This pesto chicken bake is a delicious casserole made with pasta, chicken breast, pesto sauce, broccoli, and mozzarella cheese. Thanks to pesto, the sauce is really packed with flavor, it’s also really quick to make and kid-friendly!
To make this delicious recipe you’ll need:
- Chicken breast seasoned with garlic powder and thyme. You can also use your other favorite seasoning, like Italian seasoning and fresh garlic.
- Pasta – you can use any kind of medium-sized pasta. I used fusilli, but penne would also work.
- Broccoli – you can also add other vegetables, like zucchini, green beans, corn, or carrots.
- Pesto sauce – you can use any type of pesto for this recipe. I have recipes for basil pesto, ramp (wild garlic) pesto, parsley pesto, and celery leaf pesto on my website. You can use any of these recipes. Other types of pesto, like sun-dried tomato pesto, would also work well. I combined pesto with milk and cream for a light and creamy sauce. Flour is used to thicken the sauce.
- Mozzarella cheese – to sprinkle on top of the casserole. You can also add more cheese to the casserole itself to make it even more cheesy. You could also use other cheese but I think that the mild-flavored mozzarella works best here and doesn’t compete with bold-tasting pesto cream sauce.
How to make it step by step:
STEP 1: Cook the pasta and broccoli. They need to be only partially cooked. I cook them together in one pot to save on cleaning up. My pasta needs 10 minutes of cooking time, but I cook it for only 8 minutes since it will be baked later. So I add my pasta into the boiling water and cook it for 6 minutes, then add the broccoli and cook them both together for 2 more minutes.
STEP 2: Cut the chicken breasts into 1-inch (2-3 cm) cubes, toss with olive oil, and season with spices and salt and pepper. I like to stir the spices with olive oil first and then toss them with the chicken – the spices are more evenly distributed.
We are not cooking the chicken – it will be just baked with the other ingredients in the oven. Why? You may be surprised but it’s really the best way. If you cook the chicken in the pan first, it will be browned which could give it more flavor, sure, but then you will be baking it and the chicken will be overcooked. Adding raw chicken directly into the casserole saves you time and cleaning up an additional pan and is the best way to juicy and tender chicken breasts. I can assure you, I tried it both ways, and I’m doing the same with this chicken broccoli and rice casserole.
STEP 3: We’re making the pesto cream sauce – all you need to do is to whisk pesto with milk, cream, and flour. Season it lightly with salt and pepper (pesto itself is already a little bit salty, but the milk and cream are not).
STEP 4: Assemble: Add all the ingredients into a 9×13 inch (23×33 cm) oval casserole dish.
STEP 5: Stir everything together.
STEP 6: Top with shredded mozzarella cheese. You could also add more cheese to the casserole (not only on top) to make it more cheesy. Since the cheese is being baked the whole time with the other ingredients uncovered it will be rather chewy (this is what I prefer). If you would like softer cheese, cover the casserole dish with a piece of aluminum foil and place the casserole under the broiler at the end of the baking time to brown the cheese.
Bake the casserole for 35 minutes at 375°F / 190°C. Take it out of the oven and let stand for 5-10 minutes before cutting it into servings. Make sure to check if the chicken is cooked through – just cut some pieces in half to see if they are white and not light pink in the middle. If the chicken is not ready you can cover the casserole and bake it for 5 more minutes.
Storing and freezing:
This chicken pesto bake reheats very well. Store it in the fridge for up to 3 days. I reheat it in the oven – I sprinkle the casserole lightly with water and put it in a cold oven, then set it to 375°F/190°C. After about 15 minutes, which takes my oven to come to this temperature the casserole is already warm. If you have a newer over that heats very quickly set it to 320°F/160°C and bake the casserole until warm. You can also reheat it in the microwave.
Can this be frozen? This pasta casserole freezes very well. Freeze it for up to 3 months. I defrost in the fridge then warm up in the oven.
Other casserole recipes you may like:
- Chicken broccoli rice casserole (from scratch!)
- Bobotie recipe – South African curried meatloaf casserole
- Zucchini gratin (cheesy scalloped zucchini)
- Baked ratatouille (confit byaldi)
Pesto chicken bake
- 8 oz (225g) pasta, I used fusilli
- 1 lb (450g) broccoli
- 3 chicken breasts medium/large breasts
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon thyme
- 1 cup basil pesto 8oz/230g
- 1/2 cup milk 120ml
- 1/2 cup heavy cream 120ml
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 9 oz (250g) shredded mozzarella cheese this is about 2 and 1/2 cups shredded cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
- Cook the pasta and broccoli: divide the broccoli into small florets. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta 2 minutes less than it says on the package and the broccoli for 2 minutes. So, my pasta takes 10 minutes to cook so I cooked it for 8 minutes and after 6 minutes of cooking time, I've added the broccoli (to the same pot) and cook them together for 2 more minutes. Drain the pasta and broccoli and add to a 9×13 inch (23×33 cm) oval casserole dish.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C/Gas Mark 5 (if you have a convection oven reduce the temperature by about 20° or follow the manufacturer's instructions).
- Prepare the chicken: cut the chicken into 1-inch (2-3 cm) cubes. Mix the olive oil with the spices, add to the chicken. Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Add the chicken to the casserole dish (chicken doesn't have to be cooked).
- Make the pesto cream sauce: whisk the flour with milk until combined then whisk in the cream and pesto. Season the sauce lightly with salt and pepper. Add the sauce to the casserole dish.
- Assemble: Stir everything together. Top with shredded cheese.
- Bake for 35 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through, the cheese golden and the sauce bubbly.
- This casserole reheats and freezes very well.
- Instead of broccoli, you can also add other vegetables to this casserole, like zucchini, peas, green beans, or corn.
- You can use any pesto type that you like, it doesn’t have to be basil pesto.
- You could also add more cheese to the casserole (not only on top) to make it more cheesy. Since the cheese is being baked the whole time with the other ingredients uncovered it will be rather chewy (this is what I prefer). If you would like softer cheese, cover the casserole dish with a piece of aluminum foil and place the casserole under the broiler at the end of the baking time to brown the cheese.
- Make sure to check if the chicken is cooked through – just cut some pieces in half to see if they are white and not light pink in the middle. If the chicken is not ready you can cover the casserole and bake it for 5 more minutes.
- Calories = 1 serving (1/5 of the recipe). This is only an estimate!
Did you make this recipe? Let me know how you liked it and give it a star rating in the comments below! You can also add a photo of your creation!