This easy chicken spinach pasta recipe is ready in 30 minutes with a box of pasta and a rotisserie chicken! Make a cheesy alfredo-inspired sauce from scratch (without heavy cream!) in just one pot.
This recipe was originally published in 2015. It was updated in 2021 with new photos and additional notes.
On busy weeknights (or lazy weekends!) a simple chicken alfredo is my secret weapon.
Just grab a box of pasta, pick up a rotisserie chicken (or pull some meal-prep shredded chicken out of the fridge!), and whisk together a quick homemade sauce with parmesan, a bit of cream cheese, and plenty of fresh spinach.
A quick note about traditional alfredo:
This recipe is a very loose and very American interpretation of fettuccine alfredo. In the States, we typically see alfredo sauce made with butter, parmesan, and quite a bit of heavy cream. But traditional Roman alfredo uses no heavy cream: it’s a simple sauce of butter and parmesan tossed with plenty of salty pasta water (and it’s actually more popular abroad than it is in Italy!)
When this recipe was originally posted, we called it “alfredo” because it was developed as a lighter alternative to the cream-heavy alfredo sauce many Americans will recognize. But our sauce here is quite a departure from authentic Italian alfredo (and really, because we use a flour-and-butter roux to thicken this sauce, it’s technically a béchamel – making it more French than Italian).
How to make this pasta.
- Boil your noodles in salty water until al dente. Reserve a bit of pasta water, drain the pasta, and put the pot back on the stove.
- Make a quick alfredo-inspired sauce! Whisk melted butter and flour together to form a roux, slowly whisk in your milk, and bring it all to a simmer.
- Finish the sauce. Stir in cooked chicken pieces (chopped or shredded), fresh spinach, a bit of cream cheese, and shredded parmesan.
- Add your cooked pasta to the sauce, then stir in a splash of pasta water to bring it all together.
Freezing, reheating, and make-ahead tips.
Yes! This pasta freezes quite well. You can freeze the prepared sauce on its own (defrost overnight in the fridge, then reheat in a small saucepan and toss with pasta and a splash of pasta water) for 2-3 months without losing flavor. Freeze the assembled pasta for 1-2 months in an airtight container (defrost overnight in the fridge and reheat on the stovetop with a splash of milk or heavy cream to bring the sauce back together).
Yes! Reheat leftover or previously frozen pasta in a large saucepan over low heat. Stir in a few tablespoons of milk, cream, or chicken stock to help the sauce stay creamy.
Yes! Make the sauce ahead of time, let it cool completely, and store in an airtight container in the fridge (3-4 days) or freezer (2-3 months) until you’re ready to use it.
Riffs and Substitutions
This pasta is very forgiving – it’s easy to mix it up to use what you have on hand! Some of our favorite twists:
- Add extra veggies! Steamed broccoli, fresh tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, and roasted vegetables (butternut squash! broccoli! bell peppers! zucchini!) are all delicious here. You can also use fresh kale or arugula in place of (or in addition to) the spinach!
- Swap (or add) proteins. Top this pasta with crispy bacon for some extra flavor and texture, or swap the chicken for another protein (we love using shrimp, salmon, or sausage here!)
- Switch up the pasta. We used penne pasta for these photos, but this recipe is also excellent with fettuccine noodles (or any shape of pasta you have on hand!) You can also use the sauce in a lasagna, for lasagna roll-ups, or to stuff large pasta shells. Top lasagna or shells with shredded mozzarella and bake at 350° F until bubbly and lightly browned for a casserole-style pasta bake!
- Make it without pasta to lighten things up. We love pasta, but it’s not the only option here! Serve this sauce over grilled or roasted chicken (leave the chicken out of the sauce for this option), roasted or steamed cauliflower, or zucchini noodles. You can also use this sauce as the base for a delicious alfredo pizza with our easy pizza dough!
This quick and easy weeknight pasta uses a homemade parmesan sauce, chicken, and plenty of spinach!
- 1 pound pasta (we used penne)
- 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 Tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1 ¾ cups milk
- 2 Tablespoons cream cheese (optional)
- 1 ½ cups shredded parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish
- 2 cups cooked shredded chicken
- 3 heaping cups fresh spinach, lightly chopped
- ½ cup reserved pasta water (step 1)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Cook the penne in very salty water until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of pasta water (reserve more if doubling or tripling the recipe), then drain pasta and return the pot to the stove.
- Add butter to pot and melt over medium heat. Add chopped garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
- Add flour to butter and whisk to combine. Let cook for 1 minute until fragrant and lightly browned.
- Add milk a little at a time, whisking constantly to work out any lumps. Milk will thicken up quickly at the beginning, but as you whisk the rest of the milk in it will loosen the sauce.
- Cook sauce, whisking occasionally, until thickened, about 6 minutes.
- Add chicken, spinach, and cream cheese. Stir until cheese has melted.
- Turn off the heat and stir in parmesan cheese.
- Return cooked pasta to sauce and stir to combine. Stir in the reserved pasta water a few Tablespoons at a time until sauce is smooth and creamy (you may not need all of the pasta water.)
- Taste the pasta! Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with extra parmesan and fresh cracked black pepper (optional) and serve immediately.
Shred your own parmesan cheese for best results. Store-bought shredded cheese often has preservatives that prevent it from melting smoothly. We recommend using a good parmigiano-reggiano cheese and shredding it yourself.
Additions and Substitutions. Use shrimp, salmon, or sausage in place of the chicken. Add crispy bacon or prosciutto as a topping. Add extra veggies (broccoli, peas, kale, cauliflower, roasted squash) to make this pasta a bit heartier. Swap kale or arugula for part or all of the spinach if you like. Use goat cheese in place of cream cheese.
To make this recipe vegetarian, omit the chicken and make sure to choose a parmesan cheese made without rennet.
If your sauce is too thick, add an extra splash of pasta water, milk, cream, or chicken stock to thin it out. If sauce is too thin, let it simmer an additional 2-3 minutes until thickened.
For a lightened-up twist, swap our favorite Magic Cauliflower Cream for the flour and milk in this recipe!
Keywords: alfredo, meal prep, pasta sauce