Dinner Freezer Meals Make Ahead - Heat & Serve Recipes

Chicken and Fennel Casserole

A blue baking dish with chicken and rice casserole and melted mozzarella cheese sprinkled with parmesan shavings being scooped by a wooden spoon.
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As a busy mom of hungry kids, preparing a nutritious dinner that makes everyone happy can often feel like a daunting task. With a whirlwind of schedules, responsibilities, and demands, finding a meal that is both easy to make and provides essential nourishment becomes a top priority but also a real chore. Well, worry no more! I bring you the ultimate solution: Chicken and Fennel Casserole. This casserole combines the earthy flavors of chicken, fennel, and creamy tomato sauce, creating a satisfying and wholesome dinner that will have your entire family begging for seconds.

Life as a mom is undoubtedly demanding, and finding the time to plan and prepare healthy meals can be challenging. That’s why this Chicken and Fennel Casserole recipe is a game-changer. Not only is it incredibly simple to make, but it also packs a nutritional punch. By incorporating lean chicken and a medley of fresh vegetables, this casserole offers a balanced blend of protein, fiber, and vitamins, ensuring that your family gets the nourishment they need without compromising on taste.

One of the biggest advantages of this recipe is its versatility. Whether your children are picky eaters or have expanding tastes, this Chicken and Fennel Casserole has something for everyone. The combination of shredded chicken and the creamy, herb-infused sauce creates a flavor profile that is both comforting and familiar. Plus, with the addition of a cheesy topping, this dish becomes a big win of that will entice even the fussiest of eaters.

So, dear busy mom, say goodbye to dinner dilemmas and welcome the Chicken and Fennel Casserole into your culinary repertoire. Considering how easy it is to prepare and it’s one dish meal appeal, this recipe is a surefire way to win the hearts (and stomachs) of everyone. Get ready to sit down to a wholesome, delicious dinner that brings the family together and leaves everyone satisfied. Let’s dive into the details and uncover the secrets behind this great make ahead dish!

Creamy shredded chicken, chopped fennel and zucchini and rice with melted cheese on a while plate with a brass fork.

About the Ingredients for Chicken and Fennel Casserole

Shredded chicken – about 2 1/2 cups of cooked, shredded chicken. If you don’t have any leftovers in the fridge, check out the FAQ section below for how I bake and shred chicken breasts.

Brown rice and chicken broth – for this recipe, cook your rice in chicken stock. This will give your casserole more flavor.

Fennel – fennel is a bulb vegetable. Cut off the stalks and remove the outer layers of the bulb and discard them. Then cut the bulb in half down the center and remove the core. Now slice the fennel the way you would an onion.

Onion, zucchini and garlic – I like red onion for color and sweetness but any onion is fine.

Seasonings – crushed fennel seeds and red pepper flakes. You can find fennel seeds in the spice section of your market. To crush the seeds I use a mortar and pestle or a coffee bean grinder. The red pepper flakes will be undetectable in terms of heat so don’t skip them. Like salt and pepper, they simply enhance the tomato flavor in the dish.

Tomato paste – you only need 2 tablespoons but those silly cans of paste come in 6oz sizes. I like to separate the leftover tomato paste into silicone ice cube trays and freeze it it 1 tablespoon portions. Then when a recipe calls for less than a whole can you can use your frozen cubes.

White wine – a dry white such as Pinot Grigio is preferable if you have it.

Sour cream and heavy cream – these will be the base for your creamy sauce.

Cheese – shredded mozzarella and grated parmesan.

Close up of the rice and casserole filling on a plate.

How to Make Creamy Chicken and Fennel Casserole

Begin by shredding your chicken and setting your rice up to cook according to the package directions. For cooking the rice I like to use this Cuisinart Rice Cooker. It makes cooking rice a no brainer. Add the directed amount of rice and liquid and press the button (there’s only one button on the whole machine!) When the rice is cooked to perfection the cooker will automatically switch itself to keep warm. No watching the pot, adjusting the water, boiling over, or any other non-sense. Just perfect rice every time with no effort.

While the rice cooks, sauté your veggies. They can all cook in on large pan with some butter until they soften. When the vegetables are just about done cooking, add the minced garlic and cook for one more minute.

Now add your seasonings and tomato paste. The tomato paste will be thick so stir it in as best you can to coat all of the vegetables. Pour in the white wine and stir to loosen the tomato paste and begin to create a sauce. Let the wine simmer for a few minutes to cook off the alcohol.

Turn the heat on the stove off and pour in the heavy cream, sour cream and shredded chicken. Now it’s time to assemble the casserole.

Spray a baking dish with cooking spray and spread the rice evenly across the bottom of the dish. Then spread the chicken and fennel mixture over the rice. Try not to mix it in too much so the rice doesn’t absorb too much of the sauce and dry out your dish. Sprinkle the top with cheese and bake until hot and bubbly.

A casserole with melted mozzarella getting parmesan shaved on top with a hand grater.

Recipe Substitutions & Variations

The cream sauce in this dish can be adjusted so if you don’t have or don’t like to cook with heavy cream or sour cream don’t worry! You just want something that will give your casserole that silky creamy texture everyone loves in a good casserole; not to mention the sauce is what will moisten the rice and chicken. Try using a can a condensed cream of chicken soup and 1/2 cup of milk in place of the heavy cream and sour cream combination. Or if you want to be very fancy you could make a chicken stock sauce from a roux. Here’s how:

Chicken Stock Sauce from a Roux

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a small sauce pan. Add 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour and whisk it together. Let it bubble and just begin to darken in color, this will be about 1-2 minutes. Slowly pour in chicken stock about 1/4 cup at a time while whisking. The sauce should get very thick and then add more stock. Continue adding stock and whisking until you’ve added 2 cups of chicken stock. Finish it off by whisking until the stock is a thick creamy sauce. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper each.

