April 9, 2018

Chicken Marsala Pasta Bake

I'm feeling pretty conflicted right now, and it's surprisingly not because I have to graduate in a few weeks and enter the real world. No, it's because it's April and the outdoor farmers' market starts next week and, of course, it's supposed to snow tomorrow. I can't keep up with this crazy flip-flopping weather (sadly, no more flip flop weather since spring break ended last week), and it's confusing my diet as much as my wardrobe. It seems like one day I'm needing a cozy bowl of hot soup to warm me up and the next Spring is peeking through and I want to break out all my fresh springtime recipes.

Chicken Marsala is traditionally a lightly breaded chicken cutlet with a luscious Marsala wine and mushroom sauce. It's a great weeknight dish since it can be made fairly quickly and is just the thing to keep your warm and full. So how can you make it better? I'm always up for some pasta, and some extra bacon never hurt anyone. I crisp up some bacon, cook the chicken in the drippings, and make a mushroom and Marsala pan sauce. That velvety sauce gets tossed with the chicken, pasta, and plenty of cheese for a tasty spin on an Italian classic.

Most chicken in Chicken Marsala gets dredged in flour and pan-fried, but here I take advantage of all that flavorful bacon fat for just a quick sear. Thin boneless, skinless chicken breasts work best for quick cooking, and they can be easily cut up into bite-sized pieces for easy eating. The sauce is built on the drippings of the bacon and chicken, since those brown bits are the key to a well-rounded flavor. I start with onions then add garlic, herbs, and plenty of mushrooms. I typically go for sliced baby portobellos, but crimini, porcini, or whatever mushrooms you can find would also work. I deglaze the pan to scrape up the last of those brown bits, and of course you have to use Marsala wine here. Anything else would give you a perfectly delicious sauce, just not Chicken Marsala. Once the alcohol cooks off, butter and flour help to thicken the sauce, and I whisk in some chicken stock to achieve a silky texture that's just liquidy enough to coat the pasta.

I'm not particularly picky about which pasta to use here, but I do prefer one with lots of twists and turns and nooks and crannies to catch the sauce, the bacon, and the mushrooms. I cook the pasta until barely al dente since it will cook more in the oven and I still like it to have some texture. The cooked pasta is tossed with the sauce, chicken, bacon, and cheese and is topped with even more cheese. Since everything in the dish is already cooked, it only needs a little bit of time in the oven to melt the cheese and give the flavors a chance to meld together. It's a little more portable and rounded than a typical Chicken Marsala, so you'll want to make it for weeknight meals and leftover lunches all Spring.

8 oz Pasta
1/4 lb Bacon
1 lb Chicken Breast
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
12 oz Mushrooms, Sliced
3 Sprigs Thyme
1/3 Cup Marsala
1 T Butter
1/4 Cup Flour
1 1/2 Cups Chicken Stock
2/3 Cup Grated Parmesan
6-8 oz Mozzarella

Heat oven to 375F and grease an 11x7" baking dish.

Cook the pasta in salted water until al dente according to package directions.

Cook the bacon in a large pot until crisp. Remove and chop.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown in the bacon drippings until golden, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to the prepared dish and bake for 8 minutes or until cooked through. Shred or dice when cool.

Cook the onion in the drippings for 4 minutes or until tender and fragrant. Season with salt and pepper, then add the garlic, mushrooms, and thyme. Cook for 8 minutes until the liquid evaporates. Add the marsala and cook for 6 minutes or until reduced.

Stir in the butter. Once melted, add the flour and cook for 3 minutes or until thick. Slowly whisk in the chicken stock and cook for 6 minutes. Add the chicken, pasta, and 1/3 cup parmesan. Transfer to the prepared dish and top with the mozzarella and remaining parmesan. Bake for 18 minutes or until golden and bubbly.

Serves 4-6
Recipe Adapted from Smitten Kitchen


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