Creamy, saucy, cheesy and not too heavy. This easy 35-minute chicken and broccoli pasta bake is the perfect weeknight comfort meal!
With just 540 calories per serve, I'd even go as far as claiming this is a fairly 'healthy' pasta bake! I mean, it's got lots of broccoli and lean chicken breasts!
The generous amount of creamy white sauce (a light bechamel sauce) in this recipe means there is no chance this pasta bake will turn out dry.
If you love white pasta but don't always love the extra calories, also try my light yet Creamy Mushroom Pasta (made without cream) or silky, Creamy Garlic Prawn Pasta. Who says we can't have it all!? 😉
- Chicken breasts - can use skinless, boneless thighs which has more flavour and are more forgiving (to overcooking).
- Mozzarella cheese - for its stretch factor!! Can use cheddar instead if that's what you've got in the fridge.
- Heavy cream (aka thickened cream) - preferred over light creams or pouring cream as they produce a thicker consistency which can latch on nicely to the pasta. Light and pouring creams are too runny. If you must use these (want to use up leftovers for example), add a little more plain flour to the light bechamel to help offset the runniness of the light or pouring cream.
- Dried oregano - substitute: dried thyme.
- Stock - for convenience, I always have chicken stock powder in the pantry for recipes like this! Of course, fresh stock has a far more superior flavour profile (even better, homemade) so use that if you want.
Cooking instructions step by step
This baked pasta with broccoli and chicken breasts take 35 minutes to make, with only about 15 minutes of active cook time. The rest of the work will be done by the oven as it melts and blisters the cheeses to golden goodness!
Key to a quick meal - timing
Making a fuss-free meal is all about timeliness. So we gotta be strategic with when to prepare and work on what. The great thing about making a pasta bake like this one is that you can prepare the chicken and broccoli sauce whilst the pasta is boiling.
Alright, here we go.
To begin, put the kettle on. Whilst the kettle is coming up to boil, cut the chicken, chop onions and garlic.
Pour the kettle boiled water into a large pot on high heat and season generously. The water should taste salty. Put another full kettle on for the pasta later on.
Now, quarter 1 and a half head of broccoli, wash and add it to the boiling salted water. Put the lid on and cook for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, the water should be boiling. With a slotted spoon, remove the broccoli and set it aside in a heatproof bowl.
Salting the water adds flavour to the broccoli AND help the broccoli retain its vibrant colour.
In the same pot, pour in the second pot of kettle boiled water. You may need more salt. Cook pasta according to packet instructions.
Whilst pasta is cooking, pan sear chicken breasts. To get as much flavour as possible, sear on high heat, flipping once for about 2 minutes per side. This will add a golden outer layer which means flavour! Remove chicken and set aside.
Note, the chicken should not be fully cooked at this stage. It'll continue to cook in the oven.
Creamy white sauce - a lighter bechamel sauce
In the same pan (no need to wash), add butter, onions, garlic and cook on medium heat. About 3 minutes. Then, stir in plain flour. A thick paste will form quite quickly and once that happens, pour in the milk. Mix continuously until the milk thickens then mix in chicken stock.
The constant mixing is required to prevent a lumpy sauce.
Using part chicken stock and part milk in this bechamel sauce helps keep the sauce light and thus easier on the calories and fat.
For a more indulgent pasta bake with a cheesy bechamel sauce, try my Creamy Tuna Pasta Casserole (tuna mornay).
Bring the creamy sauce to boil then turn the heat off.
The par boiled broccoli should be cool enough to touch by now. Cut it into small bite sized florets.
Now, add chicken (including juices), heavy cream, salt and pepper. Mix well and bring up to boil then add broccoli. Turn the heat off.
By now, the pasta should be cooked. Put drained pasta in an oven-safe casserole dish and pour in creamy chicken and broccoli sauce. Give it a mix.
I find the standard size baking dish is ideal to use for this pasta casserole, at approx. 23x33cm (9x11inch).
Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheese (or cheddar cheese).
Bake for 15 minutes, on the middle shelf at 230°C/450°F (210°C fan-forced) or until golden.
See how creamy and saucy this fairly healthy chicken and broccoli pasta bake is!?
- Boil broccoli in generously salted water. This not only will help keep the colour of the broccoli vibrant green, more importantly, it also adds flavour. This is a simple pasta bake thus seasoning is key!
- Similarly, always cook pasta in generously salted water.
- Use pasta shapes that can hold onto the creamy sauce. Good examples include shell (as pictured), penne, spiral (fusilli) or orecchiette.
- Cook pasta to al dente so that it has a chance to soak up that delicious creamy sauce whilst baking. Don't worry, the pasta bake will not turn out dry at all. There's plenty of sauce in this recipe.
- Do not fully cook the chicken breasts when pan searing/browning. The pan-searing stage is to develop flavour and semi cook the chicken through browning. The chicken will continue to cook when it's in the oven. This will ensure it does not overcook and therefore, dry out.
Good to know (FAQs)
4 days, in airtight containers.
Up to 6 months in airtight containers.
The golden cheese crust of course! Even better, when the cheese is stretchy too!
Yes you can!
One serving of this recipe has about 540 calories so it's already quite light. If you're looking to cut back on fat, simply exclude the heavy cream and increase milk from 1 cup to 1.5 cups and increase flour to 3 tablespoons from 2 tablespoons.
I'd keep the cheese as the golden cheesy crust is what a pasta bake is all about!
Made this recipe or have a question? Let me know your thoughts by dropping a note in the comments section below! I'd love to hear from you and will get back to you. 🙂
Happy cooking! - Gen
Chicken and Broccoli Pasta Bake (creamy!)
- 500 g / 1 pound chicken breast cut into large bite-size, about 2.5cm/1 inch cubes
- 1½ head broccoli quartered
- 350 g / 12 ounces dried shell pasta or other preferred pasta shapes
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano or thyme
- 1 brown onion finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- salt & pepper
- ⅓ cup heavy cream aka thickened cream
- ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese ~50g
- 1½ cup freshly grated mozzarella cheese ~150g
Light bechamel sauce (creamy white sauce)
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoon plain flour
- 1 cup milk full fat or reduce- fat
- 1 cup chicken stock
- Preheat oven to 230°C/450°F (210°C fan-forced).
- Boil broccoli in a large pot of salted water for 2 minutes then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. In the same pot of water (add more water if needed), cook pasta according to packet instructions. (note 1)
- Whilst pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large, non-stick frypan. Add chicken breasts and spread it out into a single layer, season with salt and pepper. Cook on high heat for about 2 minutes before turning the chicken once and cook for a further 2 minutes. (note 2) Remove chicken and set aside.
- In the same pan, add butter, onions and garlic. Fry on medium heat for 3 minutes then stir in flour. Once a thick paste is formed, add milk, stir well until milk thickens then stir in stock. Bring up to a boil then turn the heat off.
- The broccoli should be cool enough to touch by now. Cut into small bite-sized florets.
- Now, add browned chicken including juices back into the pan along with broccoli, cream, oregano, salt and pepper. Bring up to boil then turn the heat off.
- In a large casserole oven dish, add cooked pasta and pour in creamy chicken and broccoli. Mix well with a spatula. It should be quite saucy.
- Top with grated mozzarella cheese and parmesan cheese. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown, on the middle shelf.
- Allow the pasta bake to set for 10 minutes before serving.
2. Turn the chicken once will help add golden caramelisation on the chicken. Moving the chicken constantly will result in the chicken getting watery too quickly. Leftovers/storage Lasts up to 4 days in the fridge and up to 6 months in the freezer. Make sure to store in airtight containers.