Fall is the season for comfort foods. I have professed my love for baked ziti before, but I have to say, it’s the perfect comfort food—it’s cheesy goodness calls to me. There are so many possibilities and I’m thrilled to share another of my favorite twists on this classic Italian dish.
The end of summer left me with a bounty of basil, and like any “good” Italian, I made pesto. With baked ziti on my brain, as usual, I decided to incorporate a cheesy pesto sauce into the dish. It’s creamy, cheesy and so flavorful. Topped with red sauce and more cheesy goodness it’s enough to put me over the top. Chicken really rounds the baked pasta dish out and adds a dimension of texture.
The whole family is crazy for this baked pasta, and my two-and-a-half-year-old “mini me” is an official taste tester. The last time I made it I let her taste it by giving her a forkful. She proceeded to go get her little helper stool and pulled it up to the counter. She grabbed the fork I had been using, helped herself, then looked over at me and said “Mommy, it’s very tasty.” I still can’t get over it—with an endorsement like that, I’m positive you’re going to love it too! Clocking in at 30 minutes from prep to plate, I couldn’t ask for much more!
With love from our Simple Kitchen to yours!
Cheesy Pesto and Chicken Pasta Bake in 30 Minutes
- 1 lb dried ziti or penne pasta
- 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
- ¼ cup flour
- 3 cup milk
- 6-8 oz pesto (If using store bought pesto, start with 4 oz and add a little at a time, to taste)
- 8 oz shredded Italian cheese blend (mozzarella, start with 4 oz and add a little at a time, to taste) provolone, romano, fontina, asiago, and parmesan)
- 12 oz precooked chicken, diced
- 8 oz tomato sauce (or favorite pasta sauce)
- 4 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 5 oz fresh Parmesan cheese, start with 4 oz and add a little at a time, to taste) provolone, romano, fontina, asiago, and parmesan) grated, divided
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add a handful of salt. Cook pasta to al dente; meaning it still has a little bite to it. Al dente pasta absorbs sauce better while it cooks and this is going into the oven.
Meanwhile, in a medium sauce pan (about 4 quarts) over medium heat, melt butter, add flour and whisk for 2 to 3 minutes to cook out the "flour-y" taste. Add milk whisk to combine. Add pesto and whisk together. Once combined add Italian cheese and ½ of Parmesan cheese. Stir with a spoon to combine. Allow to simmer until pasta is cooked.
Add chicken to the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and pour pesto cheese sauce over top. Add pasta. Stir to combine and mix well. Smooth pasta with a spoon and pour tomato sauce over top. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese and remaining parmesan cheese on the top.
Place baking dish on a cookie sheet and bake for 6-8 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve and enjoy!