Food IS Love. And nowhere is that more evident than in my little hometown of Emporium, nestled in the Allegheny mountains in northcentral/western Pennsylvania. Emporium is the county seat of Cameron County. And while it may be the least populous county in PA, the people who reside there make up in heart what they lack in numbers.
The theme takes me back to one dish in particular that has made its way around my little town and served as encouragement to “Get well soon!” offer congratulations on a new baby, and welcome new neighbors. Perhaps most often though, this casserole provided comfort in its expressing “We’re so sorry for your loss.”
Even today, when my mom drops this dish at someone’s house, she almost always gets the follow up phone call: “May I pleeease have that recipe?” It was such a family favorite that my mom would also serve it when one of her kids came home from college. Amongst my college friends, we referred to this dish as “the boyfriend casserole.” Preparing this dish for a “new friend” was sometimes a, well, game-changer. Ah, yes…food = love. But over the years, to avoid having to toss this recipe into the unhealthy comfort food archives, this recipe required some tweaking.
Originally calling for just one bag of frozen broccoli as it’s only vegetable and source of fiber, instead I used fresh. I significantly reduced the amount of fat per serving by cutting back on the amount of condensed cream of chicken soup and grated cheddar cheese. I added a teaspoon of Tabasco because (brace yourself for this A-ha! moment) a little Tabasco makes cheese taste cheesier so you can use less.
I found Pacifico organic Cream of Chicken condensed soup at Whole Foods market and used it in lieu of Campbell’s Cream of Chicken soup, keeping the ingredients ones you can recognize and pronounce and eliminating things like “modified wheat flour,” “disodium guanylate” and “soy protein isolate” just to name a few. You can find it: here and here.
CAVEAT: This recipe has been “healthed-up” by using the alternative cream of chicken soup. Using Campbell’s soup creates a much creamier product. If you choose to stick with the Campbell’s soup, using the fresh broccoli and smaller portions of soup and cheese will still result in a lower fat and calorie and all around healthier dish. Regardless, you’ll be serving up a big dose of heart.
- 1 small to medium Rotisserie Chicken (skin removed, deboned), meat shredded or cubed
- (If cooking your own chicken, bake or roast a small chicken and measure the equivalent of about 3 cups of cooked, shredded or cubed)
- 3 cups Broccoli florets, cut into bite-size pieces and steamed until crisp-tender
- 2 (12 oz) containers Pacific Organic Cream of Chicken Soup
- 1/2 cup light (or regular) mayonnaise (NOT Miracle Whip)
- Lemon zest - 1 teaspoon
- 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (or other hot sauce)
- 3/4 cup cup shredded Cheddar cheese (lowfat if desired)
- 1/4 cup Gruyere cheese or Parmagiano Reggiano cheese, shredded
- 1/4 teaspoon Paprika
- *Optional: 1/2 - 3/4 cup cooked (preferably whole grain) starch per person. Options might include: extra wide egg noodles, gluten free noodles, quinoa, white or brown rice.
- Preheat oven 350
- In a medium bowl combine soup, mayonnaise, lemon zest and Tabasco. Mix until well combine
- In a 13 x 9 inch glass or metal pan, spread chicken evenly, top with broccoli pieces
- Sprinkle Parmagiano Reggiano cheese over broccoli
- Spread soup mixture evenly over broccoli and chicken
- Sprinkle cheese evenly on top of soup mixture
- Bake covered
- Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees, remove cover and bake for additional 10 minutes or until cheese become bubbly and/or slightly browned
- Remove from oven, let cool 10 minutes
- Sprinkle with Paprika
- Serve over grain of choice* or as is