Baked Garlic and Fontina Spaghetti

Creamy Chicken Spaghetti

This baked spaghetti. It is unreal.

Tested and made in anticipation of our upcoming Valentine’s family candlelight dinner (one of the kids’ favorite traditions of all times), I’m not sure we’ll actually end up serving it for that yearly event seeing as how we may end up eating it a dozen times before the holiday.

Honestly, we can’t stop. It’s so delicious.

Not difficult in the least, it’s still a tiny step above your average Tuesday night dinner (at least in this house) but the few extra minutes of prep are worth it for a special occasion or if you find yourself with the hankering for a better-than-restaurant dinner.

Plus, it can be assembled ahead of time to be baked whenever (forever!). This meal is sure to win you lots and lots of friends (if that’s what you are after – if you are a homebody like me, it will win you lots and lots of scrumptious dinner nights to look forward to without involving outsiders).

Creamy Chicken Spaghetti

On a somewhat unrelated note, since V-day is approaching quickly and furiously, I wanted to give a few quick, brief details on another favorite family tradition since many of you asked about it last year. Cupid’s Mailbox.

Or in other words, that time of year when mom writes sappy love notes that cause a lot of eye rolling.

It’s not anything over-the-top but it’s something my kids start talking about for months leading up to the event (yes, even preempting Christmas excitement at times).

I think it’s a mix of chocolate, usually a Valentine’s pencil thrown in there and lots and lots of notes from mom, dad, and occasionally a brother (this year, I’m pretty sure little sis is going to be filling up that mailbox with the hundreds of special drawings she does every day that normally she insists on passing out to the neighbors, UPS man and random strangers).

Valentine's Mailbox Tradition

Keep in mind that I like to cook. Food’s ma thing and I have never claimed to be a craft blogger (my husband’s kind of rolling on the floor laughing right now).

I’m pretty sure I snagged this idea off of Pinterest years ago. Basically, it’s as simple as decorating a mailbox (I used a full-size white one I got from Home Depot) with Valentine-ish stickers/vinyl and then leaving messages, treats, small toys, love notes, poems (etc, etc) the days leading up to Valentine’s Day.

I usually start about five days before. Each day the boys rush downstairs in the morning and one of them gets to open the mailbox and distribute the mail.

One of the highlights is definitely the day Brian draws a funny cartoon on paper and writes them a note. They’ve kept all of his notes over the years in their little collection boxes hidden in the deep, dark recesses of the scary undersides of their beds and they love to pull them out and giggle at their funny dad.

Valentine's Mailbox Tradition

On the last day, there’s the grand finale of surprises.

In years past, it’s been calendars to hang on their wall (for some reason it was, like, the hit of the century those calendars) and this year it’s a Star Wars t-shirt or maybe a wooden initial for their name they can paint.

I can’t remember. Target sucked me in the night I went shopping for mailbox items and I very well might have bought all the things. I have a talent for forgetting what exactly I’ve bought at Target when I walk through the doors and enter that strange vortex of unaccountability.

Anyway, that’s it. It’s a fun way to shower the kids with a little extra love the week of Valentine’s Day; I spend weeks thinking of funny poems to write them and every single year I realize I think I’m waaaaaay funnier than they do. Story of my life.

What To ServeRoasted Broccoli
Autumn Pear Salad with Maple Balsamic Dressing or another green salad
Divine Breadsticks

One Year Ago: Curried Lentil and Sausage Soup with Toasted Almonds
Two Years Ago: Classic Crème Brulee
Three Years Ago: Classic Coleslaw

Baked Garlic and Fontina Chicken Spaghetti

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Ingredients:

Noodles:

  • 12 ounces spaghetti
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil for tossing the noodles

Sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow or white onion
  • 8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed through a garlic press
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon coarse, kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (more or less to taste, but don’t leave it out completely as it adds great flavor!)
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup milk
  • 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese (see note)
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded fontina cheese
  • 2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 cups (more or less) cooked, chopped chicken (see note)
  • 1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) grated Asiago cheese
  • 1/4 cup (about 1 ounce) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9X13-inch glass or ceramic dish with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water a few minutes short of al dente (the noodles will finish cooking in the oven). Drain and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil to prevent sticking and set aside.
  3. In a large, nonstick 12-inch skillet, heat the butter and olive oil until rippling and hot. Add the onion and mushrooms and cook for 6-7 minutes, until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms are golden and have given up most of their liquid. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds or so until fragrant
  4. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and mushrooms along with the salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Whisk or stir constantly for a minute or so over medium heat. The mixture will be a bit crumbly; that’s ok.
  5. Gradually add the chicken broth and milk, whisking quickly and constantly to avoid lumps. Stir, bringing the mixture to a simmer, and cook until slightly thickened, 4-5 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes and heat through.
  6. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the mozzarella and fontina cheeses, one handful at a time, until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth and creamy. Stir in the parsley and add any additional salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Add the cooked chicken and stir to combine.
  7. Toss the sauce and cooked pasta together and spread evenly in the prepared dish. Sprinkle the Asiago and Parmesan cheeses over the top. Cover the dish with lightly greased aluminum foil and cook for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake for 15 minutes more, until the edges are golden and bubbling.
  8. Let the casserole rest for for 10 minutes or so before serving.

Notes:

I’ve mentioned it before but if at all possible, grate your own mozzarella cheese (vs using pre-shredded cheese which is usually coated with a powdery substance that doesn’t allow it to melt as smooth and creamy).

For the cooked chicken, a rotisserie chicken or this pressure cooker chicken works great or here’s my favorite stovetop method for delicious, cooked and shredded chicken.

I’ve never frozen this before baking but you can assemble the dish beforehand. I recommend letting the sauce cool to warm room temperature before assembling. Once assembled, cover the dish with greased aluminum foil and refrigerate, up to 8 hours (possibly longer but that’s the longest I’ve refrigerated it for). To bake, add about 10-15 minutes onto the baking time (while the dish is covered) and then follow the directions to remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes.

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Recipe Source: from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe