Delicious chicken spinach pasta with golden brown pieces of juicy, lean meat tossed in a creamy parmesan cheese sauce. A hearty Italian meal that’s easy to prepare!
Table of Contents
A big pot of this creamy chicken spinach pasta is a quick and easy meal for those busy weeknights. Nothing is more comforting than a bowl of saucy noodles. I add tender chicken pieces and plenty of spinach to make each serving more filling.
To make this fast meal, I synchronize the cooking of the chicken and sauce. The timing will be perfect for bringing all components together. My tried-and-true alfredo sauce inspired the creamy sauce in this recipe. And the delicate leafy greens and sundried tomatoes for sweetness complement the savory pasta.
“This was very good! I will definitely make it again.”—Melissa
- Pasta: I use short-cut, tubular penne pasta because it has tiny grooves on the surface, helping the sauce coat the top and disperse inside. If desired, you can use other types of pasta like cavatappi, small shells, or elbows.
- Chicken: Use lean, boneless, skinless chicken breast. The pieces cook very quickly in the hot pan.
- Spinach: Use fresh baby spinach. The leaves are packed with moisture, willing down very quickly.
- Tomatoes: Use sun-dried tomatoes to add a sweet and savory flavor with a chewy texture.
- Sauce: Use heavy whipping cream to make a rich and creamy sauce. Parmesan, garlic, and nutmeg add a savory flavor dimension.
See the recipe card below for all ingredients and measurements (US and metric).
Cook the pasta
Step 1: Cook the pasta in salted boiling water to season it throughout. The target texture should be al dente and tender with slight resistance. It will cook further when combined with the hot sauce. Save that starchy pasta water to add to the sauce!
Season the meat
Step 2: Cut the breasts into 1-inch bite-size pieces. They cook quicker and won’t dry out from prolonged exposure to the pan. I keep the seasoning simple with salt and pepper.
Cook the chicken
Step 3: Cook the chicken in olive oil over medium heat to sear the surface. Arrange the pieces in a single layer, and don’t move them! Let the crust form. It will take about 3 minutes on each side. The browning adds a delicious flavor to the exterior of the chicken.
Saute the garlic
Step 4: After searing the chicken, some flavorful golden fond will be at the bottom of the pan. Don’t waste it! I like to incorporate it into the parmesan cream sauce. Add the garlic and some fresh olive oil, then saute until fragrant.
Reduce the cream
Step 5: Stir in heavy whipping cream with at least 36% milk fat. When the cream reduces, it creates a rich and velvety texture without the need for thickening agents like flour or cornstarch. This process only takes about 3 minutes. It should just start to cling to a spoon.
Cook the spinach
Step 6: Fresh spinach is very tender and mild in flavor. The leaves contain over 90% water, making them wilt down quickly in the hot cream sauce. Add in the sundried tomatoes at the same time. The fruit’s natural sugars are concentrated, which provides a hint of sweetness to the dish.
Finish the sauce
Step 7: Gently melt the cheese into the sauce with the heat off. I also add nutmeg for warm, spiced notes. If the sauce reduces too much, add the salty and starchy pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to thin it out. I typically add about ¼ cup of it.
Combine the ingredients
Step 8: To finish, add the cooked pasta and seared chicken to the cream sauce. Mix it all to coat the ingredients thoroughly.
Step 9: I like to garnish with fresh herbs like basil, parsley, or oregano to add Italian seasoning right before serving.
This chicken pasta recipe is a family favorite I can have ready in about 30 minutes! Plus, it’s easy to add veggies to my kid’s diet without complaints! This is a great meal the next day if you have leftovers.
Now that you know how to make chicken spinach pasta like a pro, feel free to switch up the flavor! Try these delicious options:
- Chicken: If you prefer dark meat, use chicken thighs. If you have leftover shredded chicken or diced, add that in right before serving to warm up in the sauce.
- Pasta: Stick to short-cut pasta to trap the rich sauce. Shells, rigatoni, cavatappi, or even farfalle work well with the spinach chicken pasta. There are many gluten-free options available if needed for dietary restrictions.
- Greens: Instead of spinach, try kale or Swiss chard.
- Tomatoes: Add freshly diced tomatoes instead of sun-dried for a juicy texture.
- Wine: Deglaze the fond on the bottom of the pan with some dry white wine like chardonnay, pinot grigio, or sauvignon blanc. Add a blush wine for a pink hue to the sauce. The fermented flavor adds depth; use ¼ to ½ cup and reduce until almost dry.
Serve this with
Frequently asked questions
Yes, boneless dark meat can be used instead of white meat. Be sure to trim any excess fat so it doesn’t make the dish too greasy.
Any short-cut pasta can be used. Elbows, shells, cavatappi, fusilli, rotini, or farfalle work well. Long strands work, but make sure it’s about 8 ounces.
Defrosted frozen chopped spinach can be used instead of fresh baby spinach. Use 3 ounces, about ⅓ cup in the recipe.
Using whipping cream, half-and-half, or whole milk
Heavy whipping cream contains at least 36% milkfat. Whipping cream containing 30 to 36% is a good substitute. It will just be slightly lighter in consistency. Half-and-half is a diluted cream with milk, between 10.5 to 18% fat, while whole milk is only 3.5% fat. Both would give a very light sauce but have a higher risk of curdling. You must add a thickening agent like a roux or cornstarch to thicken the sauce.
Chicken Spinach Pasta
- 2 quarts water
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt, divided
- 8 ounces dried penne , 2 ½ cups
- 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
- 3 cups baby spinach, packed
- ¼ cup sundried tomatoes
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon sliced basil
- Cook the Pasta – In a large pot, bring the 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. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the starchy liquid to make the cream sauce.
- Prepare the Chicken – Cut the chicken breast into about 1-inch cubes. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
- Cook the Chicken – Set 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 – Using the same skillet to cook the chicken, adjust the burner 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, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Stir to combine. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Frequently scrape the sides and bottom of the pan to ensure it does not curdle. Reduce the sauce until it just starts to thicken and lightly coats the back of a spoon, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Cook the Spinach – Stir in the spinach and sundried tomatoes. Cook until the spinach is wilted, about 1 minute.
- Finish the Sauce – Turn off the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese and nutmeg. If the sauce is too thick, add some reserved pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you reach the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Toss the Pasta – Add the pasta and chicken to the sauce, and stir to combine.
- To Serve – Garnish with sliced basil and serve warm.
- Recipe Yield: About 8 cups
- Serving Size: About 1 ⅓ cups
- 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 Spinach: Defrost 3 ounces of frozen chopped spinach, about ⅓ cup, and drain well. Stir it into the sauce with the sundried tomatoes.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
Tried this recipe?
Tag me on Instagram. I'd love to see how it turns out!