Chicken & Leek Cheesy Pasta Bake

My apologies for being notably absent over the festive period! Whilst many bloggers were busy posting their recipes for homemade mince pies and top tips for getting the timings of Christmas dinner spot on, I unfortunately was really busy. Christmas is also predominantly my parent’s domain so, as much as I love to be in the kitchen, I don’t actually end up making that much festive food at Christmas time and therefore most of my every day recipes seemed a little irrelevant in December. However, I am back and although I’m generally taking a healthier approach to cooking in January, first I’d like to begin with something to warm you all up in this absolutely freezing weather.
One of my favourite family meals is a nice hearty pasta bake. I’ll confess the cheesy creamy kind is my favourite. I’ve never been a fan of those pasta bake sauces that come in a jar, they always taste just a little bit bland and powdery to me and it just feels like they need more substance. It’s really not very difficult to make your own and the ingredients required are so basic (butter, flour, milk and cheese) that once you know how, you’ll wonder why ever even looked at those jars.
Cheese and leeks are such a classic combination, you really can’t go wrong. Usually I throw as many vegetables as physically possible into a pasta bake (it’s one of my favourite leftover veg dinners) however this time I’ve tried to keep it a bit more simple. I had originally intended for this to be a vegetarian dish, however I had some chicken thighs to use up so they got thrown into the mix.
This dish goes down brilliantly with kids and grown ups a like as it’s such a comfort food classic. It can be easily reheated the next day or makes a great packed lunch. I always make a nice big batch so that I know I’ve got a yummy lunch for work the next day!
(serves 4-6)
5 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, roughly chopped into bitesize pieces
1 large leek, halved lengthways, washed then chopped
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
50g butter
50g plain flour
1/2 pint semi skimmed milk
50g cheddar cheese, grated
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper
vegetable oil for frying
1. Preheat oven to 180ºC.
2. Add the pasta to boiling salted water and cook according to packet instructions.
3. Heat a little oil in a large pan nad throw in the chicken pieces. Gently fry for approximately five minutes or until the chicken is mostly cooked. Use a slotted spoon to remove chicken from the pan and set aside.
4. Add the leeks, onions and garlic to the pan and fry gently until softened. Turn off the heat and set aside.
5. Melt the butter in a saucepan on a low heat and add the flour, mix together to form a paste, called a roux. When combined, cook for a further minute before beginning to add the milk a splash at a time. It is important to add the milk a little at a time and completely combine before adding more milk as otherwise the mixture can become lumpy. Keep adding until you’ve reached a slightly thick creamy consistency. You may not need all of the milk, you may need a little more, use your own judgement as to the amount of sauce you’ve made and it’s consistency. When you’ve reached the desired result add the nutmeg, season with salt and pepper and melt in most of the cheese (reserve enough to sprinkle over the top).
6. When pasta is cooked, drain thoroughly and add to your oven dish. Distribute the chicken pieces evenly throughout.
7. Add the leek and onion mixture, distributing it evenly across the dish. Season with salt and pepper.
8. Pour the sauce over evenly, allowing it to seep through and cover the whole dish. Sprinkle over the remaining grated cheese.
9. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until golden and bubbling.

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