Recipe: Chicken & Tomato No-Boil Pasta Bake

Recipe: Chicken & Tomato No-Boil Pasta Bake

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Faith Durand
Jan 14, 2016
(Image credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani)

One of the things I love most about pasta is how accommodating it is to any time schedule. Have a weekend to roll homemade dough and stuff pockets of ravioli with hand-pulled mozzarella? Go for it, baby. Have an afternoon to slow-cook a perfect meaty ragù? The rewards will be rich.

But let's say you need to prep dinner in 10 minutes or less. You can't even boil a pot of water in that amount of time — but pasta is still your friend! Meet the no-boil pasta bake.

(Image credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani)

Yes, this pasta casserole doesn't even require cooked pasta — just dried. It will take you five minutes to prep for the oven — no, I'm not exaggerating. Pour some dry pasta into a casserole dish, open a can of tomatoes, dump in some cheese and garlic, and bang the whole thing into the oven. An hour later you'll find that you've done a magic trick: hot, gooey, bubbling noodles and cheese. And it's totally homemade, with fresh, whole ingredients — just pasta and a few helpers. See how accommodating pasta can be?

This does take an hour to bake, but this time is totally hands-off; you can go do something else productive. The actual prep time for this is really very close to five minutes — especially if you aren't cooking chicken breasts specially for this recipe. I use frozen chopped chicken breasts or cooked chicken from the salad bar at the grocery store.

After that, this is just a matter of smashing garlic, opening up some diced tomatoes, and finding cheese and milk. The whole thing is topped off with a crunchy layer of green herbed breadcrumbs.

This recipe is very flexible; leave out the chicken if you want a vegetarian dish. You can skip the final breadcrumb topping, too, to save time, but I like the crunchy breadcrumbs; my husband thought they had the crumbly, chewy texture (and herb-y flavor) of browned sausage. It tops off the casserole very nicely.

When this first comes out of the oven it will be gooey and bubbling — saucy and a bit soupy. As it cools it will firm up and thicken. After a night in the fridge this is a solid pasta casserole, able to be cut in wedges. Personally, I like it best straight out of the oven, although it does make fantastic leftovers too.

Testing Notes

This recipe truly blew my mind away with its ease and deliciousness. While it takes oven time, your hands are free to prep a side dish, wash dishes, or get out of the kitchen completely. I found that the topping tasted much like pesto since I used basil, and I realized that if you don't even have the time to make the topping, you can just mix purchased pesto with panko breadcrumbs for the same yummy result.

- Christine, January 2016

Chicken & Tomato No-Boil Pasta Bake

Serves 4 to 6

  • 8 ounces

    dried rigatoni pasta

  • 2 cups

    chopped cooked chicken breast (about 8 ounces -- omit to make vegetarian)

  • 4

    large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

  • 1

    (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes

  • 2 teaspoons

    kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 cups

    shredded cheese, such as mozzarella or a mix of mozzarella and provolone

  • 1/2 cup

    shredded Parmesan cheese

  • 2 cups

    milk (see Recipe Note)

  • For the cheesy basil topping:
  • 1/2 cup

    dried breadcrumbs, such as panko

  • 1/2 cup

    shredded Parmesan cheese

  • 1/2 cup

    loosely packed chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, thyme, and sage

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 1/4 cup

    olive oil

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400°F. Lightly coat a 3-quart casserole dish, Dutch oven, or 9x13-inch baking dish with olive oil; set aside.

Place the pasta, chicken, garlic, tomatoes and their juices, salt, and a healthy quantity of black pepper in a large bowl and stir to combine. (If the tomatoes you are using have no salt in them, add an additional 1/2 teaspoon salt.) Stir in the shredded cheese and the Parmesan. Spread this mixture in the prepared baking dish or pot and pour the milk over top.

Cover the dish or pot tightly with a lid or a double layer of aluminum foil. Bake until the pasta is tender, about 50 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the herb topping. In a small food processor or chopper, whiz the breadcrumbs, cheese, herbs, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, blending until the texture resembles wet sand.

Remove the dish from the oven and turn the oven up to broil. Slowly remove the lid (or foil) from the casserole dish. Be careful, as steam will billow out. Spread the herbed breadcrumbs over the bubbling pasta and return the uncovered dish to the oven. Broil until the topping is toasted and crispy on top, about 5 minutes.

Take the casserole out of the oven and let it cool for about 10 minutes before serving. Eat with a green salad and a glass of red wine.

Recipe Notes

Milk: The more fat in your milk, the thicker and more luxurious this dish will be. I have only made this with whole milk, which worked very well. I see no reason why lower-fat milks would not work as well, but they may be soupier, with a thinner sauce, when you first remove them from the oven.

Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

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