India meets Italy in this fusion Butter Chicken Pasta Bake masterpiece! Creamy, buttery, and spicy Indian style Butter Chicken gets tossed with penne pasta, and is then baked with layers of mozzarella and cheddar cheese!
2 Chicken Breasts or Thighs (about 400 grams / 0.88 pounds), boneless, skinless – cleaned, pat-dried, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 TBLS Unsalted Butter
1 TBLS Olive Oil (or any other cooking oil you prefer)
For the Butter Chicken Pasta Bake:
8 ounces uncooked Pasta (I used penne, but any short-cut pasta will work.)
1 medium Red Onion – small chopped
10 Garlic cloves – minced
1.5” knob of Ginger (about 2 TBLS minced) – minced
2 medium Tomatoes – skinned, small chopped
5–10 Red Chilies, to taste – chopped
1–2 Green Chilies, to taste – chopped
¾ TSP Kosher Salt, to taste
1/8 TSP (a pinch) of freshly cracked Black Pepper ½ TSP Garam Masala
¾ TSP ground Cumin
¾ TSP Coriander powder
1 TSP Turmeric powder
1 TSP ground Cayenne (or Kashmiri red chili powder), to taste
2 TBLS Unsalted Butter
½ TBLS Olive Oil (or any other cooking oil you prefer)
1 cup Water
½ TSP Tandoori Color powder (or 1–2 drops red/orange food coloring)
1 TSP freshly squeezed Lemon Juice
200ml (20% fat) Cooking Cream (or use single cream or half and half)
1.5–2 TBLS chopped fresh or frozen Methi (fenugreek) Leaves or 2 TSP Kasuri/Kasoori Methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
1 cup shredded part skim low-moisture Mozzarella Cheese (I use Tillamook’s)
1 cup freshly grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1–2 TBLS chopped Coriander (for garnish)
For the Chicken:
Marinate the chicken: Clean and pat-dry the chicken breasts with paper towels, then cut into bite-sized pieces. Combine the Greek style yogurt (or plain yogurt), lemon juice, kosher salt, garam masala, ground cumin, coriander powder, turmeric powder, and ground cayenne in a medium sized bowl. Mix with a spoon until evenly combined, then add the chicken pieces and toss to coat in the marinade. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and allow the chicken to marinate for at least 1 hour, or overnight in the refrigerator for best flavor.
Cook the chicken: When ready to cook, heat unsalted butter and olive oil in a large nonstick skillet or fry pan over medium-high heat. Once the butter is frothing, add the marinated chicken pieces (and all the marinade in the bowl) and spread the pieces out evenly in the pan. Cook for 5-6 minutes, turning the chicken pieces occasionally, until almost all of the liquid has cooked off and the chicken has fully cooked through. Switch off the heat and set aside.
For the Butter Chicken Pasta Bake:
Prep: Pre-heat oven to 175°C/350°F. Cook the pasta al–dente according to package instructions in a large pot (or use the same sauté pan you’ll use for the Butter Chicken) of boiling salted water. Drain and set aside. (I like to run water over the pasta to prevent them from sticking and cooking further.) Chop the red onion, garlic, ginger, red and green chilies, and tomatoes as indicated in the “Ingredients” section and set aside. Combine all the spices and seasonings – the kosher salt, black pepper, coriander powder, ground cumin, turmeric powder, garam masala, and ground cayenne in a small bowl. Set aside.
Sauté: Heat the unsalted butter and olive oil in a large deep sauté pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the red onion and sauté until softened – about 1-2 minutes. Next, add the garlic, ginger, and red and green chilies and continue sautéing until fragrant – about 2 minutes.
Add seasonings and spices: Stir in the spices and seasonings in the bowl you made earlier and mix to combine with everything in the pan.
Simmer: Add the chopped tomatoes and pour in 1 cup of water. Stir to combine, then lower the heat to low and cover the pan. Simmer for 5-6 minutes.
Blend: Uncover the pan and switch off the heat. Carefully transfer the contents in the pan to a blender jug. Cover and blend until a smooth texture is achieved. (Note: Be careful as hot liquids tend to expand when blending. You may need to uncover the blender jug and push down the contents with a spoon 1-2 times.) Transfer the sauce back to the pan, then switch on the heat and set to low.
Stir in Tandoori color, lemon juice, and cooking cream: Add the Tandoori color powder (or food coloring if using), lemon juice, and cooking cream. Stir until fully integrated and the color of the sauce is even.
Add methi, chicken, and pasta: Stir in the methi leaves (or kasuri methi leaves). Then add the cooked chicken to the sauce and stir to combine. Add the cooked pasta and toss for a minute or two until everything is evenly coated in the sauce, then switch off the heat. (Note: It may appear to be very saucy, but the pasta will absorb a lot of the liquid/sauce during baking and also afterwards.)
