Creamy Garlic Chicken Pasta is a delicious combination of golden browned chicken, shell pasta, and a luscious sauce made from half & half, parmesan, lemon and plenty of garlic. Oh, I almost forgot; there is also a sneaky vegetable that blends right in with the pasta.
Creamy Garlic Chicken Pasta is similar to chicken alfredo but with way more flavor! The ingredients for the two dishes are similar, but there is a lot more garlic in this sauce so it’s the strongest flavor. I also sneak a roasted vegetable into the recipe; which might surprise you.
When creating pasta recipes, I always try to include a vegetable that complements the other ingredients. It’s nice to know you’re getting some vegetables with your carbs, and more importantly, it makes this casserole a complete meal without any additional sides.
For this recipe, I added roasted cauliflower which has a mild flavor that works well with the garlic cream sauce. My family didn’t even know the cauliflower was there the first time I served this dish to them! I’d call that a win if your household has picky eaters. The other ingredients are listed below.
- Medium pasta shells- Think Velveeta shells. Be sure to get the medium size.
- Cauliflower- Be sure to trim into bite-size florets or pieces before roasting.
- Olive oil
- Garlic salt
- Black pepper
- Chicken breast
- Dry mustard
- Half & half
- Parmesan- Grated is easier to blend into the cream sauce but shredded could also work.
- Parsley- Flat-leaf Italian parsley is the perfect garnish, but not required.
Creamy Garlic Chicken Pasta is easy to make. The steps are simple, and the only time-intensive part is roasting the cauliflower. You can also roast it in advance to speed up the recipe.
- Roast the cauliflower in the oven. Check out Natasha's Kitchen Roasted Cauliflower for more details on how to best roast cauliflower.
- Cook the pasta shells
- Pan-fry the seasoned, cubed chicken breast.
- Make the cream sauce and combine with chicken, pasta and cauliflower.
All that’s left to do from that point is to garnish each serving with a lemon wedge, a sprinkle of additional parmesan cheese, and finely chopped parsley.
There are a few possible substitutions that could be made in the recipe. I tested this recipe with heavy cream, half & half, and whole milk. Half & half offered the velvety smooth texture I wanted from the cream sauce without becoming too thick. You can use heavy cream as a sub, but you’ll need to add some of the pasta cooking water to get the right texture.
Whole milk could also be a substitute for the half & half. Just plan to let the sauce boil for a few minutes to thicken up before adding the parmesan cheese. You also probably won’t need the pasta water either.
Chicken thighs would also be a delicious substitute for chicken breasts. Make sure to get the boneless, skinless chicken thighs. You can prepare them just like the chicken breast preparation is outlined in the recipe.
Creamy Garlic Chicken Pasta is easily converted to a vegetarian recipe by omitting the chicken. I would recommend doubling the amount of cauliflower. Also, add the paprika and mustard to the cauliflower seasoning mix in addition to pepper and garlic salt.
If you hate cauliflower or shun the idea of vegetables in your creamy pasta, feel free to totally omit the cauliflower completely. I won’t tell your mom that you didn’t eat your vegetables.
- Serve: Serve immediately while hot. If you need to hold for a small amount of time make sure to keep the heat on the lowest possible setting. Also, keep extra reserved pasta water on hand and add to the sauce as needed so it doesn't get too thick.
- Store: The prepared pasta can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days.
- Freeze: This recipe freezes well. I recommend serving the dish in individual portions before freezing.
- Defrost: If time allows, the frozen dish can be thawed in the fridge for roughly 24 hours.
- Reheat: To reheat from frozen, add 1 Tb of water over the dish and loosely cover with parchment or a damp paper towel. Microwave for 4 minutes at 50% power. Stir and return to the microwave uncovered for 30-second increments. If reheating from thawed, proceed directly to full power for 60-second increments.
Creamy Garlic Chicken Pasta comes together in less than 30 minutes if you don’t include the cauliflower roasting time. The roasting time is totally hands-off so it’s low effort, but it does take a little time to get the cauliflower browned.
Feel free to roast the cauliflower ahead to save you time later. Just be sure to let the cauliflower cool completely before storing it in the fridge so it doesn’t steam and become mushy. The roasted cauliflower can be kept for up to three days in an airtight container in the fridge
Another important tip is to not forget to reserve some of the pasta cooking water. Ladle a couple of cups of liquid from the saucepan and transfer to a heatproof liquid measuring cup before straining the pasta. You can then use this cooking water to thin out your cream sauce to the perfect consistency.
Creamy Garlic Chicken Pasta is the perfect weeknight pasta dish with a sneaky side of vegetables. The recipe also freezes well and makes great leftovers. Give the recipe a try. I’d love to hear what you think in the comments section below.
Creamy Garlic Chicken Pasta
- 6 oz dry medium pasta shells
- 3 cups cauliflower florets bite-size pieces
- 3 Tb olive oil divided
- 1½ tsp garlic salt divided
- 1½ tsp ground black pepper divided
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts one-inch pieces
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp dry mustard
- 1 tsp paprika
- 2 Tb butter
- 6 cloves garlic or 3 Tb minced
- 1 lemon
- 2 cups half and half
- ½ cup grated parmesan plus additional for garnish
- 1 Tb flat leaf parsley finely chopped, optional
- Preheat the oven to 375° and prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Cut the cauliflower into bite-size pieces. Place on the prepared baking sheet and toss with 2 Tb olive oil, ½ tsp black pepper, and ½ tsp garlic salt. Bake for 45 minutes, removing from the oven halfway thru the cooking time to toss.
- Cook pasta according to package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta water and rinse cooked pasta with cold water once it is cooked through to prevent the noodles from sticking together. Set the cooked pasta aside.
- Mix together the flour, paprika, mustard, 1 tsp black pepper, and 1 tsp garlic salt. Toss the chicken cubes until covered in the mixture.
- After tossing the cauliflower halfway through the cook time, put 2 Tb butter and 1 Tb olive oil in a large saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Shake excess flour from the chicken cubes (a colander is helpful).
- Once the pan is hot, add the chicken. Let it brown on the first side for about 5 minutes. Stir and cook for another 5-10 minutes until the chicken is golden brown.
- Add the minced garlic and sauce for two minutes, stirring often. Garlic can burn easily, so keep an eye on it.
- After two minutes, add the half and half and zest of a lemon. Reserve the lemon to cut into wedges for serving.
- Reduce the heat to medium and allow the half and half to come to a low boil. Add the parmesan cheese and stir to combine.
- Add the cooked pasta and roasted cauliflower and mix well to coat all the ingredients. If your sauce is too thick, use the reserved pasta water, adding ¼ cup at a time, to get the desired consistency.
- Serve with a lemon wedge and garnish with chopped parsley if desired.
Frequently Asked Questions
It's very similar, but the garlic flavor is stronger.
You can use heavy cream as a sub, but you’ll need to add some of the pasta cooking water to get the right texture. Whole milk can be used, but plan to let the sauce boil for a few minutes to thicken up before adding the parmesan cheese.
Yes. It can be roasted and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days. Be sure to let it cool completely before storing, so it doesn't steam in the fridge.