This Southwestern Macaroni and Cheese casserole is a nutritious dinner choice that the hungry family will appreciate after a busy day. A great combination of chicken, pasta and veggies in a creamy cheese sauce.
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To cook pasta, fill a medium size pot 2/3 of the way with hot tap water. Add 1 teaspoon salt to the water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and stir with a wooden spoon to be sure noodles don't stick to the bottom of the pot.
Always make sure there is lots of water in the pot when cooking any pasta so the pasta has room to roll around while it is cooking.
Turn the heat down, enough to maintain a boil and stir every so often to prevent noodles sticking. Do not cover the pot. After 8-10 minutes, take a piece of pasta out of the water, allow it to cool and do a test for doneness.
Bite into the pasta. If it is too hard to bite or you see a white center, it needs to cook a little longer. When it cooks all the way through it is ready and cooked el dente.
Put the pasta into a strainer. Shake out excess water and put the pot back onto a cool part of the stove.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Grease either 4 ramekins or 1 larger baking dish.
Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large frying pan.
Add the onions and cook for a few minutes until tender over medium heat.
Add the chopped chicken pieces and cook until no longer pink. (about 10 minutes)
Add the chopped red pepper pieces and cook for 2 minutes.
In a separate pot, melt the butter.
Add the flour and cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes stirring to heat the flour and combine into the butter.
Add the milk and the tomato paste and use a whisk to stir in and combine. Cook stirring as needed until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Stir in the oregano and cayenne pepper. Stir in 3/4 cup of the shredded cheese. Do a taste test and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Stir in the frozen vegetables. Shut off.
Stir the creamy sauce into the chicken mixture and combine gently.
Transfer the mixture into individual ramekins or you can transfer into one baking dish.
Scatter the cheese evenly on the top(s).
Place into the preheated oven and cook for 10-15 minutes until heated through and the cheese has melted.