If you like chicken parmesan, you’ll love this simplified baked version that comes together in an 8×8 pan. Full of melty mozzarella, tender chicken, classic marinara sauce, and topped with crunchy garlic-herb breadcrumbs, this is a weeknight pasta bake the whole family will love.
Remember those Garlic Bread Hawaiian Rolls? Pair them with this pasta bake and you’ve got a homemade dinner that make your house smell like the best of red sauce Italian restaurants. Warm, cheesy, and with a flavor-packed crunchy topping, this dish is easy to pull off. This is all it takes…
Chicken Parmesan Pasta Bake Ingredients
- Pasta – Be sure to grab a fun shape for this dish. My kids are big fans of elbows / macaroni, so that’s my go-to in this dish. For something that feels a little more elevated, try it with cavatappi which has a great twisty shape for holding pasta sauce. Penne would be great as well and feels classic.
- Marinara Sauce – I tested this recipe with a classic homemade marinara sauce, but at the end of the day, I wanted this to be a dish that you (and I) can throw together on a weeknight without much fuss or too many dishes. In the end, a good quality store-bought marinara just felt right with the simplicity of this dish. If you have a great homemade marinara recipe, use that! Otherwise, a high quality store-bought jar of sauce will give you a delicious dish.
- Cooked and Chopped Chicken – This is a great place for rotisserie chicken or just pan sear chicken breast or thighs until cooked through and chop into bite-sized pieces.
- Mozzarella – Tiny and adorable fresh mozzarella “pearls” make it easy to distribute cheese evenly throughout the entire dish. You can also chop a larger ball of fresh mozzarella into small pieces and use that. Pre-shredded mozzarella cheese will work, but it doesn’t melt as well (or have the same rich flavor) as the fresh variety.
- Topping – Just as with classic chicken parmesan, a crisp, crunchy, golden crust is the key to the dish. Panko breadcrumbs are larger and more crunchy than Italian breadcrumbs, so I highly recommend them here. Combine them with olive oil, Italian seasoning, garlic, and parmesan cheese.
Tips for a Great Pasta Bake
- Al Dente Pasta – Keep a close eye on the pasta while it’s boiling. Because pasta bakes require that the pasta is “baked” again after boiling, you want the pasta to be boiled just until it is tender and still has a tiny bit of chew. Draining the pasta before it is super tender gives it a little bit of room to keep cooking as the dish bakes.
- Use Enough Sauce – The pasta should be thoroughly coated in sauce. When mixing everything together, add some more sauce if it looks at all dry. Using even more sauce than you typically would with a plate of pasta keeps the dish moist while baking.
- Fresh Mozzarella – As mentioned above, it’s worth using fresh mozzarella. Pre-shredded mozzarella often contains additives to prevent it from clumping. Those additives mess with its ability to melt, so fresh mozzarella always melts better and gives you a creamier, cheesier result.
- Make it Vegetarian – It’s easy to make this a vegetarian dish. Omit the chicken completely. If you want to add some protein back in, this would be great with chickpeas or white beans.
- Add vegetables – Fold in some steamed broccoli or cauliflower florets for some added vegetables. (You may need to use a larger baking dish and increase the amount of sauce to accommodate the veggies.)
- Change the Cheese – Mozzarella is classic here, but the dish would work well with many other types of cheese. Try provolone or Havarti for a creamier, tangy result. Both of those cheeses melt even better than mozzarella, so you’ll get an extra cheesy dish.
Freeze This Meal
If you’re going to freeze this meal, assemble it as directed, but increase the amount of sauce you use by ½ cup. This will be a lot of sauce, but it will help to minimize the amount of air in the dish (air is the enemy of freezer meals). Combine the topping ingredients and place them in a small freezer-safe bag or 4 oz mason jar. Cover the pasta tightly with foil and freeze for up to 6 months.
Print the recipe below for a cut-out label with reheating instructions. Just tape it to the top of the meal before you freeze it.
How to Deliver This Meal To Someone Else
This would be a fun meal to deliver to someone who could use a little extra TLC. They can serve it immediately or freeze it for later.
- Caesar Salad Kit
- Panko topping (in a separate bag or jar)
Don’t forget to print the recipe below for a recipe label / reheating instructions that can be attached to the top of the meal.
- Stockpot with Strainer – A large stockpot with a strainer insert makes it easy to boil and drain pasta.
- 8×8 Baking Dish Emile Henry – This size baking dish is perfect for a family of 4-5. I use this baking dish almost every night.
- Anchor 3-Piece Glass Mixing Bowls – Good mixing bowls in a variety of sizes make it easy to assemble each element of the dish.
- Box Grater – Nothing’s better than a classic box grater for grating a bunch of parmesan cheese.
Chicken Parmesan Pasta Bake
- 8x8 baking dish
- 8 oz Pasta (use any fun shape like macaroni / elbows, cavatappi, or penne)
- 2 cups Marinara Sauce (homemade or use a high-quality store-bought version)
- 1 1/2 cups Cooked and Chopped Chicken
- 8 oz Fresh Mozzarella Pearls (sub any fresh mozzarella, chopped into small pieces)
- 3/4 cup Panko Breadcrumbs (see note)
- 1 Tbsp Olive Oil
- 1/2 tsp Italian Seasoning
- 2 cloves Garlic, chopped
- 1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Spray an 8” x 8” baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
- Bring a large stockpot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. (Be sure to pull the pasta out of the water right when it is tender but still has a bit of a chewy texture; you don’t want it to be overcooked.) Drain and set aside to cool.
- Combine cooked pasta, marinara sauce, and chicken in a large bowl. If the pasta looks at all dry, add 1/2 cup of additional marinara sauce. (Some pasta shapes seem to soak up the sauce more than others, so if in doubt, add the additional sauce.)
- Pour half of the pasta into the prepared baking dish. (See note below about reusable aluminum baking pans.) Scatter half of the mozzarella pearls over top. Add remaining pasta and then top with remaining mozzarella pearls, pressing them gently into the top of the pasta.
- Cover pasta bake with foil and transfer to the oven. Bake until the pasta is warmed through and cheese is melted, about 15 minutes.
- While pasta bakes, make topping by combining panko, olive oil, Italian seasoning, garlic, and parmesan cheese.
- After the initial bake time, remove pasta from oven and remove foil from the top. Turn on the oven’s broiler (use the low setting if available).
- Scatter topping evenly over the pasta.
- Return pasta to the oven and broil, uncovered, until topping is light golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Serve immediately.
- Look for panko breadcrumbs in the Asian / international aisle. These are larger and crunchier than Italian-style breadcrumbs.
- Most 8” x 8” baking dishes have taller sides than the reusable aluminum baking dishes shown in the photos above that you might use to take this meal to someone else. If using a reusable aluminum baking dish, you may need to divide the pasta bake between two pans or just fill one to the top and reserve the remaining pasta to eat later.
- This dish can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen before baking. (Combine the topping ingredients and keep them in a separate container.)
- If you’re delivering this meal to someone else or planning to freeze it for later, attach this label to the top so that anyone can easily serve it!
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