This easy Tuscan Chicken Mac and Cheese is lightened up with everyday ingredients. Its rich Italian flavors are to-die-for! The simple stovetop method makes it quick to prepare.
Prep Time: 5mins
Cook Time: 30mins
Total Time: 35mins
8ounceswhole-wheat pasta - fusilli, penne, rigatoni, rotini, shells, elbow, or a similar “short” pasta
17-ounce jar sun-dried tomatoes in oil
1tablespoonextra virgin olive oil - divided
1 1/4poundsboneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs - cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2teaspoonkosher salt - divided
1/2teaspooncoarsely ground black pepper - divided
1cupwhole milk - 2% also works; swap part for half and half for incredible richness
1 ½teaspoonsItalian seasoning
1cupshredded part skim mozzarella cheese - about 4 ounces
1/2cupshredded sharp cheddar cheese - about 4 ounces
4cupsloosely packed baby spinach - about 4 handfuls
Chopped fresh basil or parsley - optional for serving
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta in the water until pasta is al dente, according to package directions. Gather the rest of your ingredients (even the spices) and make sure they are measured and on hand. Once the pasta has finished cooking, reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and set aside.
Meanwhile, reserve 2 tablespoons of oil from the jar of sun-dried tomatoes, then drain away the remaining oil. Pat the tomatoes dry, then roughly chop and set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. Once it is hot, add the chicken pieces. Sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Saute until the chicken is golden on the outside and fully cooked through on the inside, about 5 minutes. Remove to a plate and set aside.
To the skillet, add the reserved sun-dried tomato oil and the butter. Once the butter melts, add the sun-dried tomatoes and remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Sprinkle the flour over the top, then cook and stir for 1 minute, until the white bits of flour disappear. The pan will seem dry.
Slowly pour in the milk, stirring as you go. Bring to a simmer. Stir in the Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and remaining ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Let simmer until very slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.
Stir in the cheese until smooth. Turn off the heat and stir in the drained pasta and reserved chicken. Add the spinach a few handfuls at a time, until the spinach wilts and is fully incorporated. If the sauce is too thick at any point, splash in a little bit of the reserved pasta water as needed. It should be rich, creamy, and nicely coat the noodles. Enjoy hot, with a sprinkle of fresh basil or parsley as desired.
TO STORE: Place leftover mac and cheese in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
TO REHEAT: Gently rewarm leftovers in a large skillet on the stove over medium-low heat, adding splashes of milk as needed to thin the sauce. You can also reheat this dish in the microwave.
TO FREEZE: Store mac and cheese in an airtight freezer-safe storage container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.