Chicken Penne with Bacon and Spinach in Creamy Tomato Sauce

This chicken penne pasta with spinach and bacon in creamy tomato sauce is simply amazing. The DELICIOUS creamy sauce permeates every single bite of this dish! It’s as though all the ingredients here were made for each other! Very flavorful and creamy!
chicken pasta, whatsinthepan, spinach, chicken with baconA few tips about which chicken to use. When you shop for chicken, the one that works best is without any added water. But if it’s the kind that has added water (and usually added sodium too) – make sure all water/broth is drained after cooking the chicken. Otherwise the recipe will turn out watery and will need to be thickened by additional cheese or flour.
Chicken, Poultry, Tomato, Penne, Creamy Chicken Penne, Tomato Sauce, Spinach, BaconThis chicken penne recipe is very flexible with substitutions. If you don’t like messing around with fresh tomatoes, you can replace them with a can of diced tomatoes.
Prefer fresh herbs? Use fresh herbs instead of the dried ones. And if desired, you can also replace regular bacon with a turkey bacon.
Chicken, Poultry, Tomato, Penne, Creamy Chicken Penne, Tomato Sauce, Spinach, BaconIf you love spinach, by all means use more than what recipe indicates, since it shrinks when cooking.
Chicken, Poultry, Tomato, Penne, Creamy Chicken Penne, Tomato Sauce, Spinach, BaconTo begin with you will need to start cooking the bacon in the oven (see instructions in the recipe box).
Chicken, Poultry, Tomato, Penne, Creamy Chicken Penne, Tomato Sauce, Spinach, BaconWhile the bacon is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large deep skillet. Add chicken breasts, generously rubbed in seasoning mixture, and fry on each side on high heat for a total of 4-5 minutes on each side. Resist the urge to move the chicken or check underneath while it’s cooking on each side, otherwise browning process might be messed up. Check after 4 minutes – if you like what you see, you can flip it to the other side. Add sliced garlic to the same pan only in the last minute of cooking just before the chicken is done just to give it a little browning and flavor. Remove chicken from the skillet and slice it in thick strips. Return half of the strips to the skillet. We want to keep the other half intact and add it later.  Alternatively, you can slice raw chicken and cook it that way.
Chicken, Poultry, Tomato, Penne, Creamy Chicken Penne, Tomato Sauce, Spinach, Bacon

Make sure that all liquid, if any, is removed after cooking the chicken (depends on the chicken you use), otherwise the dish will be too watery.

Add chopped tomatoes to the chicken and cook for 3 minutes on high until tomatoes release their juices. Add fresh spinach and cook until it wilts.
Chicken, Poultry, Tomato, Penne, Creamy Chicken Penne, Tomato Sauce, Spinach, BaconNow it’s time to add half and half (half milk/half heavy cream) and bring the mixture to boil. Reduce to simmer. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt now and taste the sauce. Add more salt if needed.
Chicken, Poultry, Tomato, Penne, Creamy Chicken Penne, Tomato Sauce, Spinach, BaconMake sure to reduce heat before adding cheese. Once cheese is added, stir on low-medium simmer until the cheese is incorporated. The cheese needs to melt enough to create a creamy texture. You can also add more cheese to thicken up the sauce.
OLA_4812In the meantime bring a large pot of salty water to boil, add pasta and cook it according to instructions. Drain the pasta, but do not rinse.

Add pasta and bacon and stir until fully coated in sauce. Season with more salt if necessary. Now it’s time to add the other 1/2 of chicken and slightly mix it in with the rest of the ingredients (I just pushed my chicken slices slightly into the skillet as shown below). Cover with a lid until ready to serve, to keep warm. Serve with additional shredded Parmesan and red pepper flakes, if desired.
Chicken, Poultry, Tomato, Penne, Creamy Chicken Penne, Tomato Sauce, Spinach, Bacon

For other popular chicken recipes see Balsamic Chicken with Brussels Sprouts and Apples and Chicken Pasta in Creamy White Wine Parmesan Sauce).

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5 from 9 votes
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Chicken Penne with Bacon and Spinach in Creamy Tomato Sauce
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
20 mins
Total Time
40 mins
 

This chicken pasta with spinach and bacon in creamy tomato sauce is simply amazing. The DELICIOUS creamy sauce permeates every single bite of this dish!

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4
Author: Olya at Whatsinthepan
Ingredients
Main Ingredients:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound boneless and skinless chicken thick in size, such as chicken breasts, cut up in 1 inch strips
  • 6 bacon strips
  • 5 medium tomatoes chopped in cubes
  • 10 oz. package of fresh spinach
  • 1 cup half and half half heavy cream/half milk, more if runnier sauce is desired
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese shredded (more for garnish)
  • 5 garlic cloves minced
Pasta:
  • 8 oz. penne pasta
Seasoning Mixture:
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning thyme, oregano, basil - combined, more if desired
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Instructions
  1. BACON: Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Arrange bacon strips and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how crispy you like your bacon. Transfer cooked bacon to a paper towel-lined platter that will absorb extra grease. Chop into 1 inch slices.

  2. CHICKEN: Rub chicken in seasoning mixture and set aside.

    Heat olive oil in a large deep skillet. Add chicken breasts and cook on each side on medium high heat for a total of 3-4 minutes until it's nicely browned. If chicken is still pink in the center, reduce heat to medium and cook covered for several minutes until no longer pink in the center. Add sliced garlic in the last minute of cooking chicken, cook for 1-2 minutes until browned and fragrant.

