This cheesy tomato chicken pasta is the perfect easy dinner recipe. It’s topped with a crispy fried basil panko and has plenty of mozzarella to go around. Think of it like a deconstructed baked chicken parmigiana without the breading or frying.
I love this recipe because you get the cheesiness of chicken parm, but it’s lighter and not as decadent, meaning you can eat this, like, at least once a week if you wanted. The fried basil panko allows you to control how much “breading” you put on each dish. This is my favorite part because you don’t totally miss out on the crunchy, crispy chicken. My husband, the world’s biggest (unofficial) chicken parm enthusiast, absolutely loved it.
The components of the dish:
- The chicken: I used boneless, skin-on chicken thighs. I like these because I love chicken skin, and they’re easy to slice without needing to worry about the bone. Use bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (increase cooking time) or boneless skinless chicken thighs. If you’re not a fan of thighs, you can use boneless, skinless breasts, but I recommend cutting them in half lengthwise or using pre-sliced thinner cutlets. If you can find small chicken breasts, those work well, too, without needing to slice them.
- The sauce: A simple tomato sauce of shallot or onion, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, crushed red pepper, and my current sauce “it” girl ingredient: balsamic vinegar.
- The topping: I top the chicken with mozzarella and then broil it to get those gorgeous brown bubbles. I also make fried basil panko, which is just chopped basil, panko, and grated parmesan cheese. I fry the basil in extra virgin olive oil, add the panko and cook it until it’s crispy. Off the heat, I stir in grated parmesan cheese. I sprinkle this crispy, cheesy, fragrant topping all over the chicken before serving.
- The pasta: I use spaghetti, but your favorite pasta shape will work here.
Pasta is my favorite easy dinner recipe, and it all must be accompanied by a good sauce. This chicken pasta recipe starts with a pan-fry of the chicken. Using skin-on chicken will allow you to build up some schmaltz that makes the sauce taste even better. From there, add the ingredients in the following order:
- First, fry the chicken. It does not need to be cooked through, but if using skin-on thighs, be sure that you brown the skin nicely!
- Next, go through your sauce base. First, the shallots and the sun-dried tomatoes. Once the shallots are softened, add the garlic and crushed red pepper. Finish with balsamic vinegar.
- From there, add the tomatoes and a pinch of sugar if you like.
Bake the chicken:
Before adding the chicken back in, I like to use a potato masher to break up the tomatoes a bit. If using crushed tomatoes or diced, you can skip this step.
From there, add the parmesan rind, if you have one, and the chicken. Pop it in the oven until the chicken reaches 165ºF. To finish the chicken, simply sprinkle each thigh with mozzarella cheese and a tiny drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Place it under the broiler and broil until the cheese is bubbly and browned.
Make the pasta and fried basil panko:
While the tomato chicken bakes, boil up some pasta and make the fried basil panko. The panko topping is what makes this dish feel like a take on baked chicken parmigiana! The basil panko is a super easy 3-step process:
- Fry the basil: Heat up olive oil and add chopped basil. Frying it in olive oil really helps the basil release its fragrant oils, creating an intense basil flavor.
- Toast the panko: Add panko straight to the pot and stir until it takes on a golden brown color.
- Add parmesan: Take the pot off the heat and let stand a few minutes. Stir in grated parm and a pinch of salt.
Serve the tomato chicken pasta:
Once you broil the mozzarella cheese, scatter some of the basil on top. Remove the chicken from the pot and transfer it to a serving platter. Toss the pasta with the sauce; don’t worry if some of the basil panko made its way into the sauce! Toss to coat and then divide it between shallow bowls.
Finish up this easy dinner recipe by serving a chicken thigh on top of each bowl of pasta. Finish with more of that gorgeous basil panko to give this dish some baked chicken parmigiana vibes.
I hope you enjoy this cheesy tomato chicken pasta as much as we did! If you’re looking for more pasta recipes, be sure to check my archives.
If you made this recipe, please leave a comment below to let me know what you thought of it!
Cheesy Tomato Chicken Pasta
- 2 Large pots
- Small pot
- 4 boneless, skin-on chicken thighs
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
- 2 shallots or 1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
- ½ cup diced sun-dried tomatoes
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper, plus more to taste if you like
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 14.5- ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes
- Parmesan rind, optional
- Pinch of sugar, optional
- 12 ounces spaghetti
- ½ cup grated mozzarella
- Salt and pepper to taste
Fry the chicken:
- Preheat oven to 375ºF.
- Heat 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Pat the chicken dry and season all over with salt and pepper. Place the chicken into the pot, skin-side down, and fry without moving for 5 minutes until golden brown all over. Flip and cook for an additional 1–2 minutes. They need not be cooked through. Transfer to a plate.
Start the sauce:
- Add the diced shallots and sun-dried tomatoes to the pot of rendered chicken fat. Cook for 3–5 minutes or until the shallots soften.
- Add the minced garlic and crushed red pepper. Cook, often stirring, for 1 minute until fragrant.
- Pour in the balsamic vinegar and bring to a boil.
- Add the canned tomatoes and season all over with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then turn off the heat. Using a potato masher, gently mash the tomatoes. Add the parmesan rind and a pinch of sugar.
Bake the chicken and sauce:
- Arrange the chicken on top of the sauce, skin-side up, and transfer to the oven for 20 minutes. If using bone-in thighs, increase cooking time to 30–35 minutes. Once the internal temperature reaches 165ºF, remove the pot from the oven and turn on the broiler.
Cook the spaghetti:
- While the chicken bakes, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and cook the spaghetti until al dente. Remove 1/3 cup of the pasta cooking water and set aside. Drain the pasta.
Prepare the fried basil panko:
- Heat 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a small pot over medium heat. Once hot, add the chopped basil leaves and constantly stir for 1 minute until fragrant.
- Add the panko and stir to incorporate. Cook until the panko deepens in color and toasts. Turn off the heat. Let stand for 5–10 minutes.
- Stir the grated parmesan into the panko. Add a sprinkle of salt. Set aside.
Finish the chicken:
- Remove the parmesan rind from the sauce and discard it. Sprinkle a bit of mozzarella on top of each piece of chicken. Drizzle the mozzarella with extra virgin olive oil if you like. Transfer the pot to the oven under the broiler and broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Turn off the broiler and remove the pot from the oven. Scatter some of the basil panko on top of the chicken and transfer the chicken to a serving platter. Don’t worry if some of the panko ends up in the sauce!
Sauce the pasta:
- Add the cooked pasta to the sauce. Add the pasta cooking water, as needed, and toss to coat the pasta with the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasonings to your preference.
- Divide the pasta between shallow bowls and serve with a chicken thigh on top. Spoon more fried basil panko on top and garnish with fresh basil. Enjoy!