This Tuscan chicken mac and cheese is hearty comfort food that your whole family will love! The simple stovetop mac and cheese recipe is loaded with roasted chicken, aromatic sundried tomatoes,and baby spinach, tossed in a luxuriously silky cheese sauce. Best? The dish comes together in one pot and is ready in under 1 hour.
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Easy homemade Tuscan chicken mac and cheese
Roasted chicken, sundried tomatoes, and pasta drenched in a decadent cheese sauce – do I need to say more? If you’d like to cook something a little different, try my recipe for Tuscan mac and cheese.
The addition of Italian seasoning and a combination of different cheeses elevates this creamy mac and cheese to a complex, delicious main course that will be a hit with your family.
Cooked in one pot, Tuscan chicken mac n cheese is kind of fancy, even though it’s really simple and quick to prepare. You can serve this mac and cheese dinner idea on a casual weeknight or Saturday feast with friends alike.
Ingredients & substitutions
This is just an overview. For the full ingredient amounts and recipe instructions, scroll to the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post.
Pasta, chicken & veggies
This chicken and macaroni recipe requires more materials than regular mac and cheese recipes, but most are pantry-friendly and easy to find. You’ll need these simple ingredients:
- Pasta: My favorite pasta shapes for mac and cheese are elbow pasta, dry macaroni, corkscrew pasta, rigatoni, and fusilli. Any short noodles will work well, and you can use classic, whole wheat, or gluten-free pasta.
- Chicken: Adding a protein makes Tuscan chicken mac and cheese a full meal. You’ll need to 2 large skinless boneless chicken breasts. Chicken thighs would also be a great option.
- Sundried tomatoes lend the dish a warm, sunny flavor. The recipe calls for one 8-oz jar. I skipped the butter in this easy mac and cheese recipe. Instead, we’ll incorporate the oil from the tomatoes to fry the chicken and create the roux.
- Baby spinach cooks quickly, is more tender, and has a sweeter flavor than regular spinach.
Like all traditional mac and cheese recipes, this chicken macaroni begins with a roux. A roux is a combination of flour and fat (in this case, the tomato oil from the sundried tomatoes) and acts as a thickening agent for the cheese sauce.
- Milk provides a velvety texture. I used whole milk for a lighter sauce, but you can certainly use evaporated milk, half-and-half, or even heavy cream in case you love an extra rich and creamy sauce.
- Chicken broth: In this one pot mac and cheese recipe, the pasta is cooked in chicken stock and milk, which infuses the noodles with tons of aroma. If you don’t have broth, you can also use water and add a bouillon cube or bouillon powder.
- All-purpose flour helps to thicken the sauce. The flour is heated in oil, which is called a roux and is the base of the cheese sauce.
- Garlic isn’t overly noticeable but simply boosts the other flavors and highlights the chicken, tomatoes, and spinach.
- Seasonings: A mix of salt, ground black pepper, and Italian seasoning infuse the sauce with aromatic flavor while still allowing the other ingredients to shine.
I used a combination of cheddar and parmesan cheese for the sauce.
- Sharp cheddar boats richness and provides that signature aroma. For the best results, shred the cheddar yourself. Pre-shredded cheese is coated in starches that give the sauce a weird texture.
- Parmesan cheese is sweet, slightly salty, and underscores the cheddar perfectly. It melts gorgeously for a luxurious creaminess.
Feel free to substitute the cheddar with gruyere, asiago, or Pepper Jack. You could also add mozzarella cheese in addition to cheddar and parmesan, but it doesn’t contribute much to the flavor and makes the sauce a bit stringy.
How to make Tuscan chicken mac and cheese
If you’re familiar with the process for making homemade mac n cheese, then Tuscan chicken macaroni will be a snap for you! My easy one-pot method requires minimal work and saves you from cleaning extra pots. Here’s what to do!
Step 1: Season chicken
- Take the chicken breast out of the fridge 30 minutes in advance to warm up.
- Rub each fillet with 2 teaspoons of the oil and season generously with salt and ground black pepper and 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning.
Step 2: Roast chicken
- Add the reaming oil to a large pot, Dutch oven, or large skillet.
- Roast the chicken breasts over medium-high heat until browned and cooked through about 3 to 4 minutes on each side.
- Once done, transfer chicken breasts onto a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
Step 3: Make roux
- To the same pot, add the garlic and reduce to medium heat. Cook for 1 minute until fragrant.
- Then whisk in the flour and cook for 3 minutes until golden and smooth. Be sure to gently scarp the bottom of the pan, so the flour doesn’t burn.
