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. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever ordered a casserole at a restaurant. : ) Lindsey told me she had a new 30-minute casserole recipe I would love, and she was right. This is right up my alley.
Here’s what Lindsey says:
Casseroles never seem to go out of style. I’ll be the first to admit that I love them, I make them, and I’m not going to stop. We may call them “bakes,” “pies” or other nicer sounding names, but a casserole is still a casserole. At my house, casseroles are usually made with pasta because there have been years, yes – years, when that’s all one of my children would eat. I know I’m not the first to come up with a spinach artichoke dip inspired casserole and I won’t be the last either. But this is a chicken pasta bake I could eat over and over again and never be tired of it. And I may as well say I’m a die-hard fan of spinach artichoke dip as well. 😉
I’ve stopped pretending like I plan out our meals and menus anymore. Often I’m just pulling together whatever I can find and creating something I hope will be edible. I keep ingredients on hand that I know most of my family likes so it’s easy for me to pull something together quickly. This 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. This pasta bake uses ingredients I typically keep in my fridge and cupboard anyway.
So let’s do a quick run down of the ingredients, plus I’ve included some helpful tips about substitutions, etc.
For pasta bakes, I typically 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 I 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. I recommend 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, I’m sure, for the creamy, cheesy factor, not necessarily for the spinach. Let’s be honest about this. I use a base of cream cheese and sour cream for this pasta bake recipe.
Mayo is not something I typically enjoy — I’m not judging anyone who does, I assure you. But hot mayo…I shudder. 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. I go for a package of frozen spinach (bonus points if it’s microwavable) over fresh to cut down on prep time. I 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 adding it straight to the bowl.
I also don’t feel bad serving this pasta bake without anything on the side. I mean, it has spinach in it! There’s your leafy green right there. Am I the only one who forgets to cook the vegetables until we’re already sitting down to eat? Ugh. Every time! So it’s nice when you can have your veggies/leafy greens stirred right in.
Artichoke hearts are one of my very favorite ingredients ever. I could figure out a way to add them to just about any recipe. Here I call for a jar of marinated artichoke hearts. I prefer to use the marinated ones over the hearts packed in water simply because I love the briny flavor. An equal amount of canned (in water) or frozen artichoke hearts can be used too.
I buy a lot of chicken and cook it ahead to use throughout the week’s dinners. You can’t beat the $5 rotisserie chickens at Costco when it comes to price and convenience. I also shop the sales and stock up on bone-in, skin-on chicken to roast myself. In a pinch, I’ll 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, I 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 I 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. I don’t add any salt because all of the ingredients I add are already seasoned, but I do like a nice big pinch of freshly ground black pepper.
And when it comes to cheese for pasta bakes, I’m always a fan of 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
I’m always one to gild the lily, 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, IMHO.
I 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.