Pasta. Pesto. Cheese. Chicken. Mushrooms. Spinach. This Chicken Pesto Pasta Bake has all those yummy ingredients combined for one creamy, gooey, big bite of comfort!
And…for all you cooks out there wondering what to do with some leftover turkey you’re probably going to have later this week, here’s an alternative to turkey soup! Just replace the chicken with chunks of leftover turkey (obviously, no need to cook the turkey first so skip that step).
When I want to throw something together quickly for dinner for me and my husband, I’ll frequently saute up some cut up chicken tenders or shrimp with some mushrooms and spinach. Then toss in some of my favorite Pesto (I always have small containers of it in my freezer to use throughout the year). Last week it was really cold outside and I wanted to make a casserole (cold weather does that to me) so I came up with this recipe instead. It’s similar to a mac and cheese recipe, with added ingredients. For the cheese sauce I used a combination of parmesan and Monterey jack cheeses instead of cheddar. Then added the best part…PESTO! I just love that stuff so much. You can use store-bought, but seriously, check out my homemade version, it’s the best!
To make it “healthy” I added mushrooms and spinach like I do with my quick sauté version. I used the smaller size bag of spinach from the grocery store, but think the bigger size might have been better and add even more spinach to the mix. So if you want more spinach, add more! For the pasta I used cavatappi because it’s what I had on hand and I like the hearty shape. You could use penne or rigatoni if you want. Or heck, even elbow or shells! It doesn’t matter. Just make sure to cook it al dente so it doesn’t get mushy in the oven.
- 1 lb. tube shaped pasta (I used cavatappi - could also use penne, rigatoni, etc.)
- Olive Oil
- 8 chicken tenders, sliced in strips
- salt & pepper
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 8oz. box mushrooms
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 bag spinach
- 1 C. pesto
- 3 Tbls. flour
- 3 Tbls. butter
- 3½ C milk
- 2 C. shredded cheese (I used a combination of parmesan, monterey jack - see note)
- Opt: ½ C. shredded mozzarella cheese
- Preheat oven to 350ºF
- Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain. Return to pan and toss with a bit of olive oil to keep pasta from sticking together.
- While pasta is cooking, slice chicken tenders into strips about ¼-1/2" thick. Season pieces with salt and pepper.
- In large skillet, heat a little olive oil to coat bottom of pan. Add chicken strips and sauté until no longer pink. Remove chicken from skillet and set aside.
- Add onions, mushrooms and garlic to pan (add a little more olive oil if needed). Saute until onions and mushrooms are tender being careful not to burn the garlic.
- Add spinach and toss to combine. Cook until wilted. Add chicken back to pan and stir to combine. Add chicken mixture to pasta and toss to combine.
- In saucepan, heat butter over medium heat until melted. Add flour. Whisk and continue to cook. about a minute. Slowly add milk, while continuing to whisk. Cook until sauce has thickened. Remove from heat and stir in 2 cups cheese and pesto.
- Add sauce to pasta/chicken mixture and toss well to combine.
- If you want extra cheesiness, layer half of pasta mixture in greased casserole dish. Sprinkle ¼ c. shredded mozzarella cheese over top. Add remaining pasta/chicken mixture. Top with remaining mozzarella. I also added a little more parmesan on top. You can omit this cheese layer if you want but why?
- Bake until heated through and lightly golden on top, about 20-25 minutes.