At this time of year, many of us face a bit of a dietary conundrum: How do we fill our kitchens with the cozy aromas of the hearty wintertime classic comfort food we crave, while still keeping a mindful eye toward our overall health and well-being? Fortunately, you don’t have to choose; a few smart substitutions (and the addition of plenty of leafy superfood greens) can make the classics from your childhood fresher and, dare we say, even a little bit healthier.
For our take on this homey chicken and mushroom casserole, we omit the cheese and heavy cream found in so many recipes, without sacrificing any flavor or richness. We layer in big pops of flavor using fresh herbs and plenty of bright Dijon mustard, then finish the sauce with a final swirl of low-fat cream cheese to add richness without packing on the fat and calories. We also include big handfuls of fresh baby spinach to dial up the potential nutritional benefits even more. Spinach is loaded with vitamin C and beta carotene, which according to the National Institutes of Health, may help protect against certain kinds of cancer. One cup of fresh spinach leaves also provides almost double the recommended daily allowance of vitamin K, which helps keep bones healthy and strengthens the cardiovascular system.
Best of all, with a little planning ahead, this entire dish cooks in one skillet (even the orzo!). Or, for an even lighter take on this dish, omit the orzo entirely and serve with cauliflower rice or the whole grain of your choice. The possibilities are endless!
Healthier One-Skillet Chicken and Mushroom Casserole
- 2 tbsp salted butter
- 1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Fresh ground pepper, to taste
- 8 oz baby portobello mushrooms, cut in half
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 cup orzo pasta
- 4 cups baby spinach
- 4 ounces low-fat cream cheese, cut into chunks
- Fresh parsley, chopped
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add chicken, and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook until golden brown and internal temperature reaches 165 degrees; about 5 minutes per side. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add mushrooms and chopped onion to pan and cook until onions begin to soften and mushrooms have released most of their liquid; about 4 minutes. Stir in garlic and chopped thyme, and cook for about one minute more.
Sprinkle flour over mushroom and onion mixture and cook, stirring often, until flour just begins to brown; about 1 minute more. Add chicken stock and Dijon mustard, then stir in orzo pasta. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until orzo is cooked; about 6 minutes. Remove from heat, then stir in spinach and cream cheese. Return chicken to pan, and toss to coat evenly. Garnish with chopped parsley, and serve immediately.