Raise your hand if you love casseroles! I’m such a fan. To me they are total comfort food and a symbol of home cooking. We may call them “bakes,” “pies” or other nicer sounding names, but a casserole is still a casserole. This recipe for a Spinach Artichoke Chicken Pasta Bake takes is really a very easy recipe. While the pasta cooks, the oven preheats and the sauce ingredients are combined. Toss it all together in a pan and 30-ish minutes later, dinner is done. Bonus: this pasta bake uses ingredients you probably keep in your fridge and cupboard anyway.
So let’s do a quick run down of the ingredients, plus you’ll find helpful tips about substitutions, etc.
For pasta bakes, reach for a tube pasta such as penne, ziti, rigatoni, or macaroni. You could certainly use bowties or shells too. Long pastas like spaghetti or fettuccine could work, but it’s best to save them for other recipes.
Whole wheat or regular pasta both work here in case you want to make a substitution. Gluten-free pastas also work — try those made from lentils or chickpeas over rice-based pastas simply because they hold up better in pasta bakes. Be sure to slightly undercook the pasta, especially if using GF pasta, or it could fall apart when mixing it with the sauce.
Spinach artichoke dip is beloved for the creamy, cheesy factor, not necessarily for the spinach. You’ll use a base of cream cheese and sour cream for this pasta bake recipe.
If you’d rather use mayo instead of the cream cheese or sour cream, totally fine. Just be sure to use at least one in conjunction with the mayo and not all mayo.
Obviously we’ve got spinach and artichokes included in the pasta bake. Go for a package of frozen spinach (bonus points if it’s microwavable) over fresh to cut down on prep time. Just pop the spinach in the microwave for a few minutes to heat it up, strain off any liquid using a fine-mesh sieve (pressing down gently to express as much as I can), and add it straight to the bowl.
Don’t feel bad serving this pasta bake without anything on the side — it has spinach in it! There’s your leafy green right there.
For artichoke hearts, use the marinated ones over the hearts packed in water, simply because of the briny flavor. An equal amount of canned (in water) or frozen artichoke hearts can be used too.
Shop the sales and stock up on bone-in, skin-on chicken to roast (or try a rotisserie chicken for extra ease). In a pinch, you can also use canned chicken breast or pre-cooked chicken from the cold case. Basically, use what you like or have on hand.
For extra flavor, use plenty of dried Italian seasoning, fresh garlic, green onions, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and Italian cheese. Green onions are nice for this casserole because you don’t want to spend the time sautéing anything or creating an extra pan to wash. The lemon helps brighten things up and cuts through some of the richness. No need to add any salt because all of the ingredients are already seasoned, but you may like a nice big pinch of freshly ground black pepper.
And when it comes to cheese for pasta bakes, go for the Italian blend. Mozzarella is great, but blends that contain asiago, fontina, provolone, parmesan, romano, and/or mozzarella have amazing flavor.
The Best Pasta Bake Topping Ever
And what could be better than buttered bread crumbs? Adding finely grated parmesan cheese! The smell of the toasting breadcrumbs while the casserole bakes is so utterly tantalizing. Drooool. Every casserole needs a buttery crunchy topping, and this one is perfection.
Serve this with a slice of crusty Italian bread. If you want to go the extra mile, roasted or sautéed zucchini is fantastic as a side dish.
Spinach Artichoke Chicken Pasta Bake
16 ounces penne pasta, cooked al dente according to package directions, reserve 1/2 to 3/4 cup pasta cooking water for sauce
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup green onions, thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups shredded Italian cheese blend
12-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained, chopped
10 oz. frozen spinach, heated and squeezed to remove excess liquid
2 cups cooked chicken, cubed or shredded
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons butter, melted, plus more for casserole dish
For serving: warm crusty bread
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly butter a 9- by 13-inch casserole dish.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine cream cheese and sour cream until creamy. Stir in green onions, lemon juice, Italian seasoning, and garlic.
3. Next, stir in Italian cheese blend, artichoke hearts, and spinach until well combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. (It may not need any salt depending on how well-seasoned the other ingredients are.) Add 1/2 cup reserved pasta water. Sauce consistency should be thick and creamy, like a vegetable dip, but not too dry. During or after cooking, the pasta may continue to soak up any excess liquid. If a thinner sauce is preferred, add the full 3/4 cup pasta water.
4. Place the pasta in baking dish. Top with the cooked chicken. Spoon the spinach-artichoke mixture over the top and gently stir being careful not to break up the pasta.
5. In a small bowl, combine panko, parmesan, and melted butter. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the pasta. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until bubbly throughout and bread crumbs are golden. If crumbs are browning too quickly, top with aluminum foil. Serve immediately with a slice of crusty Italian bread.