After a staggering 24 years living in the mountains, this California girl has truly grown to love the change of seasons. The first hint of colors changing on the hillsides is always a bit of a shock, but there’s a secret excitement I feel each year as summer melts into fall. It’s not Halloween without the first teaser snowstorm. It’s not truly Christmas unless it’s a white one. And it’s hard to explain the feeling of anticipation for springtime’s warmth and color when those gray days of winter have dragged on a month (or three) too long.
Part of the shift from summer to fall includes the type of food we eat and crave. The days are shorter and the nights are chillier. Long before autumn actually arrives, I need slippers and a sweater to eat dinner on the patio and the candles I light for ambiance all summer are suddenly necessary as the sun sneaks away a few minutes earlier each night. I’ve been spying colors changing along the trails I hike for weeks now. While we are still happily firing up the grill and enjoying the late –summer bounty of the farmers market (hi, tomatoes!), I might throw a tasty casserole into the meal plan now and then. Nothing beats comfort food, no matter what time of year it is!
I know that many people are praying for an END to rain with hurricane season in full force. Lots more are wishing rain would fall to help with wildfire efforts. Weather is unpredictable, and let’s be honest… September 1 doesn’t bring cooler days, but they are coming, and soon! I actually made this pasta casserole months ago, in early spring when a late-season snowstorm is entirely possible. It’s full of earthy mushrooms and chunks of chicken, has a fabulous sauce made with Marsala wine, and a satisfyingly crunchy breadcrumb topping. It’s got “chilly weather” written all over it. I know real Autumn days are still a couple of weeks away and many of you can’t quite fathom turning on the oven yet…but in anticipation of all that comes with fall weather, here’s how I made it.
First, there are the mushrooms. If you’re not a mushroom person (hi, dad!), you should probably move along. I used a “chef’s sampler” with all sorts of different types of mushrooms, but you could stick with a combo of white, brown, and shiitakes if you’re not sure what you’d like. I also sliced up some yellow onion and chopped garlic. While I prepped the rest of the dish, I got some pasta water boiling on the stove and added curly-cue fusilli pasta. Any short pasta would work!
I heated some olive oil in a deep skillet and added the pile of mushrooms. It might seem like a lot, but they cook down quite a bit! After a few minutes, I added the sliced onion and chopped garlic and let the onion start to get soft.
A big flavor component of this dish is Marsala wine. I poured some in with the mushrooms and let them soak it up! Next came a dollop of butter and a bit of flour. I let the veggies get coated in the flour and cook for a minute to get rid of the raw flour taste before slowly adding chicken stock. It starts to thicken and make a delicious gravy-style sauce.
For seasoning, I added salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper for a kick of heat. I’d chopped up some rotisserie chicken, and added it into the skillet along with the cooked pasta. Look at that decadent deliciousness! For a bit of extra cheesiness, I added chunks of mozzarella cheese and grated Parmesan before pouring the whole thing into a baking dish.
Before popping the casserole into the oven, I sprinkled Italian breadcrumbs over the pasta mixture and more Parmesan cheese. When it came out of the oven, the mozzarella had melted into gooey balls and the breadcrumbs had gotten browned and crunchy. I scooped big servings into bowls and topped them with chopped basil for freshness. Now that’s a happy bowl of food!
Despite being pretty simple, there’s a lot of flavor and texture going on with this dish. The different types of mushrooms make each bite fun and hearty. I liked the addition of the chicken but you could easily leave it out. The unmistakeable Marsala wine flavor in the creamy gravy sauce is fabulous and comforting. It was hard not to have a second helping! The casserole makes great leftovers, too.
My view from the porch reveals the reddening scrub oak and even a few of the aspen trees are yellowing already. It’s not quite time to pull out my slippers, but the nights are definitely getting colder: September brings the first overnight freeze! I think it’s just about time to make this yummy casserole again!
Chicken Mushroom Marsala Pasta Bake (adapted from HERE)
- 8 ounces fusilli pasta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound mixed mushrooms, sliced
- 1 yellow onion, sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- ¼ cup Marsala wine
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups chicken stock
- Heaping teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 cup cooked chicken, chopped
- ¾ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 6 ounces mozzarella, cut into cubes
- ¼ cup Italian-style breadcrumbs
- Fresh chopped basil for garnish
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the pasta al dente according to package directions and set aside.
In a deep skillet, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes or so, until they start to soften a tad. Add the onion and garlic and cook for another 5 minutes or so, until the onions begin to soften. Add the Marsala wine and cook until the mushroom mixture has absorbed most of the liquid. Add the butter and flour and stir until it’s coated the veggies, then slowly add the chicken stock and stir until a thick sauce forms. Add the crushed red pepper and a big pinch each of salt and pepper. After a few minutes, turn off the heat, add the pasta and chicken, and mix well. Add the mozzarella cubes and half of the Parmesan and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Pour the pasta mixture into a baking dish. Top with the breadcrumbs and the remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake for 30 minutes until the pasta begins to get golden brown on the edges. Serve with lots of chopped basil and a good glass of wine. YUM!
Hungry for more? Check out my full collection of recipes on the FOOD BLISS page.