Cheesy Baked Pesto Chicken Pasta

Cheesy Baked Pesto Chicken Pasta

This recipe is a product of a BUNCH of cravings. It needed to be something with pasta, something very cheesy, something with a splash of green, and most of all, something deeply comforting. All of those cravings came perfectly together and formed this beauty- Cheesy Baked Pesto Chicken Pasta. The most comforting cheesy baked pasta filled with tangy pesto, rotisserie chicken, fresh spinach, loads of white cheddar cheese, topped with creamy, cool ricotta.

Ingredients for Chicken Pasta

Pesto Chicken Pasta Ingredients:

  • Short Cut Pasta- short cut pastas with grooves such as macaroni, cellentini, or rotini pasta work best to catch all of the cheesy sauce.
  • Rotisserie Chicken- shredded and de-boned. Both the light meat and dark meat will work. Add a bit of chopped up chicken skin for extra flavor.
  • White Roux- this white roux will be made out of a mixture of salted butter & all purpose flour.
  • Cream- such as whole milk or half & half. When added to the white roux and whisked over heat the mixture will become thick and create a Béchamel sauce. This will be the base of your pesto cheese sauce.
  • White Cheddar Cheese
  • Pesto- a tangy blend of crushed garlic, pine nuts, basil leaves, salty cheese such as Parmesan, coarse salt, and olive oil.
  • Fresh Spinach- for a bit of green.
  • Nutmeg- a warm, nutty spice that brings depth and balance to this baked pasta dish.
  • Ricotta Cheese- a mild, creamy, soft Italian Cheese.

Substitutions & Variations:

  • Instead of rotisserie chicken-try using a different protein such as ground sausage. Simply brown sausage in a frying pan and drain of grease on a paper towel before adding to cheese sauce.
  • Try using different cheeses– Muenster, mozzarella cheese, and shredded Italian blend all pair great with pesto.
  • Instead of jarred pesto– make your own homemade version! (See notes below)

How to Make Homemade Pesto:

  • To make homemade pesto combine 1 cup fresh basil leaves, 1 tbsp pine nuts or walnuts, and 1-2 cloves garlic in a food processor. Pulse until ingredients are minced. With food processor on low, slowly pour in 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Add 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, and pulse to combine.
Cheesy Pesto Pasta mixed in Soup Pot

Equipment Needed:

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How to Make Cheesy Pesto Chicken Pasta:

  • Cook Pasta: bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add short cut pasta to water and cook according to the directions on package. Once cooked, reserve 1/4 cup of pasta water then use a colander to drain remaining water and set pasta aside.

  • Make Cheese & Pesto Sauce: in a large pot, melt salted butter over medium-low heat. Once melted, whisk in flour until smooth and there are no lumps left. Careful not to let this mixture brown. Whisk in cream 1/2 cup at a time and continue whisking until mixture has thickened to the consistency of gravy, about 5-7minutes. Once thickened, remove pot from heat and stir in ground nutmeg, 1 cup shredded white cheddar cheese, pesto, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Stir until cheese has melted and fully combined.

  • Construct & Bake: Pre-heat oven to 375F. Mix shredded rotisserie chicken, roughly chopped spinach, and pasta into cheese mixture. If mixture is too thick, add a splash of reserved pasta water. Add salt & pepper to taste. Transfer cheesy pasta into a 9×9 baking dish and top with remaining shredded cheese. Bake 20-25 minutes until cheese has melted. Top with creamy ricotta cheese and fresh cracked pepper.

Pesto Pasta Leftovers:

  • When properly stored in an airtight container, this Chicken Pesto Pasta will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
  • To reheat, heat oven to 350F, transfer pasta to an oven-safe baking dish, cover with aluminum foil, and bake 15-20 minutes until warmed through.
Cheesy Baked Pesto Chicken Pasta

Tips & Recipe Notes:

  • For a crispy top, pop pasta dish under the broiler for a minute or so after baking. Keep an eye on it, as cheese under the broiler can quickly go from crisp to burnt.
  • Instead of jarred pesto, you can make your own homemade version! See notes above for how.

More Pasta Dinner Ideas You Will Love:

Baked Cheesy Pesto Chicken Pasta

Cheesy Baked Chicken Pesto Pasta

The most comforting Cheesy Baked Pesto Chicken Pasta filled with tangy pesto, rotisserie chicken, fresh spinach, loads of white cheddar cheese, topped with creamy, cool ricotta.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 50 mins
Total Time 1 hr
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 4

Equipment

  • Large Pot
  • Cooking Spoons
  • Colander
  • 9×9 Baking Dish

Ingredients
  

  • 1/2 lb short cut pasta such as macaroni, cellantini, or rotini
  • 2 cups rotisserie chicken de-boned and shredded
  • 3 tbsp salted butter
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1.5 cups cream whole milk or half & half
  • 1.5 cups shredded white cheddar
  • 1/4 cup pesto
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups fresh spinach roughly chopped
  • Ricotta Cheese for topping
  • Salt & Pepper (to taste)

Instructions
 

  • Cook Pasta: bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add short cut pasta to water and cook according to the directions on package. Once cooked, reserve 1/4 cup of pasta water then use a colander to drain remaining water and set pasta aside.
  • Make Cheese & Pesto Sauce: in a large pot, melt salted butter over medium-low heat. Once melted, whisk in flour until smooth and there are no lumps left. Careful not to let this mixture brown. Whisk in cream 1/2 cup at a time and continue whisking until mixture has thickened to the consistency of gravy, about 5-7minutes. Once thickened, remove pot from heat and stir in ground nutmeg, 1 cup shredded white cheddar cheese, pesto, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Stir until cheese has melted and fully combined.
  • Construct & Bake: Pre-heat oven to 375F. Mix shredded rotisserie chicken, roughly chopped spinach, and pasta into cheese mixture. If mixture is too thick, add a splash of reserved pasta water. Add salt & pepper to taste. Transfer cheesy pasta into a 9×9 baking dish and top with remaining shredded cheese. Bake 20-25 minutes until cheese has melted. Top with creamy ricotta cheese and fresh cracked pepper.

Notes

For a crispy top, pop pasta dish under the broiler for a minute or so after baking. Keep an eye on it, as cheese under the broiler can quickly go from crisp to burnt.
Instead of jarred pesto, you can make your own homemade version! See notes above for how.
Keyword beschamel, comfort food, family dinner ideas, nutmeg, pesto, rotisserie chicken, short cut pasta, white cheddar cheese

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Baked Cheesy Pesto Chicken Pasta

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