Need a quick, meal? This balsamic chicken sun-dried tomato basil pesto bake is the perfect savory meal to have throughout the week for dinner or take for lunch as left-overs.
Pesto + Sun-dried Tomato Sauce
If you landed on this recipe, you probably love pesto! It’s fresh, vibrant basil flavor is hard to turn down on any pasta or pizza dish.
Sun-dried tomatoes are to die for on just about any salad, sandwich or pizza too. So, I thought – how about we marry them together in a sauce? Sounds like heaven to me!
And after making this chicken bake, I gotta report back and tell ya it truly is a fork full of heaven.
So what’s in this glorious Mediterranean inspired sauce you ask? Well, essentially traditional pesto ingredients plus sun-dried tomatoes and a splash of lemon juice.
Unfortunately red + green doesn’t equal a beautiful color – but hey, it tastes out of this world goooood.
Just throw all the sauce ingredients in a food processor or high-speed blender and blend away until smooth and delicious. You may need to scrape the sides a few times to get everything incorporated.
Balsamic Chicken Marinade
You can use whatever chicken marinade you prefer or nothing at all! Using pre-cooked plain chicken breast is a good option to save time.
But I love a balsamic vinegar marinade with this recipe since it does have more Mediterranean vibes. The marinade is made with common pantry staples that I usually have on hand like brown sugar, olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic – and of course, balsamic vinegar!
Chop the chicken breast into bite-sized pieces and whisk the marinade ingredients in a bowl. Mix the two together and marinate for 2 hours or just jump to cooking.
Of course, marinating the chicken will add more flavor, and the balsamic vinegar really gives the dish a hint of richness, but it’s totally up to you!
When ready to cook the chicken, just heat a large skillet over medium heat and cook thoroughly.
Cooking the Penne Pasta
Pasta! Of course pasta is super important here! I like using rigatoni pasta because it’s larger in diameter and has those grooves to help lock in the tasty sauce and sun-dried tomato chunks. However, penne pasta works beautifully too, which is what I had on hand when these pictures were taken.
Cook the pasta al dente to prevent it from becoming soggy since it’ll cook a bit more in the oven. Once it’s done cooking, run the pasta under cold water to stop it from cooking any more.
It’s amazing how many different types of pasta exist! If you want to build up your pasta knowledge check out this article by Epicurious that provides a visual guide on all the different kinds of pasta and their common uses.
Assemble the Chicken Bake
The longest part is the prep of cooking the chicken, the pasta and blending the sauce. After all that prep, it’s truly just:
- mix the pasta, chicken and sauce together in the huge pot you cooked the pasta in.
- Spray a 9×5 casserole dish with oil.
- Pour the pasta and chicken in the dish and top with cheese.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes to melt the cheese and dig-in!
This chicken bake is perfect to enjoy for week night dinners or pack for lunches during the week since it heats up well. It makes a ton so it’s great for families or for small households that just want to cook one big dish to have throughout the week.
Sun-dried Tomato Pesto Chicken Bake
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts chopped in bite-sized pieces
- 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
- 3 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 clove minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
For the Pasta and Sauce
- 16 ounces rigatoni or penne pasta
- 5 cups basil leaves (3oz container)
- 1 1/2 cups sun-dried tomatoes (not in olive oil)
- 2/3 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup shredded mozarella cheese
For the Balsamic Chicken
- In a bowl or gallon-sized bag mix the balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, brown sugar, garlic, salt and pepper. Add the chopped chicken breast and allow it to marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours or however long time allows.
- When ready to cook, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the chopped chicken. Cook until no pink shows or the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
For the Pasta and Sauce
- Cook pasta al dente according to package instructions in a large pot.
- Once done cooking, run the pasta over cold water to prevent it from continuing to cook. Return the pasta back to the pot.
- In a food processor blend the basil, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, grated parmesan cheese, pine nuts, lemon juice, salt and garlic cloves. Blend until smooth. Stop and scrape the sides with a spatula to help it all incorporate.
Assemble the Chicken Pasta Bake
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease a 9×5 casserole dish.
- Add the sauce and cooked chicken to the large pot of cooked pasta. Mix well and add to the greased casserole dish.
- Top the pasta and chicken with the shredded parmesan and mozzarella cheese.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes, depending on your level of desired crispiness.
- Let the chicken pasta bake sit for 5 minutes before serving.
- If you use sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, just know you’ll need less olive oil for the sauce.
- To save time, try using plain pre-cooked chicken.