This chicken pasta with spinach and bacon in creamy tomato sauce is simply amazing with Parmesan cheese! The DELICIOUS creamy sauce permeates every single bite of this chicken penne dish. It’s as though all the ingredients here were made for each other. Very flavorful and creamy!
What kind of chicken to use in Chicken and Bacon Pasta
A few tips about which chicken to use in this chicken bacon spinach pasta. 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.
Substitutions that will work in this recipe
This chicken bacon spinach pasta 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, such as basil and oregano instead of the dried herbs. And if desired, you can also replace regular bacon with a turkey bacon.
Half and half. If you can’t find half and half or they don’t sell it where you live, simply mix half cup whole milk and half cup heavy cream or double cream. You can also use heavy cream or double cream without diluting it with milk.
Should you use fresh or frozen spinach?
Spinach is one of the healthy elements of this tasty chicken pasta dish and that’s one of my favorite ways to eat it – with pasta in creamy sauce. I always use fresh spinach in my recipes, but I also know that compact frozen spinach may be easier to handle than fresh spinach leaves that cook down significantly.
In terms of nutrition, frozen spinach compares very favorably with fresh spinach. And if you love spinach, by all means use more than what recipe indicates, since it shrinks when cooking.
Does the cream sauce have to be prepared separately?
The cream sauce is not prepared separately. Half and half (or you can use heavy cream), is added right into the pan with chicken, spinach and tomatoes.
Issues you might encounter while making this Chicken Bacon Pasta in Creamy Sauce
My dish is too watery. Make sure to drain excess liquid after cooking chicken. Depending on the chicken your supermarket carries, it may have added liquid that will be released during cooking. This liquid should be discarded.
My cheese clumped up. Make sure to reduce heat before adding Parmesan cheese. Once cheese is added, stir on low-medium simmer until the cheese is incorporated.
How to cook bacon
To start making this chicken bacon spinach pasta, you will need to cook bacon first. I like to cook it in the oven due to the simplicity and not having to wash the pan of the bacon grease afterwards since you can throw away that parchment paper so that clean up is minimal.
Bake it at 400 F for 15 to 20 minutes and then chop the bacon into 1 inch slices.
How to cook chicken
While 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 medium-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 only half of the strips to the skillet because we want to keep the other half intact and add it later on top of pasta.
Note: many readers prefer to skip this step – it’s completely fine to return all chicken back to the skillet, the only difference will be in the presentation.
Alternatively, you can also slice raw chicken and cook it that way. Make sure that all liquid, if any, is removed after cooking the chicken (depends on the chicken you use), otherwise the dish turn out to be too watery.
Add chopped tomatoes to the chicken and cook for 3 minutes on high until tomatoes release their juices. Next add fresh spinach and cook it until it wilts.
How to make Creamy Sauce
Now it’s time to make creamy sauce! Start by adding half and half (if you can’t find half and half or they don’t sell it where you live, simply mix half cup whole milk and half cup heavy cream/double 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.
How to add Parmesan Cheese to the Creamy Sauce
Make sure to reduce heat before adding Parmesan 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.
In 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 sliced bacon and stir until fully coated in sauce. Make sure bacon is reheated in teh sauce and pasta is mixed in. Taste and 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.
If you liked this chicken bacon spinach pasta, you might also enjoy other popular chicken recipes, such as Balsamic Chicken with Brussels Sprouts and Apples and Chicken Pasta in Creamy White Wine Parmesan Sauce).
Skillet used in making this Bacon Spinach Pasta Recipe
If you are looking for a well built quality stainless steel skillet used in this recipe – it’s this 12 inch All Clad Stainless Steel Skillet. It’s a bit pricey and is the most expensive skillet I own:), but it’s well worth it. It’s very large at 12 inches, comes with a lid and cooks food perfectly even!
Another great options (and a cheaper one too!) for a large stainless steel skillet is this 12 inch Cuisinart Stainless Steel Skillet . It’s moderately priced, dishwasher safe, oven safe and has a helper handle! It has over 3700 positive reviews on Amazon!
Make sure to heat the stainless steel pan before adding the oil – then add the food. Steel expands when hot and contracts when it comes into contact with a cooler temperature, which is why foods stick to the surface if the surface is cold.
By adding oil to the pan when it’s hot, the steel becomes static, resulting in a temporarily nonstick surface!
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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!
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound boneless and skinless chicken (thick in size, such as chicken breasts)
- 6 bacon strips
- 5 medium tomatoes (chopped in cubes)
- 10 oz. package of fresh spinach
- 1 cup half and half
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese shredded (more for garnish)
- 5 garlic cloves minced
- 8 oz. penne pasta
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (more, if desired)
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon salt
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.
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
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.
CHEESY SAUCE: Add half and half (see note if half and half is not availabe) 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.
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.
ADDING BACON: Add pasta and bacon and stir until fully coated in sauce. Season with more salt if necessary.
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 Source: Juliasalbum
If half and half is not available or is not sold in your area, use a combination of heavy cream and whole milk in place of half-n-half.