I love broccoli and pasta with a cream sauce, so when I found this recipe at Mels Kitchen Cafe I knew I needed to give it a try. I have used both smoked and regular mozzarella and while the smoked adds an incredible flavor regular mozzarella works perfectly in a pinch. I did reduce the amount of sundried tomatoes. I think a small amount adds flavor while too many overpowered the dish. The creaminess of the pasta with a crunch from the topping makes this incredible!
Creamy Penne Bake
3/4 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 bunch broccoli (about 1 ½ pounds), stalks cut off, florets trimmed into 1-inch pieces
12 ounces penne pasta (I have used both veggie and wheat and you cannot tell)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
6 medium garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed through a garlic press
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 3), trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces
3 ounces smoked mozzarella, shredded
4 oz. sundried tomatoes, diced (if you are not a fan leave them out, I have tried both ways and the dish can hold its own without.)
In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs and butter and set aside. Lightly grease a 9X13-inch baking dish and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and make sure the oven rack is placed in the middle of the oven. In a large pot, bring the water for the pasta to a boil. Stir in one tablespoon salt and the broccoli. The broccoli cooks quickly so stay close! Cook the broccoli for 1 minute, until it is bright green. Quickly remove the broccoli with a slotted spoon to a plate. Return the water to a boil and add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 1-2 minutes less than how you would eat it normally (it will cook a bit more in the oven while baking). Drain the pasta in a colander and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Leave it in the colander and set it aside.
While pasta is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat until shimmering in a large saucepan. Add the onion and cook until softened and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the flour, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the broth and cream; bring to a simmer, whisking often. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, about 6-7 minutes. Stir in the sun-dried tomatoes and smoked mozzarella.
Add the cooked pasta and broccoli to the sauce; stir to combine. Transfer the pasta mixture to the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the bread crumb topping. Bake until the casserole is bubbling and the crumbs are lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.