I was craving pasta and decided to try out a pesto penne bake. I’m trying to eat more veggies, so I added zucchini and grape tomatoes to the mix. And of course, I needed a protein. I was debating between shrimp and chicken, but went with chicken this time. However, I really think you could substitute shrimp and it would not affect the recipe at all!
My other issue with pasta bakes is the fact that I’m lactose intolerant, and everyone knows the best part is the cheese! I’ve been trying out a few different dairy free cheeses, so I decided to go for it. I was cooking for my sister as well, so I did half and half normal mozzarella and dairy free mozzarella. I went with the daiya brand of mozzarella shreds – I’ve tried the cheddar before for quesadillas, and it was great! On a side note, the almond mozzarella style shreds from Trader Joe’s are also very good.
This is a pretty simple recipe and requires minimal prep. The biggest step is probably cooking and cubing the chicken breast. This is the step I started out with. Cook the chicken breast however you like – I used some frozen chicken I had leftover, and just cubed two breasts after I had pan grilled it in olive oil:
After you’ve cooked the chicken breast, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. At the same time, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Cook the pasta until al dente, around 9-11 minutes. While the pasta is cooking wash and thinly slice the zucchini. Wash and halve your grape tomatoes and throw together in a bowl.
When pasta is done, drain noodles and toss in pot or another large bowl with zucchini, chicken, tomatoes and pesto. I used the pre made pesto, but if you have the time and resources to make your own, more power to you! Season with salt and pepper as desired.
Next, transfer your tossed pasta into a large baking dish. Sprinkle the top with your cheese. For me, I did half and half with the dairy and non dairy cheese. My measurement in the recipe below is probably on the cautious side, feel free to use way more cheese!
Loosely cover the dish with aluminum foil. Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes. After 20 minutes, check under the aluminum foil. If the cheese is mostly melted, remove the foil and cook for another five minutes, or until the cheese is completely melted and the sides are slightly brown. I had a slight issue with my non dairy cheese here. It didn’t melt normally! I was surprised because when I used the daiya cheddar, it was fine. But alas, it ended up looking like this:
My dairy free side looked disappointing, but after I served it the dish looked much better. The cheese was actually really soft and melted once it was mixed together a little. Most importantly it tasted great! The zucchini and tomatoes had roasted and softened nicely in the oven, and the noodles near the top had a perfect crispiness. I will definitely be adding this dish to my rotation – so easy and delicious!
Baked Pesto Penne with Zucchini, Tomato, and Chicken
An easy and filling pasta dish with hidden veggies!
- 1/2 pound penne pasta
- 2 small/medium sized zucchini
- 6 tbsp basil pesto
- 1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes
- 2 chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
- 2/3 cup shredded mozzarella or cheese of choice
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Cook and drain pasta.
- Meanwhile, slice zucchini thinly. Wash and halve the grape tomatoes. Set aside.
- Toss together cooked pasta, chicken, zucchini, tomatoes, and pesto. Season with salt and pepper.
- Spread pasta mixture into a baking dish. Sprinkle with shredded cheese so that the top is completely covered.
- Cover dish loosely with aluminum foil and place in oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
- Remove foil and cook for another 5-10 minutes or until cheese is melted and slightly browned on the edges
- Remove from oven and serve with garlic bread, salad, or just enjoy two big helpings!