I love potluck suppers, so when good friends called recently to invite my husband and me to one I was delighted. I asked the hostess what she would like me to contribute, and she replied, without hesitation, that a main-course casserole to serve at least six was needed.
I have many such recipes in my culinary files, but for this occasion I decided to create a dish. My inspiration came from a trip to a local market where I spotted bins of beautiful winter mushrooms.
The creation was a success, as there were no leftovers at the supper.
Whether you make this casserole for a potluck or serve it for a casual buffet, you will need only salad and bread to complete the menu. The penne is delicious with a winter salad of baby spinach and sliced cucumbers, tossed in a Sherry vinaigrette. A refreshing dessert to counter the richness of the pasta might include a lemon pound cake, lemon bars or a bowl of clementines offered with biscotti.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt, preferably kosher
1 pound penne
1 (2 1/2 - to 2 3 / 4 -pound) plain roasted chicken
4 ounces thickly sliced bacon, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces
1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and discarded, and mushrooms cleaned and cut into 1/2 -inch-thick slices
1 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned and cut into 1/2 -inch-thick slices
4 teaspoons minced garlic
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried rosemary, crushed
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1 / 4 cups grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 / 4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
fresh rosemary sprigs, for garnish, optional
Coat 9x13-inch baking dish with 1/2 tablespoon butter. Set aside.
Bring large pot of water to boil. Add 2 teaspoons salt and penne and cook until penne is tender, about 12 minutes. Drain well and place in large mixing bowl.
Remove and discard skin from chicken. Cut chicken into 1-inch chunks so that you have 2 1/2 to 3 cups. Add to penne. Saute bacon pieces in large, heavy skillet over medium heat until golden and crisp. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add bacon to bowl of penne and chicken.
Pour off and discard all but 1 tablespoon bacon drippings. Add 2 tablespoons butter to pan and place over medium heat. When hot, add mushrooms and saute, stirring often, until golden and all liquid given off by mushrooms has evaporated, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, several grinds of pepper and crushed rosemary and cook and stir 1 minute more. Add to penne and chicken.
Heat cream and milk in large, heavy saucepan over medium heat until simmering. Gradually whisk in 1 cup Parmesan cheese, 3 / 4 teaspoon salt and nutmeg. Continue whisking until mixture thickens to consistency of light sauce, 2 to 3 minutes or longer. Stir sauce into penne mixture and mix well. Season with more salt and pepper if needed.
Spread penne mixture in prepared pan. Sprinkle with remaining 1 / 4 cup Parmesan cheese and scatter bread crumbs on top. Dot with remaining 2 tablespoons butter. (Dish can be prepared 1 day ahead to this point. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Remove wrap and proceed with recipe when ready to bake.)
Bake penne at 350 degrees on center rack until hot and bread crumbs are golden, about 25 minutes. To serve, garnish center with bouquet of fresh rosemary sprigs. Makes 6 generous servings.