For your next dinner, give this delicious Tuscan chicken pasta a try. Enjoy seared pieces of lean white meat in a creamy sauce with sweet tomatoes and fresh spinach.
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I created a family-style meal to celebrate the flavors of Tuscany while adding protein to make it heartier. Ripe cherry tomatoes cook until they burst, creating a luxurious garlic cream sauce to coat with the corkscrew-shaped pasta. Sun-dried tomatoes provide a concentrated sweetness to each bite.
Italian loves using local, garden-fresh ingredients, so leafy spinach is wilted and stirred in. To finish, a s simple garnishing of salty parmesan cheese and fresh basil is all you need. Take a trip to Italy without leaving your kitchen! That’s Amore! If you love this recipe, you might want to try my stuffed Tuscan chicken.
I use short-cut, tubular, spiral-shaped pasta called cavatappi. The double elbow shape and linear grooves on the surface help the sauce cling on. You can use other types of pasta, like gemelli, rigatoni, or penne, as I do for my chicken spinach pasta.
Cook the pasta in salted water to be well seasoned throughout. It should be al dente, with some slight resistance, as it will continue to cook when mixed with the hot cream sauce. Reserve some starchy water to help dilute and flavor the sauce later.
Cook the chicken
Use boneless skinless chicken breast, and cut them into 1-inch pieces. The lean meat sears well and cooks quickly. The large chunks prevent them from drying out. I season with salt and pepper, then cook the chicken in extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat.
Don’t be tempted to move the pieces! Let them sit to create a golden brown crust on each side. The process only takes about 3 minutes, so don’t overcook.
Make the tomato cream sauce
You don’t need fancy ingredients to make a delicious and fresh sauce. Use the same pan used to sear the chicken breast. The fond on the bottom of the skillet adds an intense savory flavor. The minced garlic and dried Italian seasoning bloom in hot olive oil, releasing more fat-soluble flavors and more robust aromas into the dish.
The halved cherry tomatoes saute until they soften. You’ll notice that their juice will just begin to release. You don’t want to overcook them where they shrivel up, and all of the moisture evaporates. Now just stir in the heavy cream and chicken stock. The goal is to reduce the sauce so it thickens to coat the back of a spoon.
Cook the spinach
It might seem like three cups of spinach is a lot, but these leafy greens are over 90% water. They will wilt down and release their moisture as they hit the hot sauce. The flavor is mild but adds a pleasant taste. I also stir in sundried tomatoes to add a nice chewy texture and concentrated fruity sweetness.
Add the cheese
Parmesan is a hard grating cheese. When the heat is turned off, it’s best to melt it into the sauce to dissolve the salt. If you prefer a variety made in Italy, look at other types of cheese like cow’s milk Parmigiano Reggiano or a more pungent Pecorino Romano made with sheep’s milk.
After adding the cheese, it’s a good time to stir in some reserved starchy pasta water. I recommend adding about 1 tablespoon at a time, tasting the cream sauce, and adjusting the consistency as desired.
Toss the pasta
Right before serving, add cavatappi pasta and seared chicken to the pan. Mix it all, reheating if needed. I like to garnish with fresh basil, but if you have chopped oregano or parsley, they would be lovely additions to add a pop of green and herbaceous notes.
Serve this with
It’s made from minced garlic, Italian seasonings, or fresh herbs like oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, and fresh tomatoes. The ingredients are sauteed in extra-virgin olive oil until the tomatoes are tender and burst into a sauce. Heavy cream adds a rich consistency.
Yes! You can dice other tomato varieties like Roma into smaller pieces, about ½-inch in size. The key is to use very ripe tomatoes so that the sauce has a balanced sweet, acidic, and fruit flavor.
Use whipping cream instead of heavy whipping cream. It’s lower in fat, about 30 to 36% milkfat. You can also increase the chicken broth or stock to 1 cup. Reduce the heavy cream to 1 cup. It will take longer to reduce the sauce, but the consistency will not be as rich.
Can I use canned tomatoes for the sauce?
Canned tomatoes are a convenient shelf product you can use to make the cream sauce. To preserve some fresh chunks of tomato, use whole peeled or diced. You can break down whole tomatoes to the desired size. The only downside is that producers use calcium chloride to retain their shape and keep them firm. This is not an issue if you like more significant pieces of tomato in the sauce. Use the same amount of canned product as fresh, but drain the juices or sauce from the can.
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Tuscan Chicken Pasta
- 2 quarts water
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt, divided
- 8 ounces dried cavatappi
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast
- ¾ teaspoon black pepper, divided
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 ½ cup heavy whipping cream
- ½ cup unsalted chicken stock, or broth
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 3 cups baby spinach, packed
- ¼ cup sundried tomatoes
- 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 water 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 – Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chicken to 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 over low heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, minced garlic, and Italian seasoning. Saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Cook the tomatoes – Add the cherry tomatoes, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Turn the heat to medium, stir and cook, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Cook until the tomatoes soften and start to release their juices, about 4 to 5 minutes.
- Reduce the Cream – Stir in the heavy cream and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Frequently scrape the pan's sides and bottom to ensure the cream does not curdle. Reduce the sauce until it starts thickening and lightly coats the back of a spoon, about 5 to 6 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. 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.
- Toss to Combine – Add the pasta and chicken to the sauce, gently stirring to combine.
- To Serve – Serve garnished with sliced basil.
- Recipe Yield: About 10 cups
- Serving Size: About 1 ¼ 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 1/3 cup, and drain well. Stir into the sauce with the sundried tomatoes.
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