We all need a reliable casserole in our back pocket, and this chicken Alfredo casserole is an all-star: it has tender chunks of chicken, broccoli, and an easy homemade sauce, all cooked in just one pot. And the best part? It can be frozen and then baked straight from the freezer, so you can work a dinner miracle on a busy Tuesday night.
Cook Once, Eat Twice
Since I have a small household of three, I love recipes where I can cook once and then freeze half of it for another time. That way, we don't get bored trying to eat up a pound of pasta, and a future dinner is solved and sitting in the freezer when I need to have a night off from cooking. This chicken Alfredo casserole is designed so you can make and freeze the whole thing to feed a bunch of people, or divide it into two smaller baking dishes to have twice.
I wanted to keep prep as simple as possible, so I incorporated a few shortcuts into the cooking. We're sticking to just one pot and a colander. The pasta gets boiled in the pot, and then after it's drained I sauté chicken and make the sauce in the same pot.
While Alfredo normally doesn't have broccoli, to make this truly a one-dish meal, a bag of frozen broccoli florets goes right into the pot of water after the pasta is done — no chopping involved, and no need to get fresh broccoli if you have a bag in your freezer.
Alfredo sauce is usually just butter, cream, and Parmesan cheese, but this kind of sauce doesn't hold up well in the freezer. Instead, I took the technique used commonly in making mac and cheese and used a béchamel sauce of flour, butter, and milk that I finished with Parmesan. This kind of flour-based sauce coats the pasta well and stands up to freezing and reheating.
With one of these casseroles in your freezer, you're only some baking time away from a comforting dinner that tastes as good as the day it was made.
Freezer-to-Oven Chicken Alfredo Casserole
Serves 6 to 8
dry fusilli pasta
(14- to 16-ounce) package frozen broccoli florets
unsalted butter, divided
boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
whole or 2% milk
1 1/2 cups
finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 6 ounces)
Bring a large Dutch oven or heavy-duty pot of heavily salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the pasta and cook until almost tender (you want some bite left in the pasta, check it one minute before the time called for on the package).
Turn off the heat, add the broccoli to the pot, stir to combine, and let sit for one minute (the broccoli will not be cooked all the way through). Drain well and set aside.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in the same pot over medium-high heat. Add the chicken in an even layer, season generously with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring every few minutes, until the chicken is browned and just cooked through, about 5 minutes total. Remove to a plate or bowl. Do not wash out the pot.
Return the pot to medium heat and add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. When the butter is melted, add the flour, scrape up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan, and stir constantly until the flour starts to smell toasty and darkens slightly in color, about 1 minute. While constantly whisking, add the milk until it is all incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Bring just to a boil, whisking constantly. Add the cheese and whisk until smooth. Turn off the heat.
Add the chicken and any accumulated juices, pasta, and broccoli, and stir to combine. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
Divide the mixture between 2 (8- to 9-inch) baking dishes or disposable foil trays (try to get ones that are around 2 inches deep), or transfer all of the mixture into a 9x13-inch baking dish or disposable foil tray. Let cool completely, then wrap tightly in aluminum foil and freeze for up to 2 months.
Bake frozen, still covered in the foil, on the middle rack of a preheated 350°F oven until heated through, about 1 1/2 hours. Alternatively, thaw in the refrigerator overnight, then bake for only 1 hour.
Same-day baking: This casserole can also be baked immediately after assembly. Bake covered in foil in a 350°F oven until heated through, about 30 minutes.
Disposable foil trays: Look for trays that are close to 2 inches deep; shallower trays will not hold all the casserole.
Storage: The baked casserole leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.