    Remove chicken from the pan, slice it in thick strips and return only half of it back to the skillet (we want to keep the other half intact for later). Also, make sure that all liquid, if any, is removed after cooking the chicken (it depends on the chicken you use), otherwise the dish will be too watery

  3. TOMATOES and SPINACH: Add chopped tomatoes to the remaining chicken and cook for 3 minutes on high until tomatoes release their juices. Add fresh spinach in 4 consecutive batches until it wilts.

  4. CHEESY SAUCE: Add half and half and bring the mixture to boil. Reduce to simmer and slowly add grated Parmesan cheese - until the cheese melts and makes the sauce creamy. Remove from heat.

  5. PASTA: In the meantime bring a large pot of water to boil, add pasta and cook it according to instructions. Drain the pasta, but do not rinse.

  6. ADDING BACON: Add pasta and bacon and stir until fully coated in sauce. Season with more salt if necessary.

  7. ADDING REMOVED 1/2 OF CHICKEN: Now it’s time to add the 1/2 of chicken that we removed earlier and slightly mix it in with the rest of the ingredients (I just pushed my chicken slightly into the skillet). Cover with a lid until ready to serve to keep warm. Serve with additional shredded Parmesan and red pepper flakes, if desired.

Recipe Notes

Recipe Source: Juliasalbum

Heavy cream, or a combination of cream and milk can be used in place of half-n-half.

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53 thoughts on “Chicken Penne with Bacon and Spinach in Creamy Tomato Sauce”

  1. Olya, this dish looks absolutely amazing!! I can’t wait to try it!! Especially with some crusty Italian bread…yummm..thank you for sharing your recipe with us!! 🙂 I may be of German decent but I’m an Italian at heart..lol..

  2. This recipe looks great! I am very literal and follow recipes to the tee. When are you supposed to add back in the half of the chicken that you took out?

    1. Hi Jennifer. Thank you for noticing this. It’s added right after mixing in pasta and bacon at the very end in order to keep the texture of it intact, since we used the first half for flavoring the sauce. When I added it, I just pushed my chicken slightly into the skillet to warm it up and then served it on top of the pasta. I will update the recipe as well. Let me know how it turns out!

  3. Have you ever tried substitutingthe spinich with fresh basil? Is there any reason why it might not work or taste good?

    1. I’ve never tried it with fresh basil, but it should work. I do frequently substitute spinach with chard or baby chard – same texture.

      1. Fresh basil has a much more pungent flavor than spinach and I’m wondering if it would mask the delicious flavors of the chicken and bacon. I made this with spinach and it was absolutely out of this world.

    1. Oh Claudia, that’s A LOT of people to cook for! This recipe is for 4 servings. My suggestions would be to get thick chicken breasts and cook them whole (without cutting first) – it’s much easier to cut cooked chicken and you will be making lots of it. Everything else can be managed easily. Are you doing it in batches?

      1. Yes of course – use canned ones. The only reason I used fresh ones is because we had so many of them in the backyard in August when I cooked it. It was easier to get them right there than drive to the store:).

  4. This looks amazingly delicious.. I wana give it a try right away but I wanted to ask if I can substitute bacon with something like sausages or salami or would skipping it completely do some major injustice to the recipe?

  5. Oh my looks amazing, my kind of food to make…thanks for the recipe..going to make this weekend..Can you add me on your list..

  6. Thank you for sharing this recipe! Very easy to follow. I made it last night and it was amazing. Looked just like the pictures.

  7. Just made this for dinner to prepare for our pre-Halloween sugar high. It’s very delicious. After reading others comments, I think adding sun dried tomatoes with the chopped tomatoes and some chopped basil for garnish would give it a brighter flavor. But it’s still delicious as is!

    1. Everything, except for the pasta can be made ahead. I find the sauce even better the next day, but personally do not enjoy soggy pasta, even though my family always raves about leftovers of this. One more thing, if making ahead WITH pasta – it might not look as inviting.

  8. Could this be made ahead of time and heated up an hour later Or prepared mostly and cook later. I am also making for a crowd.

  9. I’ve made this dish twice and it is delicious! The only problem I’m having is all the Parmesan cheese sticks to the spinach instead of melting into the cream. What am I doing wrong?

    1. Hi Jenn. When your sauce is ready for the cheese, remove it from the heat. If it’s really hot, let it cool a few minutes. The sauce only needs to be hot enough to melt the shredded or grated cheese. Do not add the cheese to the sauce while is still sitting over the heat, as that can cause the cheese to overcook.

  10. I’m wondering if I could substitute grated mozzarella for the Parmesan cheese, and I’d this would work with whole milk? I need to eat this today, but I’m stuck home with a sick kid!

    1. Mozarella will thicken it up pretty nicely even if you use whole milk, Beth. You should also add 1 tablespoon flour before adding spinach and tomatoes. I hope your kid feels better!

  11. This looks delicious but I am concerned about the calories. Is there a way to cut down on the calories? Can it be made with milk instead of the cream?

    1. You can definitely make it with milk, just make sure to use flour (1 tablespoon) to thicken up sauce a bit. You can also reduce amount of cheese in it. Try putting half of it and compensate by adding more seasoning (salt, pepper, Italian seasoning). You can always add more cheese later.

  12. This recipe looks and sounds amazing. Excited to hurry up and try it. Does it work well as a left over. It’s just me and my little one, Onny, 6 month old Chihuahua, i know we won’t eat all of it in one sitting.
    Thank You for sharing.

    1. It does work well as a left over. I always pour 1/4 cup chicken stock to heat it up in a skillet to avoid it sticking to the pan. I hope your chihuahua likes it too!

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