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The best grown-up mac and cheese — shell pasta in a creamy lemon garlic sauce with chicken, fresh basil and roasted zucchini.
Are you ready for creamy chicken cavatelli pasta with roasted zucchini, basil and chicken?
This lemony, creamy pasta main dish is ready in 30 minutes, and it’s rich, savory and fresh-tasting all at the same time.
With the addition of leftover chicken it’s a one-dish meal (or leave it out to make this totally vegetarian).
If you’re afraid of butter, use cream (to borrow Julia Child’s words).
I love butter, but this easy creamy pasta sauce doesn’t have any — just straight-up heavy cream, brightened with fresh lemon zest and juice.
I call this creamy chicken cavatelli pasta a grown-up macaroni and cheese because, well, it includes zucchini and chicken.
And the sauce is not your typical flour-based alfredo white sauce (I’m also looking at you, béchamel).
Thick white sauces often start out with a base of butter and flour and they use milk, not cream.
In my opinion, they often turn out gloppy and heavy.
Instead, in this recipe the heavy cream for the lemony sauce simmers for a few minutes, which reduces and thickens it slightly.
Then you crumble in soft goat cheese and good Parmesan, which coats the hot pasta and vegetables beautifully.
What is cavatelli?
It’s a small pasta shaped like itty-bitty seashells.
Cavatellli is the perfect shape to pair with a creamy sauce, because the sauce gets into the tiny hollow of the pasta.
And if you’re expecting the most from a bowl of pasta, there’s really nothing better than that!
Cavatelli is available dried, as well as fresh and frozen (although the latter is often made with a ricotta dough).
I bought my cavatelli for this recipe at Whole Foods.
If you can’t find cavatelli, a small ridged pasta cut like shells will work too.
This recipe makes good use of leftover chicken breast.
And, if you’re looking for another way to dress up the endlessly versatile green zucchini, here’s another great way to do just that.
The seasoned zucchini is quickly roasted with olive oil, just enough so that it starts to brown.
If you love this creamy chicken cavatelli pasta
Check out more recipes for chicken, creamy pasta and zucchini:
- Zucchini Fritti with Parsley and Parmesan — a healthy, easy fried zucchini salad.
- Baked Creamy Pasta with Spinach, Chicken and Fontina — a family-favorite one-dish oven pasta.
- Summer Squash with Basil Butter — a quick vegetable side.
- Tuscan Roasted Lemon Chicken — the best way to make juicy chicken breasts.
Creamy Chicken Pasta with Zucchini and Lemon
- 3/4 pound (350 g) medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced into 2-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red chili
- 1 1/2 cups (375 ml) heavy cream
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- Freshly grated zest from 1 lemon
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 4 ounces soft goat cheese
- 1/2 cup (50 g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 1/2 cups chicken breast, chopped or shredded
- 12 ounces (350 g) dried cavatelli pasta
- Handful fresh basil, torn into pieces.
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Toss the zucchini on a rimmed baking sheet with the olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt and the crushed chili. Roast 20 minutes, or until the zucchini is golden brown on the edges.
- Bring 4 or 5 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add 2 tablespoons salt. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.
- Put the cream, shallot, garlic and lemon zest in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat (watch that it doesn't boil over), then reduce the heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir the lemon juice, goat cheese, Parmesan.
- Drain the pasta and transfer to a serving bowl. Add the chicken, cream mixture and zucchini and mix together. Scatter the basil over the pasta and serve hot.
Karen's Notes and Tips
Hey, I’m Karen
Creator of Familystyle Food
I’m a food obsessed super-taster and professionally trained cook ALL about making cooking fun and doable, with easy to follow tested recipes and incredibly tasty food! Read more about me here.