schedules take over again.


These are Transformer Recipes-and will hopefully not  only transform ingredients from one meal to the next, but transform your weeknights as well, into much more enjoyable affairs!

2 comments:

Megan said...

I feel like so many of my leftovers these days get turned into pastas like this -- a hige change from childhood when my parents would pull various things from the fridge, put it all on the counter, and we'd have to go down the line picking and choosing what leftovers we wanted to eat. Then we'd throw our plates in the microwave, and that would be that.

Such a better option here!

Boston Food Diary said...

Thanks Megan! That is so funny- I remember the same- "Ok-here is what we have left over- use it up" -some interesting combinations to say the least!

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