Cheesy Farro, Chicken, and Broccoli Casserole
No matter what I do... casserole is the most boring food to photograph! Sorry for the terrible pictures, but it tastes good!
Even though it doesn't feel at all like winter in Los Angeles, something about this time of year makes me want to eat comfort food. When I was growing up, my mom would make a broccoli, rice, and cheese casserole that we loved. Her casserole, like many others, involved jarred, processed cheese. I also see many other casserole recipes made with canned soup. The processed cheese and canned soup work really well as a thickener, while also adding a lot of salt, which is flavorful, but not healthy. With a little trial and error, I came up with a "healthier" version. I use quotes, because there is still a good amount of cheese, so I wouldn't say it is "diet food," but it is much better for you to remove the processed cheese and canned soup if possible.
I love farro! It is nutty and rich, with great chewy texture. Brown rice can be used as well. The key is to make sure the faro (or rice) isn't overcooked before baking it with the cheese, because then you will lose the great texture it can add to the casserole. That also goes for the broccoli. I like to cook it only slightly before baking it with the rest of the ingredients. It helps to take that raw flavor away, but still maintain a fresh crunch. The last thing you want is a soggy casserole.
You can cook the chicken any way you like! Sometimes I sauté the chicken, and sometimes I poach it. Whatever you have around works! Just make sure it is seasoned nicely.
Then the cheese...it isn't casserole without cheese! I like using either a white cheddar or a yellow cheddar cheese block, because I find that grating it right before using it allows for a fresher flavor.
How to make perfect Cheesy Farro, Chicken, and Broccoli Casserole
*Make sure to season as you go! Each step in the recipe requires cooking everything separately, and then baking it together, so make sure to add salt and pepper throughout the process to prevent it being bland. Since it doesn't use salty soup or processed cheese, you are in control of adding in the flavor (which is healthier).
*Don't overcook the farro or broccoli!
*The farro is cooked "al dente" before adding it in with the other ingredients to bake! So, measure out the cooked farro and then add it in.
*Use good quality, freshly grated cheese.
*When pouring the stock into the pan, make sure it is either room temperate, or slightly warm. If it is cold then the mixture will get clumpy.
Cheesy Farro Chicken and Broccoli Casserole
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 shallot, minced
red pepper flakes, optional
1 teaspoon dried thyme; fresh can also be used
1/4 cup all purpose unbleached flour
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups freshly grated cheddar cheese
2 cooked chicken breast, about 2-3 cups
4 cups cooked farro, cooked al dente (see notes in recipe) pre-cooked before mixing it in
4 cups broccoli; cut into small pieces
Top with 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese and 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Spray a 9x13x2 inch baking dish with cooking spray
Cook the farro in salted water until al dente (still has a bite to it, NOT SOGGY), because it will cook a bit longer in the oven when mixed with the other ingredients; set aside to cool slightly
Place the broccoli in a pot of salted boiling water for 20-30 seconds, and drain immediately; this takes the raw bite away while still keeping the broccoli crunchy; make sure to let it drain well to prevent excess water
In a medium skillet, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat
Add in the shallot and a sprinkle of salt, cook until softened
Add in the garlic and thyme (and red pepper flakes, if using), and cook for about a minute, stirring consistently being sure the garlic doesn’t brown
Whisk in the flour, and cook for about a minute
While whisking, slowly pour in the chicken or veggie stock; whisking will prevent clumps
Whisk in the cheese, and stir until melted and well incorporated
In a large bowl combine the pre-cooked farro (al dente), chicken, and broccoli, and pour in the cheese mixture; stir until well combined
Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish, and sprinkle with cheese, optional
Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until bubbly
Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes before serving