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The chicken broccoli bake at the University of Michigan dining halls has sort of a cult following.  [In fact, chicken broccoli bake umich is a top google search suggestion when one queries “chicken broccoli bake”.]  This creamy, cheesy casserole was so popular that it would frequently make the menu rotation, and could typically be found in at least one of the campus’ half-dozen dining halls, at least every couple of days.  Students who took a particularly enthusiastic liking to c.b.b. would trek to the other side of campus just to dine in the hall offering c.b.b. on a given day — this could amount to a 30 minute walk or bus ride, just for a casserole.

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I was a fan, though never enough to cross campus for.  The c.b.b. was warm and creamy and cheesy.  It was perfect for the nasty Michigan winters, which set in less than a month after classes started in the fall, and wouldn’t let up until finals week in the spring.  It was also perfect for packing on the Freshman 15.

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So when a craving for Michigan c.b.b. struck recently, I decided to work with the recipe to lighten it up and make it seasonal for spring.  Here in Idaho, spring and summer evenings get chilly, as the sun disappears, leaving the high desert to exhale into the cold emptiness of the night — so I end up wanting a warm, comforting casserole for dinner despite the warmth of the days.  But I also don’t want my afternoon jog to be negated.  Therefore, I’ve used skim milk and plain Greek-style yogurt in place of heavy cream and sour cream.  I cook the onions in olive oil, not butter.  And I’ve reduced the amount of cheese.  Even with these ingredient swaps, the bake is creamy and full of rich, chicken-y flavor.

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The bake has also grown up, with refined flavors in place of cafeteria mass-production.  Nutmeg and chili powder are noticeable touches, the combination of Gruyère and feta is complex, and the bitter green broccoli rabe is season-appropriate.  Don’t let the lengthy ingredient list scare you — this recipe essentially requires you to toss a bunch of things into a casserole dish.

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Springtime Chicken, Broccoli Rabe, & Rice Bake

Serves 6-8 | Cook time 1 hr 30 min (50 min inactive)

Ingredients

  • 2 C (uncooked) long-grain rice
  • 2 C chicken broth
  • 2 C skim milk
  • 1 C water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • few sage, rosemary, and thyme leaves
  • 1 small sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 stalk green garlic (or 2 cloves garlic), minced
  • 1/4 C a.p. flour
  • 3/4 C plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 + 1/2 C pulled rotisserie chicken breast
  • 3/4 C grated Gruyère cheese
  • 1/4 C crumbled feta cheese
  • salt & pepper
  • 3 C chopped broccoli rabe (use the leaves, buds, and stems)
  • 1/2 C panko or breadcrumbs
  • leftover cheese for topping

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Lightly oil a large casserole dish and set aside.  Wash the rice and set aside.
  2. Combine chicken broth, milk, water, bay leaf, sage, rosemary, and thyme in saucepan.  Cook over medium heat until steaming.
  3. In the meantime, place onion, shallot, and olive oil into a large saucepan over medium heat.  Cook until onion is softened, about 3-5 minutes.  Add garlic and continue to cook another ~1 minute.  Add flour, stirring to coat evenly.
  4. Skim herbs out of broth-milk mixture, then pour the mixture into the saucepan with onions, shallots, and garlic.  Stir to incorporate and ensure no flour lumps remain.
  5. Add rice, Greek yogurt, chili powder, and nutmeg to saucepan.  Stir to combine, keeping the mixture over low-medium heat.  Add chicken, Gruyère, and feta, carefully mixing again until ingredients are well-incorporated.  Add salt and pepper to taste (be very generous, especially with the salt).
  6. Pour mixture into prepared casserole dish.  Cover with a tight-fitting lid or with aluminum foil, then bake on center rack for 30 minutes.
  7. Remove casserole from oven.  Mix chopped, uncooked broccoli rabe in to casserole until it is well-incorporated.  Replace lid or aluminum foil onto casserole dish, and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until rice is tender.
  8. Sprinkle top of casserole with panko/breadcrumbs and leftover cheese.  Place under low broiler for a few minutes, monitoring consistently, until top is melted and golden brown.

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