We often think of pasta as Italian, and casseroles as mid-century American, but you’ll find recipes for both in my book. That’s because French cooks have their own takes on everything from shepherd’s pie to lasagna. Like us, they often rely on pasta as the base of a quick, nourishing meal.
Of course, by using quintessential French ingredients, the dishes become unmistakably French.
Here’s an example. To a creamy and comforting chicken-noodle bake, I’ve added favorite French ingredients: tarragon, shallots, and Comté cheese (substitute Gruyère, if you like). The result? French elegance and American comfort in one warming (and wonderfully easy) dish. To get this to the table even more quickly, use chopped rotisserie chicken from the deli rather than poaching the chicken breasts.
For a discussion of casserole versus cassolette versus cassoulet, see this discussion on BonjourParis.com.
Chicken and Noodle Grand Cassolette
(or: French Ham and Noodle Casserole)
Makes 4 to 6 servings
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or 1 3/4 cups cubed rotisserie chicken (skip step 1) OR 1 3/4 cups baked or smoked ham
Salt to taste
4 ounces thin egg noodles
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon snipped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup chopped celery
2 large shallots, sliced into thin rings (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dried tarragon,crushed
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups 2 percent or whole milk
1 cup cubed Comté, Gruyère,Emmental, or fontina cheese
1. Place the chicken breasts in a medium-size saucepan. Add water to cover by 1 inch; season with salt. Bring to a boil; reduce the heat to an active simmer and cook until the internal temperature of the chicken registers 170°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 20 minutes. Drain, cool slightly, and cut into bite-sized pieces. Transfer to a large bowl.
2. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
3. Cook the noodles according to the package directions; drain and add to the bowl with the chicken. In a bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, parsley, and olive oil and set aside.
4. Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the celery and shallots and cook, stirring, until tender but not brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the flour, tarragon, cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper, making sure all of the flour is moistened by the butter in the pan. Cook and stir for 1 minute. Do not allow flour mixture to brown. Gradually add the milk, stirring with a wire whisk until combined. Cook and stir until thick and bubbly, then cook and stir 1 minute more.
5. Scrape the sauce into the bowl with the chicken and noodles, stir in the cheese, and mix well. Pour into a
1 1/2-quart casserole dish. Sprinkle the top evenly with the bread crumb mixture.
6. Bake until the casserole is bubbly and the topping is golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Allow the casserole to stand for 5 minutes before serving.
NOTE: If you wish to bake and serve this casserole in individual dishes as pictured (which is the way a bonne femme would likely serve it), use six 10-ounce custard cups or ramekins and place them in a shallow baking pan. Bake for about 20 minutes.
Other Posts You Might Enjoy:
• Grated Carrot Salad: A nice, sprightly salad to serve alongside the casserole
• French Vinaigrette Maison: A good choice for dressing a green salad to serve alongside this casserole
• American “French” Dressing: Another good choice for dressing a green salad.