Chicken Casserole

Normally I'm not a huge casserole person, if for no other reason than because it just doesn't occur to me to make them most of the time. Thursday, though, I came home from my early class and was going to make breakfast (huge fruit salad and coffee) and P said, "Is pasta for breakfast?" I was really confused until he mentioned the bag of pasta sitting on the counter. I'd intended to cook it so we could mix it quickly with mayonnaise and lemon pepper for a light lunch. I got the fruit out of the fridge to cut it and noticed a bag of shredded colby jack, and it reminded me of when my mother used to cook spaghetti squash and toss it with cheese and a can of stewed tomatoes. I really, really love that dish, but I don't have any squash in the house right now. So I figured I could just use that pasta instead and if I tossed in some chicken, it could make a nice dinner. Besides, I had refried beans and fresh tortillas that could serve as lunch just as well with a nice salad (or uh... a stupidly large pot of queso). As often goes with these things, once I get started thinking about food, I start thinking about what else was in the fridge (does everyone do this?). Eggplant. Oh yeah. I needed to use that eggplant before we go went of town for the weekend (for a wedding and for a birthday celebration).

Ultimately, I realised I should probably just turn this whole mess into a casserole and be done with it (honestly? I just really didn't want to do all the dishes it'd take otherwise). The eggplant would soften and take on that beautiful roasted flavour, the stewed tomatoes never mind oven heat and the cheese would be bubbly and wonderful. So here it is. I hope you enjoy it!

1 12-ounce pasta (I used a multi-shape one) $0.79
1 can stewed tomatoes $0.50
1 pound chicken breast (this was one large breast for me), de-boned and cut into cubes $1.00 (on sale)
1 cup cubed eggplant (peeled or not; I left the peels on) $0.50
1/2 cup diced celery $0.30
1 package pearl onions (I recommend you use frozen, if you're lazy like I normally am) $2.00 (less if frozen)
1 1/2 cups shredded colby jack, divided (cheddar would be great here too) $1.00
1 tablespoon lemon pepper (can't leave that out!) $0.10
1/2 cup shredded colby jack $0.25

Preheat oven to 350F. Boil a large pot of water (w/ salt added). When boiling, dump in the onions and let them cook 30 seconds to a minute. Transfer to a large bowl of ice water and cool for about a minute. Cut the tops off the onions and then, holding the root end of each onion, squeeze it out of its skin. Cook pasta according to package directions in this onion water, then drain. Mix all ingredients except the smaller amount of cheese, then bake one hour. Uncover, sprinkle remaining cheese on and bake about 10-15 more minutes, or until bubble. Serves 4-6.

Total cost: $6.44
Per serving: (4 servings) $1.61, (6 servings) $1.07


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