Make Ahead Instructions

Don’t you love a casserole that can be made ahead of time? This Chicken and Fennel Casserole can be assembled up to 3 days in advance and then all you need to do is warm it up and serve it.

To make it ahead of time, follow the recipe up until topping the casserole with cheese. Let the casserole come to room temperature and then top it with cheese. This will keep the cheese from melting prematurely. Cover the dish tightly and refrigerate it for later.

When you’re ready to warm the casserole, let it sit out on the counter for about 30 minutes to let it come to room temperature. Then bake it in a 375°F oven for 20 minutes, covered with foil. The foil helps keep the moisture in so the casserole doesn’t dry out. After about 20 minutes, remove the foil and return the baking dish to the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Creamy shredded chicken, chopped fennel and zucchini and rice with melted cheese and chopped parsley.

Freezer Meal Instructions

Having a casserole in the freezer at the ready is one of the best tricks for getting dinner on the table on busy weeknights. No cooking. No mess to clean. Just grab it out of the freezer the night before so it has time to thaw and warm it up at dinner time. For a busy mom this is like a dream come true.

To turn this easy Chicken and Fennel Casserole into a freezer meal just follow the recipe all the way through except don’t bake it yet. Let casserole cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic and then foil and move the casserole to the freezer. Frozen this dish will save for up to two months.

When you’re ready to thaw the casserole, move it to the refrigerator overnight the day before. This will help the casserole defrost. 

In order to warm the casserole, let it sit out on the counter for about 30 minutes to let it come to room temperature. Then bake it in a 375°F oven for 20 minutes, covered with foil. The foil helps keep the moisture in so the casserole doesn’t dry out. Remove the foil and continue to bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

FAQ’s and Recipe Tips

What do you use when a recipe calls for shredded chicken?

I like to use boneless chicken, either breasts or thighs, depending on the recipe. Spray a baking pan with cooking spray, and place the chicken directly on the pan. Sprinkle on a little salt and pepper and bake it in a preheated oven at 375°F for about 25 minutes depending on the thickness of the chicken. You will know the chicken is done when the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Then I take the hot chicken and move it to my electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Turn on the mixer to medium speed for about 30 seconds and you will have perfectly shredded chicken.When cooking couscous add salt and either olive oil or butter to the boiling water. This will give your couscous a nice flavor base.

What spices go with fennel?

Anything earthy pairs well with fennel. Try dill, oregano, tarragon, thyme or parsley.

What flavor does fennel add?

Fennel has a licorice or anise natural flavor. Don’t cringe though. After cooking the flavor mellows and sweetens and you will be surprised just how great it is.

Creamy shredded chicken, chopped fennel and zucchini and rice with melted cheese on a brass fork with a blurry plate of food in the background.

The Recipe for Chicken and Fennel Casserole

The recipe is attached below for easy downloading and printing.  If you test it out be sure to leave a note in the comments below. I’d love to hear what you thought. Serve your Chicken and Fennel Casserole with simple roasted carrots to complete your meal. Enjoy!

Creamy shredded chicken, chopped fennel and zucchini and rice with melted cheese and chopped parsley.

Chicken and Fennel Casserole

This casserole combines the earthy flavors of chicken, fennel, and creamy tomato sauce, creating a satisfying and wholesome dinner that will have your entire family begging for seconds.
Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 6 people

Ingredients
  

  • 1 ¼ cups brown rice
  • 2 ½ cups chicken stock
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 2 cups shredded chicken about 3 breasts
  • 2 small red onions sliced in half moons
  • 1 zucchini sliced
  • 1 fennel bulb sliced
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/3 tsp fennel seeds crushed
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp pepper
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  • Cook the rice according to the package directions substituting chicken stock for water. While the rice cooks prepare the rest of the casserole filling.
    1 ¼ cups brown rice, 2 ½ cups chicken stock
  • Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat on the stove.
    4 tbsp butter
  • Add the sliced fennel, onion, and zucchini and cook until softened. This should take about eight minutes.
    1 zucchini, 1 fennel bulb, 2 small red onions
  • Add the minced garlic and seasonings to the pan and continue cooking for one more minute.
    2 tsp minced garlic, 1/3 tsp fennel seeds crushed, 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, 1 ½ tsp salt, 3/4 tsp pepper
  • Stir in the tomato paste until melted and evenly combined.
    3 tbsp tomato paste
  • Pour the wine into the pan and bring it to a simmer. Simmer off the alcohol for 2 to 3 minutes then turn off the heat.
    1/2 cup white wine
  • Stir in the heavy cream, sour cream and shredded chicken.
    1 cup heavy cream, 2/3 cup sour cream, 2 cups shredded chicken
  • Spray and 9 x 13 baking – with cooking spray.
  • Spread the brown rice evenly across the bottom of the dish.
  • Top the rice with the chicken and veggie mixture.
  • Sprinkle top of casserole with shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.
    1 cup shredded mozzarella, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • Bake in a 400°F oven for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Notes

Make Ahead: Follow the recipe up until topping the casserole with cheese. Let the casserole come to room temperature and then top it with cheese. This will keep the cheese from melting prematurely. Cover the dish tightly and refrigerate it for later. When ready, move the casserole to the counter for about 30 minutes to let it come to room temperature. Then bake it in a 375°F oven for 20 minutes, covered with foil. The foil helps keep the moisture in so the casserole doesn’t dry out. After about 20 minutes, remove the foil and return the baking dish to the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
Keyword casserole, freezer meal, make ahead, shredded chicken

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