Chicken Spaghetti by Rattaya Nagorski

I received the cookbook The Homesick Texan's Family Table by Lisa Fain for Christmas one year. My husband Eddie was quite excited to try some of her recipes, mostly Tex-Mex inspired, but there were a few truly Texan dishes in the book. The chicken spaghetti was one of them, where a cheesy casserole fit the bill of Texas family meals so well.

While the dish was simple to make, the outcome wasn't what I expected. Even though we used actual cheeses instead of canned soup cheese, the dish still tasted like canned soup cheese. Perhaps it was just me, and not quite sure what to expect from cheesy casseroles, but this dish didn't mark up well in my book.

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GATHER:

  • 8oz spaghetti
  • 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, and halved lengthwise
  • 4 cloves garlic, left whole
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk, plus more as needed
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups shredded monterey jack cheese
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnishing
  • 2 tsp fresh lime juice
  • salt and black pepper
  • 4 cups shredded cooked chicken

MAKE:

  1. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking dish. Line a baking sheet with foil.
  2. Cook the spaghetti according to package instructions in a large pot of boiling salted water. Drain, rinse, and transfer the spaghetti to the baking dish. 
  3. Meanwhile, turn on the broiler and place a rack 6 inches away from the heating element. Place the grape tomatoes and jalapeños on the prepared baking sheet, skin side up, along with the whole garlic cloves and onion. Broil, for 5 to 7 minutes, until all except garlic are softened and have begun to blacken. Remove from the oven, and when cool enough to handle, dice the tomatoes, jalapeños, garlic, and onion. 
  4. Turn the oven temperature down to 350. 
  5. To make the sauce for the spaghetti, in a saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour until well combined and slightly browned, about 30 sec. Slowly pour in the milk and cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens just a bit, 3 to 5 min. (You want it to coat the back of your spoon, but not too thick, like custard. If it gets too thick, you can slowly add more milk, about a tsp at a time.)
  6. Once the sauce thickens, immediately turn off the heat and slowly stir in half of the cheeses, about 1/4 cup at a time, until melted and incorporated into the sauce. Stir in diced vegetables, along with the cumin, cayenne, cilantro, and lime juice. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding salt and black pepper to taste. Pour the sauce into the cooked spaghetti and then stir in the shredded cooked chicken. Cover the spaghetti with the remaining cheeses.
  7. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until brown and bubbling. Garnish with cilantro before serving. Yields 8 servings.