Over the first 20 or so years of my life, I consumed dozens of East Texas casseroles at one potluck or another. Everything from Tater Tot Casserole to Broccoli Cheese & Rice Casserole to Hominy & Cheese Casserole to Cornbread Dressing. Nearly every casserole had two things in common: Velveeta cheese and Campbell’s Condensed Creamed of something Soup. One of my favorites growing up was Chicken Spaghetti and once every blue moon I unwillingly crave it. It was a spicy, creamy, cheesy, and oh so comfortingly delicious dish, that I always got excited about as a kid. The original version of this recipe calls for a 1lb of Velveeta cheese, 1 can of Cream of Chicken soup, 1 can Cream of Mushroom soup, 1 can Rotel, and leftover roast chicken. My version uses a homemade cheese sauce, leftover grilled chicken, and plenty of veggies, while staying true to that nostalgic comfort food goodness.
Chicken Spaghetti Casserole
2 to 3 cups leftover grilled Chicken, cubed or shredded
1 cup Portobello mushrooms, diced
1 cup Zucchini, diced
1/2 Shallot, diced
2 cloves Garlic, diced
1 large Tomato, diced
2 tsp Fresh or Dried Cilantro, 1 tsp reserved for garnish
1 tsp Mexican Oregano
1 Jalapeno, diced (seeds and membranes removed to decrease heat level)
1 dried chile de arbol, optional
2 cups Cashew milk
1/2 cup Sour Cream
1/4 cup Whole Milk
1 tsp Butter, or oil of choice
1 tsp AP Flour
2 cups shredded Cheddar, Pepper Jack, or Mexican Blend cheese (or combination of all)
1/4 to 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar, reserved
2/3 pkg Whole Wheat Spaghetti, cooked per pkg directions
Salt and Pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook spaghetti, set aside. To prepare the cheese sauce, heat a medium saucepan over med high flame. Add the butter, shallot, jalapeno, Mexican Oregano, and dried chile de arbol, if using. Saute until the shallot and jalapeno are tender and fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the flour and saute 1 to 2 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Add in the diced tomato and reduce to med low flame. Continue cooking until the tomatoes begin to reduce. Lightly mash the tomatoes with a potato masher. Add in the Cashew milk, sour cream, and whole milk and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the milk begins to reduce, about 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off the flame and slowly add in the 2 cups of cheese, about 1/4 cup at a time and stir until completely melted. Continue until all cheese is used.
In a large mixing bowl, carefully toss the spaghetti, vegetables, chicken, and cheese sauce until well incorporated. Spray a large casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray, then add the spaghetti mixture to the dish. Top with the remaining cheese and cook in the oven, uncovered, 45 minutes to an hour until cheese is bubbling and golden. Remove from oven, garnish with the chopped Cilantro and allow the casserole to rest at least 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with additional Cilantro, if desired.