Take it easy on yourself for dinner with Baked Chicken Pesto Pasta! With simple ingredients you can easily find at the grocery store, this flavorful baked pasta dish has become one of our family's favorite meals.
We are in full-on hibernation mode here and as such, easy pasta meals are my jam these days! It's like a big bowl of comfort! Plus a meal like this can be eaten on the couch while watching Lego Masters, which is just pure family fun.
If you have never put basil pesto on pasta, you need to try this! Just a small container of pesto packs a bright flavor punch! When I say it's delicious, I'm not kidding. The last time I made this my daughter scarfed down four bowls!
I can hardly blame her. I mean... hello, three kinds of cheese! Hey, bright pops of tomato! Looking at you, flavorful pesto! There's so much to love!
Did I mention three cheeses? Oh, right.
Are you cooking from your pantry a lot lately? While you may not think of this as a typical pantry meal, for me it certainly is! I often have a container of pesto hanging in the fridge for easy pasta dishes like this, adding flavor to a grilled cheese or sandwich, or even for making pesto pizza!
Even with all the grocery shortages lately, I've had no issues finding these ingredients where I live. When people stock up, apparently ricotta, pesto, and fresh mozzarella are not on the list and I'm ok with that! Let's keep it our little secret!
Here's everything you need for this dish:
- Gluten-free Pasta (or regular, if not GF): I used Barilla gluten-free penne. Penne, rotini, or farfalle are probably the best pasta shapes for this dish. Just use your favorite brand/type of pasta.
- Store-bought refrigerated pesto: I regularly use the Giovanni Rana brand. It is in the refrigerated section of the store by the refrigerated pasta, for me, that is by the cheeses. It doesn't specifically state gluten-free on the label though there are no gluten ingredients. Please check the label at the time of purchase. If by some miracle you have homemade pesto, then use that!
- Chicken breast: Chicken is a great protein to use in this dish because the flavor is not overpowering.
- Cherry tomatoes: They add bright, juicy pops of flavor! I love getting a tomato in every bite!
- Ricotta: This should be pretty easy to find. Look in the dairy section near the cottage cheese.
- Fresh Mozzarella Pearls: I like the pearls because you don't have to dice them up, they're already small! The fresh mozzarella is usually in the specialty cheese case. If you can't find the pearl size, any ball of fresh mozzarella cheese is fine, just dice it into 1-inch cubes. You can also use pre-shredded mozzarella if you prefer.
- Parmesan: I like to use freshly grated parmesan, not the stuff in the green can.
Making the Pasta
- Step 1: Cook the noodles a little less than the package directions state, save a splash of the water.
- Step 2: Sauté the diced chicken. When you put it in the pan, leave it alone for a couple of minutes! Let it get brown! Once it's cooked, set that aside.
- Step 3: Stir together the pesto and ricotta cheese. (This mixture right here is delicious!)
- Step 4: Toss the ricotta pesto with the pasta, mozzarella, tomatoes, and chicken. (Arguably, you should use a bigger bowl than I did... ?)
- Step 5: Add a splash of the reserved pasta water as needed to get the mixture to a saucy consistency. Don't use too much water though. A splash or two should be plenty!
- Step 6: Pour the mixture into a casserole dish and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
- Step 7: Bake!
- Don't over-brown the casserole. I've found gluten-free noodles get way to crunchy and become hard to eat if you do! Cover with foil if it's getting too brown on top before it's hot in the center.
- If you want to make this ahead, keep it refrigerated. You can make it up to one day in advance. When you're ready to bake, remove the dish from the refrigerator while you heat up the oven. It will need more time to cook if the casserole is still cold when it goes into the oven, so plan for that.
- While it's best fresh, the leftovers do heat up ok.
This baked pesto pasta has made its way into our regular dinner recipe rotation and rightfully so! It's quick and easy to put together, full of flavor, and I like the change-up from our normal routine of spaghetti with baked chicken meatballs.
Baked Chicken Pesto Pasta
- 12 oz Gluten-free pasta or regular, if not GF
- 1 lb Chicken breast, diced
- 7 oz Store-bought refrigerated pesto
- 1 cup Ricotta cheese
- 1 pint Cherry tomatoes, halved
- 8 oz Fresh mozzarella pearls
- ¼ cup Parmesan cheese
- Boil water and cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than package instructions. Save ½ cup of the cooking water. Drain the pasta and set aside. Do the remaining steps while the pasta is cooking.
- Heat a large pan over med-high heat and drizzle in 1-2 T olive oil. When the pan is hot, add the diced chicken and season with some salt and pepper. Sauté the chicken until browned and cooked through. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, stir together the pesto and ricotta cheese. (You can also do this in the large pot you cooked the pasta in to save a dish.)
- Add the cooked pasta, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and chicken in with the pesto mixture and toss to coat everything evenly.
- If the pasta looks dry, add a splash (not all) of the reserved pasta water as needed to get the mixture to a more saucy consistency. (It should not be swimming in the sauce! A splash or two of water is plenty!)
- Pour the mixture into a greased casserole dish and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
- Bake at 350°F 30-35 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Don't over-brown.
- Don't over-brown. Gluten-free noodles get way to crunchy and become hard to eat if you do! Cover with foil if the top is getting too brown before it's hot in the center.
- If you want to make this ahead, keep it refrigerated. Make it up to one day in advance.
- When you're ready to bake, remove the dish from the refrigerator while you heat up the oven. It will need more time to cook if the casserole is still cold when it goes into the oven.
- While it's best fresh, the leftovers do heat up ok.
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