Milwaukee transplant Erin Clarke’s cooking blog, Well Plated by Erin (wellplated.com), is replete with easy-to-follow, affordable- to-make recipes for classic comfort cuisine, but with a catch. Instead of the typical gobs of heavy ingredients, Clarke lightens up the dishes without sacrificing flavor.
The Wichita, Kansas, native, who draws inspiration from her grandmothers’ cooking, started blogging 10 years ago. Her very first post, a green chile chicken recipe, hit the blogosphere with a bang, convincing her to keep cooking and writing. Clarke has snagged followers – she says her site gets about 10 million page views per month – with her recipes for things like homemade Hamburger Helper, chicken stroganoff and one-skillet butternut squash gnocchi with Italian sausage. While her goal is to freshen up beloved originals, she doesn’t go overboard.
“I stay true to the original,” she says. A year ago, Clarke released The Well Plated Cookbook, a compendium of over 130 recipes for fast, healthy classics.
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Butternut Squash, Chicken, and Wild Rice Casserole
If a harvest-scented candle and an oversized fuzzy blanket got together to cook dinner, they’d make this Butternut Squash, Chicken, and Wild Rice Casserole. It is the essence of cozy, manifested as a healthy dinner, with a bounty of fabulous ingredients for fall and winter cooking: nutty wild rice, golden butternut squash, tangy dried cranberries, earthy thyme, and savory Parmesan. Here, the quintessential casserole “Throw it all in a baking dish and see what happens!” laissez- faire doesn’t merely work, it triumphs. As you stir the different components together, it might seem like the casserole won’t be creamy enough, but fear not. The Parmesan holds it all together.
This recipe is courtesy of Erin Clarke, a food writer, author and creator of the website Well Plated by Erin.
Active time: 1 hour | Total time: 1 hour and 30 minutes | Yield: Serves 6
- 1 cup uncooked wild- and- brown- rice blend
- 1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
- 1 small butternut squash (about 1½ pounds)
- 1 medium yellow onion, cut into ¼- inch dice (about 1½ cups)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, plus additional for garnish
- ¾ cup dried cranberries
- ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces), divided
- ½ cup roughly chopped raw pecans or walnuts
- Cook the rice according to the package instructions. Drain off any excess cooking liquid and set aside (you should have about 3 cooked cups).
- Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. For easy cleanup, lay a large piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper in the bottom of a 9×13- inch baking dish. Arrange the chicken thighs in a single layer on top, tucking the loose side portion of each thigh underneath. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Bake on the center rack of the oven until the chicken thighs reach 165 degrees F on an instant- read thermometer at the thickest part, about 20 minutes. Immediately transfer from the dish to a plate and cover. Let rest 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Discard the foil or parchment and keep the pan handy.
- While the chicken cooks, peel the butternut squash and trim off the top and bottom ends. Cut the neck away from the round base, then stand the base up on its ﬂat end and cut it in half from top to bottom. Scoop out the seeds and discard. Cut the squash (both base and neck) into ½- inch cubes (you should have about 4 cups cubes).
- In a large, deep skillet with a tight- ﬁtting lid, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add the squash, onion, and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Sauté until the onion begins to soften, about 2 minutes. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender but still retains some chew, 6 to 8 minutes.
- Once the chicken has rested, cut it into bite- sized pieces. Add it to the pan with the squash, then add the thyme, cranberries, ¼ cup of the Parmesan, and the rice. Stir to combine.
- Lightly coat with nonstick spray the same 9×13- inch dish you used to bake the chicken (no need to wash it in between). With a large spoon, scoop the squash and rice mixture into the dish, spreading it into an even layer.
- Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the casserole from the oven and sprinkle the nuts and remaining ¼ cup Parmesan on top. Bake 8 to 10 additional minutes, until the cheese is melted and the nuts are toasted and crisp. Sprinkle with additional chopped fresh thyme and serve warm.
Make Ahead Storage Tips:
- For even faster dinner prep: Prepare the rice up to 2 days in advance (or make it in big batches and freeze individual portions for up to 3 months). The chicken and butternut squash can be cooked up to 1 day in advance. You can also swap the chicken thighs for 4 cups of shredded rotisserie chicken.
- The entire casserole can be assembled through step 6 and stored in the refrigerator, unbaked, for up to 1 day. Let come to room temperature, then bake as directed.
- To freeze: Bake the casserole completely, then let cool to room temperature. Cover it tightly, then freeze for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator, bring to room temperature, then cover with foil and reheat in a 350- degree- F oven until warmed through. Be sure to use a pan that is freezer and oven safe.
- For extra decadence, in step 5, stir ½ to 1 cup of shredded Gruyère or fontina cheese into the filling with the Parmesan.
- Make It Meatless: Swap the chicken for 2 (15- ounce) cans of rinsed- and- drained reduced sodium white beans, such as great Northern or cannellini beans. Add the beans to the squash in step 5.