Growing up in my family, the children generally ate our meals separately from our parents, partially because there were so many of us. This meant that they could have food that was more sophisticated than what we were usually fed on a daily basis. Thus, the repertoire for our dinners was somewhat limited.
Our vegetables at dinner usually followed a cycle of peas, green beans and corn, depending upon the main dish. All of these were canned; we weren’t a frozen vegetable family. Occasionally, we had “salad.” This was usually iceberg lettuce, perhaps with sliced carrots, tomatoes, and celery, all covered in bottled Italian or blue cheese dressing. Mesclun, lightly sprinkled with olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar, was nowhere near this picture, not in 1970s suburban Washington, DC. The first time cucumbers and scallions made an appearance in our household, I thought those were exotic additions to our meals.
As I got older, my parents experimented with feeding us broccoli or asparagus with our meals. These were usually dressed with sauce and had previously been canned. They bore no relation to fresh, bright green veggies that I now prefer, being the same olive-grey color as the canned peas and green beans we also ate. Is it any wonder that I avoided this food category? (School lunches were no help either in this regard. I think I’ve blocked out most memories of being served anything remotely associated with vegetables during that time.)
Then, I got older and discovered that properly prepared and carefully cooked, these foods could actually taste good. I now actually enjoy eating them in season and fresh, not canned or frozen (with the rare except of petits pois). In my quest to see if I should include any of the recipes from my childhood in my new binder, I decided to revisit this one. Guessing from the handwriting, this looks to be a recipe I copied down when I was heading to college.
Although referred to as “Chicken and Broccoli” on the recipe from my mother’s card file, it really is “Chicken Divan.” If you do a search on the internet for this recipe, you’ll come up with many different versions, but they basically all have chicken, broccoli, cream sauce, and cheese as main ingredients. It originated at a now-closed New York City restaurant (see Wiki) and is the type of casserole-based dish that seems of a era of heavy sauce-based baked main courses.
In reproducing this, I made some alterations by using fresh broccoli, instead of the frozen kind listed on the card. I also used chicken breast filets and cut the amount of sauce in half. We never served this with a starch, but, as I discovered when I packed the leftovers to take for lunch this week, rice goes well with this dish. I definitely think that this amended version of a family-favorite is going to find a place in my new recipe binder.
Chicken and Broccoli / Chicken Divan
Serving size: about 4
Prep Time: 1 hour
1 package chicken filets (about 5-6 pieces)
1 bunch broccoli
1 can cream of chicken soup
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
1/4 c. bread crumbs
Cut broccoli into 2-inch pieces, using florets and stems. Cook in steamer until just tender but not mushy. Take out of steamer, stop cooking process by running cold water over broccoli and set it aside.
Put saucepan with one-inch of water on the stove and heat until barely simmering. Add chicken and cook through. Remove chicken and set aside. Boil down the water until it is about 1 tablespoon. Turn off water and reserve for making the sauce.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Centigrade / Gas Mark 3). Mix together the soup, mayonnaise, curry powder, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese until smooth and creamy. Add in reserved water from poaching the chicken.
In small casserole dish (I used an 8”x8” Pyrex® one), first layer the broccoli, then the chicken, and then cover with the sauce. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs and remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese on top and bake in center of oven for 30 minutes. Let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving.