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This Cheesy Chicken Penne is a rich and creamy pasta dish filled garlic, chicken, and tons of vegetables like asparagus, sun dried tomatoes, and red bell peppers. It’s the ultimate comfort food and makes a great freezer meal too.
My family loves this Cheesy Chicken Penne. It is so forgiving and an easy way to use up leftovers (chicken and veggies). It also freezes really well. As written, this recipe would make a 9×13 pan. However, that is just way too much food for my family of 4, so I put it in 2 8×8 pans. I cook one and I freeze one. The best part is that you can bake the frozen one without thawing it.
We’ve tried a lot of vegetable combinations and all have been really dang good. About the only thing we haven’t tried is a mushroom version because most of us aren’t huge mushroom fans (though friends that have made it said it’s delish). However, we’ve done….sun-dried tomato only, sun-dried tomato and asparagus, red bell pepper and asparagus. All were wonderful.
Ingredient notes and substitutions:
- penne pasta
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut in fajita-sized strips (or use leftover cooked chicken)
- vegetables (sliced mushrooms, red pepper strips, asparagus tips, etc)
- garlic cloves
- whole milk
- garlic powder
- shredded Italian blend cheese
- freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- sliced oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
- coarse Kosher salt and black pepper
Tips for Making Cheesy Chicken Penne
This recipe takes a little more time than most of my dinner recipes, but it’s totally worth it. Here are some tips to make the perfect chicken and pasta dinner.
- Cook the pasta 2-3 minutes shy of al dente. Look on the package and cook for less time than the box recommends. The pasta will be in the oven for about 30 minutes and will finish cooking there. If you fully cook the pasta before baking it will get mushy in the oven.
- Season with salt and pepper (and garlic) throughout the cooking process to make sure you it’s seasoned how you like it. Just go easy and taste and season as you go.
- Drain pasta well before adding to the cheese mixture.
- Use leftover chicken from earlier in the week to save time. If I know I’m making this, I’ll make several extra chicken breasts and save them for this one (they should last 5 days or so in the fridge and still be good for this). I prefer sliced chicken, but you can shred the chicken if you prefer it mixed in fully.
- Chop vegetables earlier in the week when prepping other meals. Or save leftover cooked vegetables to add (then you can skip the cooking the vegetable step).
How to Freeze Cheesy Chicken Penne
This Cheesy Chicken Penne is a perfect freezer meal. Make this whole recipe for a crowd or divide it into two pans…bake one and freeze one.
To freeze, prepare until baking instructions. Cover pan well with plastic wrap and foil. Freeze for up to 3 months. Bake straight from the freezer for about 1 1/2 hours or thaw it first and the cooking time will only be about 25-40 minutes.
- 1 pound penne pasta
- 1 teaspoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut in fajita-sized strips (or use leftover cooked chicken)
- 1 1/2 cups veggies (sliced mushrooms, red pepper strips, asparagus tips, etc)
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
- 6 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 6 cups whole milk
- 2 tsps garlic powder
- 2 cups shredded Italian blend cheese
- 2 cups freshly grated Parmesan
- 1 cup sliced oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
- coarse Kosher salt and black pepper
Preheat oven to 400F. Spray two shallow 2-quart baking dishes with non-stick cooking spray (use a disposable foil pan for freezing). In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta 3 minutes short of al dente; drain pasta and set aside. The pasta will finish cooking in the oven.
While pasta is boiling, heat oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Season chicken with salt and pepper; cook until opaque throughout, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Remove chicken from pan. While pan is still hot, toss the vegetables (not the tomatoes) in and saute until tender (3-4 minutes). Use a little extra olive oil if needed.
In a large, heavy pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and chopped fresh garlic; cook, stirring for 1 minute. While stirring constantly, gradually add milk; bring to a simmer. Keep stirring frequently as sauce thickens, about 1 minute more. Add garlic powder. Taste! Adjust seasonings (salt, pepper, garlic) here since this is the main flavor of the dish. Gradually stir in Italian blend cheese and 1 1/2 cups Parmesan. Taste again!
Add sauteed vegetables and sun dried tomatoes. Gently stir to combine. Add chicken and pasta to pot. Divide pasta mixture between baking the two dishes. Top with remaining Parmesan.
Bake, uncovered, until top is golden and bubbling, about 25 minutes. I like to turn the broiler on during the last 5 minutes or so to get that yummy bubbly cheesy crust that you’d get at a restaurant (watch it closely though…it will burn fast). Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Freezer instructions:To freeze, prepare until baking instructions. Cover pan well with plastic wrap and foil. Freeze for up to 3 months.
To bake from frozen, preheat oven to 400F. Remove foil and plastic from pan. Place foil back on pan and bake for about 1 1/2 hours. Remove foil. Return pan to oven and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until mixture is hot and bubbly throughout. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
If thawed, bake according to recipe instructions.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 10 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 560Total Fat: 32gSaturated Fat: 16gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 107mgSodium: 842mgCarbohydrates: 37gFiber: 3gSugar: 9gProtein: 32g
This nutritional information is an estimate may vary, depending on brand and type of ingredients used. It is not intended to replace the advice of a licensed dietician or physician.
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originally published 12/3/2010, updated 5/12/2020