Even a beginner could make the home smell like an Italian restaurant with this Baked chicken, Rigatoni and Zucchini meal. Although zucchini is at its peak in the summertime, fresh zucchini is available at most supermarkets throughout the year. Adding chicken to this savory dish provides some protein.
A popular summer squash, a zucchini’s skin color can vary from dark to light green, sometimes with yellow markings that give it a striped look. The flavor is light and delicate. At your local market, select small zucchini, which will be younger and therefore more tender and will have thinner skins. The skin should be free of blemishes and have a vibrant color.
If growing at home, this summer squash reaches picking size from seed in six or seven weeks. Zucchini is very easy to grow. They are bushy plants that tend to take over the space allotted to them and often produce more than you need. Four plants are likely to produce enough for a family of four. Soil needs to be rich in humus and fertile. A mid-season dressing of compost will help. Zucchini can withstand some drought, but for abundant production they need sustained moisture.
Large, grooved macaroni about 1 1/2 wide. Bigger than penne or ziti, rigatoni usually have ridges down their length, sometimes spiraling around the tube, which allows the accompanying sauce to cling to the pasta. The word rigatoni comes from the Italian word rigato, which means “ridged” or “lined”, and is associated with the cuisine of southern and central Italy. Because this is a bigger pasta, it is ideal for baked dishes, such as this one. Rigatoni should be cooked until just al dente, because the tube structure will collapse if it is cooked until limp, blocking sauce from getting inside.
Preheat oven to 400º. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, 12″ non-stick if you have it, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
Add the onion and cook just until it begins to soften (about 5 minutes).
Add the slices of zucchini, spreading them out in the pan. Cook just until it begins to soften, another 5 minutes.
Make sure to take scissors all the way to the bottom of the can.
Toss in chicken that has already been cooked. I chopped the chicken into bite size portions.
Simmer just until it thickens, about 8-10 minutes. If sauce is too thick, add 1/4 cup water, bring back to simmer. I did not add any additional water to my sauce.
Don’t let the zucchini begin to fall apart. Turn off heat. Toss in chopped basil.
As for the pasta, only cook rigatoni until al dente, a few minutes LESS than the package directions.
Drain the pasta. Mix drained pasta with your sauce. I used the same pot I cooked the pasta in.
Butter a 9 x 13, large baking dish. In a medium bowl, toss and mix up the two cheeses.
Spread half the pasta and sauce mixture into the baking dish.
Top with half the cheese mixture.
Layer remaining pasta and sauce, then remaining cheese.
Bake, uncovered, until browned and bubbly, about 20-25 minutes.
Remove from oven. Allow to stand and rest for 5-6 minutes before serving. Serve with bread or simple salad.