Step 4: Add liquids and seasonings
- Pour in the chicken broth and 3 cups of milk, followed by 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper, and 2 tsp Italian seasoning.
- Cover with a lid and bring to a boil.
Step 5: Cook pasta
- Once boiling, remove the lid and stir in the pasta.
- Cook uncovered over medium high until the pasta is just al dente, for about 8 to 10 minutes or according to the package instructions.
Step 6: Add tomatoes and spinach
- Reduce the heat to a low simmer and stir in the sundried tomatoes and baby spinach. Stir until the spinach is wilted, then take the pot off the heat.
Step 7: Melt cheese
- Stir in the shredded cheddar and parmesan and mix until the cheese has fully melted and is well incorporated.
Step 8: Serve
- Cut the chicken breasts into thin slices, add to the pan, and toss until evenly coated.
- Sprinkle with Italian seasoning and pepper if desired and enjoy warm.
Tips for the best chicken macaroni
This creamy mac and cheese has so much flavor, and it’s one of our favorite one pot dinner recipes. The following tips and tricks guarantee the best mac and cheese with chicken every time.
- Use high-quality ingredients. Chicken, cheese, sundried tomatoes, and spinach are the stars of this quick one-pot meal and need to be top-notch.
- Shred the cheese yourself. As mentioned earlier, pre-shredded cheeses are treated with starches that will prevent them from melting creamy, resulting in a grainy sauce.
- Use enough oil. Don’t discard the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes. It adds richness to the dish and infuse bright flavor into every bite. You need 3 tbsp to fry the chicken and at least 3 to 4 tbsp to make the roux and a little more for rubbing the chicken.
- Cook the roux for 3 minutes. It’s easy to get this step wrong, but the roux needs to be cooked for a full 3 to 5 minutes until it looks very smooth and golden.
- Don’t overcook the pasta. The noodles should be al dente, meaning they should be firm in the center and still have a little bite. So be sure to test your pasta 2 to 3 minutes earlier than indicated on the box.
- Mix multiple cheeses for the best aroma. I also recommend adding the cheese in 1/2 cup increments and stirring it in thoroughly before adding more.
- Stir constantly. From making the roux, to cooking the pasta, and melting the cheese, this dish needs to be stirred a lot to ensure the sauce turns out creamy and clumpy-free.
- Thin the sauce if desired. If the cheese sauce seems too thick after adding the cedar and parmesan, simply thin it out with extra milk until your desired consistency.
Looking for ways to customize your Tuscan mac and cheese? Great! Here are some easy ideas for making it your own:
- Seafood: Feel free to swap the chicken for roasted shrimp or sauteed salmon. You can also use other leftover cooked protein such as ground beef, turkey, or Italian sausage.
- Bacon: Fry a few strips of thick bacon until crisp. Then crumble the bacon and stir half into the stovetop mac and cheese and sprinkle the rest on top.
- Veggies: Roasted broccoli, asparagus, mushrooms, or zucchini are easy add-ins for Tuscan mac and cheese.
- Topping: To create a crispy topping, mix 2/3 cup breadcrumbs with 3 tablespoons melted butter. Sprinkle on top and broil in the oven until golden brown.
Tuscan chicken mac and cheese is a complete meal in itself, and you don’t really need any sides. Still, we love this dish with warm garlic bread and a green, crunchy salad. It also pairs well with roasted vegetables, for example, pan-fried broccoli, glazed carrots, and grilled asparagus.
How to store Tuscan-style mac and cheese
- Fridge: Let leftovers cool completely and transfer into an airtight container, and store in the refrigerator. Consume within 3 to 4 days.
- Freezer: Put cooled Tuscan mac and cheese in a freezer container and freeze for up to 3 months. Let thaw in the fridge overnight.
How to reheat chicken macaroni
- Stove top: Warm over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until hot and bubbly. Optional, stir in a couple of tablespoons of milk or light cream for a creamier texture.
- Oven: To reheat in the oven, transfer the mac and cheese into an oven-safe baking dish and stir in 1/4 cup milk. Cover with foil and bake in a preheated 350°F / 180°C / gas mark 4 oven for 15 minutes. Then uncover, stir, and bake for an extra 5 to 10 minutes.
- Microwave: Warm individual portions in 1-minute heatings, stirring between each heating, until warmed through.
Making Tuscan chicken mac and cheese ahead of time
One pot mac and cheese is a great make-ahead dish and excellent for meal prep. You can completely prepare the chicken and macaroni recipe in advance and reheat it on the stove or in the oven until hot and bubbly.
If making this Italian mac and cheese recipe ahead of time, ensure that the pasta is short of al dente, so the noodles don’t get mushy when reheated.