Can’t decide what to make for dinner? How about chicken and broccoli pasta with a delicious lemon cream sauce. This recipe is quick and easy, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have leftovers to enjoy again.
Table of Contents
Similar to my chicken spinach pasta, I make this chicken and broccoli pasta to pack protein and vegetables into one hearty bowl. The lean meat is quickly seared until golden brown and juicy. Then a creamy sauce is made in the same pan. You’ll be surprised that it only takes a few minutes to prepare each component.
Spiral rotini pasta is perfect for coating the velvety sauce. Add the broccoli florets right into the same pot blanch to save a little time and dishes. A few minutes for the noodles to be al dente, just add the vegetables. They cook quickly! Toss everything together in the citrusy alfredo sauce, and you’ve got a delicious meal.
I use short-cut spiral pasta called rotini, which has a large surface area for the cream sauce to coat. If desired, you can use other types of pasta like penne, elbows, or shells. Just make sure to use 8 ounces of dried pasta. The volume can vary depending on how small or big the shape is.
Cook the pasta
I boil the noodles in salted water to prevent them from tasting bland. The broccoli is going to cook for a few minutes with the pasta. Therefore, make sure that it’s not yet al dente when adding in the vegetables. While they cook, I like to also prepare the chicken and sauce, so all of the components are synchronized.
Cook the broccoli
Cut the head of broccoli into smaller florets, about 1-inch pieces. This size will give distinguishable bites without turning into mush while quickly tenderizing in the boiling water.
When the pasta is a few minutes from being done, blanch it until it turns bright green and crisp-tender, about 2 to 3 minutes. Make sure to keep some of the starchy pasta water to add to the sauce.
Cook the chicken
Use boneless, skinless chicken breast and cut them into 1-inch pieces for quicker cooking. I like to have hearty bites in the dish. Season with salt and pepper, then sear in olive oil. Ensure that the chicken is in a single layer to allow for a golden crust to develop on both sides.
The trick is not to move the meat. Let the heat do its magic to change the flavor and color. It only takes about 3 minutes to cook each side.
Make the sauce
My creamy alfredo sauce recipe inspired this sauce. However, I also add in some chicken stock to make it lighter in consistency. The result is still a luxurious sauce with a more robust savory chicken flavor. Once the chicken is removed from the pan, the flavorful fond on the bottom is incorporated into the sauce.
Saute minced garlic in fresh olive oil, and stir in the stock and heavy cream. I like to use a dairy product with at least 36% milkfat to add body and richness without the need of an additional thickening agent. The sauce reduces until it just clings to a spoon, about 5 to 6 minutes. You can always thin it out with seasoned pasta water if needed.
Add the cheese and citrus
Once the sauce thickens, stir in aged parmesan cheese. To enhance the dish’s flavor, I also add in lemon zest and lemon juice. Don’t worry. It’s not too tangy or overpowering. The citric acid in the fruit adds depth and heightens the savory taste. It also cuts the heaviness of the milkfat from the cream.
Toss the pasta
Add the rotini and seared chicken to the lemon cream sauce to finish the dish. Gently mix it all until completely coated. If you’d like to add herbs to garnish the dish, chop up parsley, basil, and chives, or sprinkle in dried Italian seasoning right before serving.
Serve this with
Yes, however, you will need to add a thickening agent like a flour roux or cornstarch slurry. If you try to reduce milk that is low in fat and high in protein, it will curdle.
Sear the chicken breast pieces in hot oil before adding them to the pasta. The pieces should be cooked throughout. You could also shred or chop up leftover chicken to add to the dish.
You can add frozen broccoli directly to the boiling pasta water. You may need an extra minute or two to melt the ice. Use the same amount of frozen as fresh florets.
Does lemon juice make cream curdle in the pasta sauce?
Heavy whipping cream is at least 36% milkfat, which makes for a higher ratio of fat to casein globular proteins that coagulate in a high amount of acid. The milkfat makes it harder for the proteins to form curds, giving the undesirable grainy texture and a much smoother cream sauce for the pasta. This recipe only adds 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, so the risk of curdling is also lower.
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Chicken and Broccoli Pasta
- 3 quarts water
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt, divided
- 8 ounces dried rotini, 2 ½ cups
- 3 cups broccoli florets, 1” pieces
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast
- ¾ teaspoon black pepper, divided
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 ½ cup heavy whipping cream
- ½ cup unsalted chicken stock, or broth
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Cook the Pasta and Broccoli – In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Add 1 ½ teaspoon salt, and stir to dissolve. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes, or according to the manufacturer's directions. A few minutes before the pasta is ready, add the broccoli florets. Cook until bright green and tender, about 2 to 3 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of starchy water to make the cream sauce. Drain the pasta and broccoli.
- Prepare the Chicken – Cut the chicken breast into about 1-inch cubes—season with 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
- Cook the Chicken – Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chicken in a single layer, and cook without moving until the surface is golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a clean bowl.
- Saute the Garlic – Heat the same skillet used to cook the chicken and adust to low heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and minced garlic, and saute until fragrant, 30 seconds.
- Reduce the Cream – Stir in the heavy cream, chicken stock, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Frequently scrape the sides and bottom of the pan to ensure the cream does not curdle. Reduce the sauce until it just starts to thicken and lightly coats the back of a spoon, about 5 to 6 minutes.
- Finish the Sauce – Turn off the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese, lemon zest, and lemon juice. If the sauce is too thick, add the reserved pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you reach the desired consistency—season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Combine and Stir – Add the pasta, broccoli, and chicken to the sauce, gently stirring to combine.
- To Serve – Serve the meal garnished with chopped parsley.
- Recipe Yield: About 8 cups
- Serving Size: About 1 ⅓ cup
- Storing: Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
- Reheating: Reheat in a microwave on the high setting in 30-second increments until hot, stirring in between.
- Make it Gluten-Free: Substitute gluten-free pasta.
- Using Frozen Broccoli: Defrost 3 cups of frozen broccoli. Reheat in the pasta water until hot and tender but not mushy.
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