Oh. My. God. That was our reaction to this meal. In a very, very good way.
It might not look like much if it were, say, sitting out on a buffet table. But the lucky diner who took some would be pleasantly surprised. This dish is sneaky. It’s packed full of somewhat exotic ingredients for a weeknight meal and the whole thing comes off as an incredibly decadent, cheesy, gourmet casserole (if there is such a thing). But there’s something lurking beneath the surface.
This dish is …
Good for you!
I know – we couldn’t believe it either. Mike actually turned to me and said, “This isn’t exactly diet food.”
But it is! A single serving (1 cup) of this casserole comes in at less than 200 calories. Even if you totally pig out like we did and eat two servings, that’s still less than 400 calories!! Rejoice!
So, what’s in it? Hold on. We’re getting there.
This recipe uses brown rice, which I love and highly recommend. Yes, it takes a long time to cook, but it’s very good for you and it has a nice, nutty flavor that beats the pants off of boring old white rice. Take the time to cook brown. No seriously – do it. Put one cup of uncooked rice in a pan with a lid over high heat. Add 2 1/4 cups water and bring it to a boil. Reduce hit to low and let sit for 45 minutes. Go knit or something.
Now – for the good stuff. We started with a bit of olive oil in a large sauce pan. To that, I added two huge cloves of garlic, minced. If your garlic is on the puny side, try adding three or four cloves. You want to smell and taste the garlic here, friends. This is, after all, a Mediterranean dish.
We had some cooked chicken on hand (the crock pot chicken week is coming SOON, promise!), so that’s what we used. But if you don’t, add some diced chicken breasts to the pan and let it cook at least until it’s browned on all sides.
Now for the tomatoes. I used two whole cans (juice and all) of the good tomatoes. That is seriously how we refer to them at Feaston – good tomatoes. That’s all that needs to be said. If you have burgundy wine on hand, go for it, but I’m sticking with what works.
If your chicken was raw to begin with, cover the sauce and let it hang out for about 20 minutes over medium heat.
Otherwise, keep on trucking. Add a quarter cup of sun-dried tomatoes and a small can of black olives, both chopped, to the tomato mix. Now, some people will tell you that if you don’t like olives, it’s because you’ve only had the black kind. I actually only like black olives and even then – only in small doses. Put ’em in, even if you think you won’t like them. They are GOOD. Plus, you can always pick them out later.
Also to the pan, add a bit of Italian seasoning.
Next, add one 10 oz. package of frozen spinach, thawed and drained (there’s no need for all that moisture!). Let the spinach warm up a bit and give it a good stir so it’s all mingled up with the other ingredients.
The hardest part about this dish is stirring it all together – it’s a lot of food.
Finally, throw in about 3/4 cup of mozzarella cheese. We used the 2% because we are on a diet.
Your rice should be done, so throw that in, too.
Stir, stir, stir.
Your elbow hurts, doesn’t it? Trust me – it will be worth it.
Now, I threw this whole thing into a small casserole dish and covered with a 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese and a sprinkling of Parmesan (just don’t get too heavy handed with the sprinkling).
Put it in a 350 degree oven for about 10 – 15 minutes, just enough to let the flavors combine and the cheese on top get hot, brown and bubbly.
Look, all I can say is that this was really, really good and we ate it like we hadn’t seen food in days. I’m sure you’ll do the same, so I’ll leave you to it. But just a quick note – this would be incredibly easy to make as a vegetarian meal. Just omit the chicken and replace with mushrooms. If Mike weren’t so opposed, I would be all over that!
Makes 8 servings
- 1 cup uncooked brown rice
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2-3 cups cooked chicken
- 2 – 14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes in marinara sauce
- 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, diced
- 1 – 2.5 ounce can black olives, drained and chopped
- 2 tsp. Italian seasoning
- 1 – 10 ounce package frozen spinach, thawed and drained
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese, divided
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a medium sauce pan, add rice and 2 1/4 cup water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let stand covered for 45 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.
In a separate skillet, heat up olive oil over medium heat and add garlic and cooked chicken. Cook until chicken is warmed. Add tomatoes with sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and seasoning. Add spinach and cook until warmed through.
When rice is done, add it to skillet along with 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese. Stir all ingredients to combine.
Transfer mixture to casserole dish and top with remaining cheese.
Bake, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly.