Easy Cajun Chicken Pasta
The only thing better than a creamy pasta dish is a creamy pasta dish with a little hint of spicy, savory flavor.
Lately Matt and I have been really trying to use our leftovers. Leftover meals, leftover ingredients, veggies, cheeses, alllllllldat. We're honestly terrible at it and its SUCH a waste of money. Months ago, I made a Cajun Chicken Pasta on Instastories, and totally winged it. It was so good.
Today, on this long weekend we had a halftime dinner planned out to watch football, but we weren't going to be full enough to skip lunch, and I saw a handful of all the ingredients I needed to make my favorite cajun chicken pasta as leftovers! Win!
The term "leftover" used loosely in this dish, because it was basically as follows:
1. pre-cubed cream cheese from my creamy corn casserole I didn't use.
2. 1/2 of a cut green bell pepper from pico de Gallo we made on Taco Tuesday.
3. "Baby" Roma tomatoes Matt accidentally bought for the pico de Gallo on Taco Tuesday that I had to replace
4. Cajun seasoned chicken I pre-made for a mexi-ranch salad, after the Taco Tuesday, I never took to work on Wednesday.
5. And 1/2 a box of pasta we had waiting for a meal that would only appease Matt and myself, SO, it was a cajun pasta sign!
I was lucky had the chicken was pre-seasoned because that is a really significant part of the flavor you need in this dish. The homemade cajun seasoning is so simple and great. A little red chili flakes, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne and oregano seasonings. Rub it all over the chicken and sizzle up in a cast iron skillet. Maybe add butter and its good go to for pasta, salad, or chopping up over nachos.
I also have a secret to this dish and its really cheap and easy. Bouillon cubes and boiling water. Yup. The secret is boiling the pasta and the roasted onion and garlic in chicken broth, which we get by making our own.
Chicken broth cans are fine, they last a while, they're preserved. The boxes of it, are less lasting and they all cost more. Buying actual bouillon cubes is the cheapest way, and all you have to do is boil them with equal cup water. So 1 cube per 1 cup water and then you can keep it in fridge. Honestly I'm not going to tell you how long. There isn't as many preservatives in it, as the kind that can go through this same process, and then not be refrigerated, so I feel like that's a good thing?
For this, you will probably need 3 bouillon cubes, 3 CUPS of water and bring it to a boil. While you're making the broth, season your chicken breast, and cook in a frying pan with some olive oil on MEDIUM. That will take around 10-20 minutes, depending if you use chicken cutlets or full breasts, either will work perfectly. The cutlets obviously will cook faster, so definitely pay close attention to not over cook. Some of us prefer chicken breasts. Chicken breasts take longer, however if you're like me and occasionally get side tracked while cooking, the chances of overcooking and losing that "juicy" factor are way less on a full chicken breast. Or thigh, I have never made this with a chicken thighs, but if that's your favorite way to devour some chicken pasta, good for it, girl! (or man) Shrimp is also quite appetizing in this dish... if you're leaning towards a pescatarian pasta dish, or just love shrimp pasta. I'm here for all options.
So, broth is done, set it aside for later. Chicken is done. DO NOT CHOP YET, also set aside for later. Use a large frying pan, one with high sides, for stir-frying, or go with a pot. Again, drizzle the olive oil, and heat ton MEDIUM. Slide chopped onion into the pan. Add garlic. Get fragrant. Dump the uncooked pasta right in. Yup, just do it. Stir the pasta and onion/garlic mix around, try to get it covered with the blend in the pan, then just let it cook for a minute. Only a minute though, no one wants burned crunchy penne.
Next up, dump the chicken broth in. This is my measuring. For an entire box of pasta, 6 CUPS. For a half box 3 CUPS. You want to just cover the pasta so it will absorb the broth, without needing to drain. I mean if there is a situation and you need to drain it's fine. Generally the drainer holes are not bigger than chopped onion or garlic so you won't lose any, but thats just another step and you really want to contain all that broth. Bring the broth and pasta to a boil on HIGH, stir occasionally and watching constantly. Don't fill up your wine glass at this time.
Once at a rolling boil, shake some cajun seasoning over the pasta, stir, reduce heat to LOW/MEDIUM, and cover. Keep an eye on it, a stir around every 2-3 minutes to ensure it doesn't stick to the sides, but always re-cover the pan until the pasta is cooked. It is safe to fill your wine glass now.
If you're measuring is good it pasta will be done when all of the broth is absorbed, BUT keep in mind the boxes directions for cook time. That will all depend on the type of pasta you use, which I want to add, first time around use penne or ziti or some type of singular, short pasta. I used farfelle to utilize some leftovers, but that is not great for a first time making this dish. I say that only because, the farfalle (bow-tie) pasta has dips, and crevices. It takes a little longer for the sauce you get into those spaces, it may not look how you expect it too right away, and you might think you f%@cked it up, but you didn't. Also, fettuccine, linguine, they're just more difficult to keep from sticking together and for the first time experience, keep it simple. Try the long strand pasta next time.
While the pasta is cooking, take your cherry tomatoes, chopped green pepper and toss into another frying pan with olive oil, on MEDIUM. Let those sizzle a bit, chop your chicken and toss that in too. We don't toss this in until the sauce is completely blended with the pasta so if it gets too warm, and your tomatoes look wrinkly and roasted, reduce heat to just keeping it warm. If you want a little extra kick, shake some cajun seasoning on the chicken and veggies, too.
Next up you grab those cubed piece of softened cream cheese. Measuring for half box you need half the 8oz dish of cream cheese, full pasta box, you need all the cream cheese. Make sure to cube it, it's also a pain in the nuts to stir around pasta with a heaping brick of cream cheese. You may need to turn your heat back up to MEDIUM, stir in some milk, either 2% or whole is best. If you have neither of those and only 1% or skim, my forever go to is half 1% and half creamer. The measuring is by the preference, so I start with just a little bit, maybe 1/4 CUP. Gently stir around and around the pan until the cream cheese has melted. If you're looking for a thinner texture to the sauce, or it doesn't seem like its getting "saucy" just add more milk, little pours at a time.
Shake in some more cajun seasoning, salt + pepper to taste, and then comes the parmesan cheese. I generally really do have shredded parmesan cheese on hand, but you can use the shake cheese too. Make sure to really stir it in. Once you have that combined and smooth, toss in the chicken, pepper and tomatoes and serve it up!
Pairs well with Pino Grigio. Or a vodka club with squeezed lemon and lime. Xo
This will be the ingredients for a full box of pasta, serving 4. For a serving of 2, cut everything in 1/2
2 chicken breasts, sliced in half or 4 pre-sliced chicken breast cutlets
6 bouillon cubes and 6 CUPS of water
McCormicks cajun seasoning blend OR see the bottom* for homemade cajun seasoning
a small container of cherry tomatoes
1 green bell pepper
1/2 chopped white onion
cilantro (fresh chopped or dried)
8 oz. of softened cream cheese, cubed
1 CUP of whole milk or heavy cream
1 box of penne pasta
salt + pepper to taste
1. Start with seasoning the chicken with cajun seasoning, whether you use the premixed with salt + pepper or the homemade version. Season, shake seasoning onto chicken, rub with olive oil and cook until temperature reaches 160 degrees in the oven, take out to rest.
2. Make chicken broth by boiling 6 CUPS of water with 6 bouillon cubes
3. While chicken cooks, chop up the onions, peppers, garlic and tomatoes in half if preferred, or just leave 'em whole.
4. Drizzle olive oil into deep frying pan, and warm it up. Toss in the chopped garlic and onions, cook until fragrant.
5. Next up, add the uncooked pasta to that pan, stir it around.
6. Pour the chicken broth you made earlier (or the kind you just buy) into the frying pan and stir around, covering the uncooked pasta.
7. Turn the burner up to HIGH and let the pasta and chicken broth get to a boil.
8. Shake some extra cajun seasoning over the pasta, once boiling, then reduce heat to LOW/MEDIUM and cover for the timed amount on the pasta you chose box.
9. Upon cooking the pasta should absorb all of the broth, or close to it. If it hasn't and the pasta has fully cooked to your preference, drain the pasta and onions/garlic, sometimes depending on the pasta it doesn't absorb all the same, so far, penne is the best.
10. Toss the cubes of cream cheese, and milk stir until blended, add milk if you want creamier texture.
11. Shake in some more cajun seasoning, salt and pepper to taste, and then parmesan cheese.
12. Make sure it's blended, and then the final step.
13. Toss in the chicken and veggies, mix around.
14. Serve it up! Enjoy xo