As a child, my parents would take my brother and I down to see my grandma and grandpa, on my mothers side, and my grandma, a few days before we’d come down, would ask what we wanted and we always said CHICKEN SPAGHETTI! So, I want to pay tribute to my grandma Katey who, while gone but not forgotten, still brings warmth and love into the home through her wonderful recipe.
After my grandmother had passed away, naturally my mother inherited her recipe box which contained many of our favorites, this spaghetti dish included, as well as recipes she had traded with friends and acquaintances over the years.
My mother, at my request, had tried to make this chicken spaghetti recipe that was in the box, but there was something about it that wasn’t quite right into comparison of my grandmothers. Years after believing that she had taken all her special little twists and tweaks to her recipes that only she could have possibly known, I decided I was going to give her recipe a try and use my sense of smell and taste to doctor it accordingly. (I find I have a knack for dismantling recipe ingredients by tasting.)
Finally! I made a chicken spaghetti casserole from her recipe that tasted just like hers and brought back a flood of memories of family gathered around the table, laughter, and trips into the mountains of good ole Las Vegas, New Mexico.
1 Whole Raw Chicken (about a 7 lb chicken)
1/2 lb Spaghetti
1/2 C Pompeian Robust Extra Virgin Olive Oil(do not substitute)
1 Bell Pepper
1 Celery Bunch
1/2 C Minced Fresh Mushrooms
2 Medium Onions
1 can (14 oz) Diced Tomatoes
3 tbs Parsley
1 lb Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Salt to taste
2-14oz Cans Chicken Broth (If using boneless, skinless chicken)
Now let’s get to cooking! I’m going to start this off with a few little personal notes of my own. First, I didn’t use the bell peppers because someone in my house is allergic, but this doesn’t negatively affect the delicious taste of this dish!
First things first, in a large stock pot, place your whole, uncooked chicken. Make sure before you do this that you pull out the giblets bag/pieces from inside the chicken. That would not be a pleasant surprise to find floating around in the chicken stock on accident! I salt my water, because you can’t go wrong giving your chicken and your stock a little dash of salt (1/2 a teaspoon to 1 teaspoon depending on personal taste). You will cook this chicken about 45 minutes.
Now, as you can see here, I did not have a whole chicken on hand. I know, I know! Don’t cook a recipe for people using ‘weird’ ingredients not listed, but often in my house, we have to go with what we had on hand. In the pot, I put four chicken breasts to boil. Mind you, boneless, skinless chicken breasts don’t make a great stock. There are no bones with marrow, and there is no fat from the skin, so if you go this route, make sure to add chicken stock to your ingredients list because you’ll need it.
While my chicken was cooking, I used my time to go ahead and mince my vegetables. That’s right! Mincing! My grandmother use to put her vegetables through a food mill, and you can do that if you have one, but if not, cut the celery, bell pepper, mushrooms, onions and carrots into very small pieces. I just tossed it all together in a bowl.
Once the chicken is done, remove cooked chicken from the water and set it aside to cool. I usually place mine on a platter to let it sit a good 30 minutes. Why? Well, the chicken on the outside might be nice and cool, but once you start pulling it from the carcass, those bones are still going to be hot, so be careful pulling the meat from your chicken when the time comes.
If you boiled the whole chicken, save the broth by leaving it in the stockpot and setting it aside. If you boiled boneless, skinless chicken like I did, you won’t need that water. (I saved it anyway and boiled my pasta in it for an extra kick of flavor!)
Once the chicken is cooked and cooled, pull all the meat from the bones and dice into small cubes. And hey, if they’re not cube shaped, all that matters is that it’s going to be delicious! Be very careful when pulling the chicken from the carcass as chicken has little bits of bones and cartilage that can hide in your chicken and it wouldn’t be a pleasant bite if its followed by a chipped tooth. Once you’ve boned all the chicken and cut it into your pieces, place it in a bowl and set aside.
Go head and take your pot of broth and put it back on the heat to bring it to a boil. If you didn’t save your chicken water because you did the boneless, skinless chicken, just put some water on to boil, with a dash of salt, to cook your spaghetti in. Once the water reaches a nice steady boil, put in your spaghetti. As you can see here, I used my chicken water for the pasta as I previously mentioned. Cook the pasta until it is almost done or very slightly al dente.
Next, you will need a nice big deep skillet. Why? Because, eventually everything we’re putting into this chicken spaghetti is going to come together in this very skillet. Put the skillet on medium heat and add your olive oil. Heat up the olive oil and then add your vegetables (the celery, bell pepper, onion, mushrooms and carrots we minced/milled). Saute the vegetables until they are tender. Now you see why everything needs to be minced or put through a food mill!
Once your vegetables are sauteed into submission and are nice and tender, add your canned tomatoes, including the juice. I also added a dash (1/2 teaspoon or 3/4 teaspoon) of salt or as the fancy cooks say, “Salt to Taste”.
Now, when it comes to the parsley, you can, of course, use dry parsley. I know my grandmother did. But when I was in the grocery store buying my celery and stuff for this, I decided I was going to get fancy (and fresh parsley was on sale), and I decided to go ‘all fresh’. (Grandma used canned mushrooms, I used fresh.) I used 1/3 of the bunch of parsley. I know it’s more than the recipe calls for, but fresh parsley is so delicious and I didn’t want it to go to waste. Shave the parsley leaves from the stems. I just cut the stems off from the leaves down, and mince up your parsley very well. Once you’ve got that done, add it to your sauteed vegetables/tomato mix in the skillet and let it simmer until well seasoned.
After it starts smelling delicious and all parsley-ed up, we’re going to take the chicken that we diced and add it to our skillet, stirring it in and coating it well, letting it simmer on medium-low for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Your spaghetti should be done by now if not before we’re done mixing our magic up in the skillet, so you’ll want to drain the water off and add the cooked spaghetti to our skillet with the vegetables in it and mix it all together until everything is nicely distributed.
In a large, greased casserole dish, pour chicken/vegetable mixture and spread evenly. Add some of the reserved chicken broth until broth is visible in the mixture. Do not make the mixture soupy. Cover casserole and let stand in the refrigerator overnight. Now mind you, when I was making this, I was going to be feeding six kids and four adults, so I didn’t let it stand overnight. I put the cheese on it and straight into the oven it went and it is still super delicious. However, the longer this casserole sits, the better it gets! But, use your good judgement, just because it gets better if its sat a day or two, that doesn’t mean let it stew for a couple of weeks and pull it out ready to cook it to find that it’s no longer edible!
When ready to cook, top with shredded cheddar cheese and bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until casserole is hot and cheese is melted.
This is my chicken spaghetti in the casserole dish, ready to go into the oven without the cheese. Why without cheese do you ask? Because I was so rushed to get lunch done I forgot to take a picture with the cheese on it, or even a picture of it coming out of the oven all done! Gah! My first flub for my very first blog post. But, let me tell you, we served this up with some fresh french bread we buttered and dusted with garlic power and toasted in the oven and it was a hit!
One question I didn’t answer was, “So, what were the little tweaks and tricks that grandma knew to do to make this recipe special?” Let me answer that for you. You absolutely must cook the vegetables in the olive oil. Olive oil has a wonderful, unique taste to it that you can’t acquire anywhere else and it’s so good for you as well.