Assemble and bake: Transfer half of the Butter Chicken Pasta to a 9×13-inch baking dish. Top evenly with half of the shredded mozzarella cheese and half of the freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese. Then repeat and spread the remaining Butter Chicken Pasta on top, and sprinkle evenly with the remaining cheeses. Bake for 13-15 minutes, or until the cheese has melted. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes.
To Serve: Garnish with chopped coriander and enjoy!
Ingredient Notes, Cook’s Tips, and FAQs
Recipe ‘Prep Time’ does not account for chicken marinating (inactive) time.
Methi (fenugreek) leaves: You can try finding fresh methi at your local Indian grocery store. They’re usually sold in bunches while still attached to the stems. If you don’t have access to fresh methi leaves, you can use 2 teaspoons kasuri methi leaves (also spelled kasoori methi) which are dried fenugreek leaves instead. You can find kasuri methi in some large supermarkets, large retail stores such as Walmart, or online.
Not a fan of coriander? Garnish with chopped basil or mint leaves if you prefer.
Can I substitute fenugreek seeds instead of fresh or dried fenugreek leaves? Unfortunately, the flavor profile of fenugreek seeds is different from fenugreek leaves and will not be a good substitute for this recipe. I suggest substituting with a teaspoon of fenugreek powder if fenugreek leaves are not easily available to you. Alternatively, stir in a tablespoon of chopped coriander. Although it won’t taste the same, it’s a better option than not adding anything at all.
How do I store unused fresh methi leaves? Wash and dry the methi. Then pick the leaves off the stems. I recommend chopping the leaves (some can be quite big), then storing them in a freezer-friendly Ziploc bag. Then you can pull out the bag and use how much you need whenever a recipe calls for it. Frozen methi leaves stay good for about 3 months if stored properly.
Can I use different cheeses? Yes, you definitely can! Some of my favorite combos are Italian Blend ((I like Tillamook’s Farmstyle Cut Shredded Italian Blend Cheese, which is a mixture of shredded low moisture part-skim mozzarella and parmesan cheese) and muenster cheese, smoked cheddar and mozzarella, and mozzarella and pepper jack cheese for an extra spicy version! You could also just use one type of cheese if you wish.
Can I use a different pasta shape? Yes. You can use any type of short-cut pasta you like. A few short-cut pasta options aside from penne are farfalle, conchiglie, macaroni, rigatoni, and fusilli. Noodle-type pastas can be used in a pinch, but short-cut pastas will work better in this dish.
Can I make this less spicy/completely mild? Sure! Adjust the amount of ground cayenne and red and green chilies you use to suit your heat level preference. You can also make it completely mild and omit the ground cayenne and chilies. You could also add honey to naturally sweeten the sauce and balance out the heat from all the spices.
Can I make this vegetarian? Yes. You can make this recipe with paneer (Indian cottage cheese) so that it’s a Butter Paneer Pasta Bake. Follow the same method for marinating and cooking the paneer as you would the chicken. But note that paneer tends to crumble if handled to vigorously, so be gentle when mixing the cubes with the marinade and cooking them. Check out my Paneer Butter Masala (Paneer Makhani) recipe for more information on how to make it. Then you can follow the steps to assemble the pasta bake in this recipe.
Can I make this gluten-free? Yes. Use a gluten-free pasta. All of the ingredients in the Butter Chicken are naturally gluten-free, but double check the ingredient labels for your cheeses to ensure that they are GF certified.
Can I make this dairy-free? Use a vegan unsalted butter, vegan cheeses, and a vegan cooking cream alternative. I recommend coconut milk (full fat is best to achieve a creamy sauce) in place of the cooking cream.
Can I use smaller ovenproof baking dishes if I don’t have a 9×13-inch baking dish? Yes, you can. I’ve assembled the pasta bake and baked it in two Pyrex 11-cup rectangular baking dishes too without any issues.
What can I serve this with? To balance the richness, a nice and simple salad with a bright lemon vinaigrette or cooling yogurt dressing would be an excellent side for this Butter Chicken Pasta Bake. Check out my Cooling Cucumber & Mint Yogurt Dip, which can also be used as a salad dressing.
Can I freeze this? I have not tried freezing it so can’t advise without further testing. However, if you really want to freeze it, I recommend not adding the cream and just make and freeze the sauce. Don’t cook the pasta just yet and follow steps 2 through 5. After you blend the spiced sautéed aromatics and veggies into a sauce, cool and transfer to a freezer-friendly bag or container. Freeze for up to two months. Thaw the sauce in the fridge overnight, then cook your pasta (step 1) and proceed with the rest of the recipe (steps 6-9) as indicated.
Can I make this ahead? Yes! In fact, the leftovers taste fantastic the next day, and the day after. You can make it up to 3 days in advance. Or if you like, you can make the Butter Chicken up to 3 days in advance and store it in a sealed airtight container in the fridge. Then on the day of serving, cook the pasta, assemble the pasta bake with the cheeses, bake it, then garnish with chopped coriander and serve.
How do I store leftovers? Store any leftovers in the fridge in sealed airtight containers. Microwave in small portions on a plate or in a bowl for 1-2 minutes or until hot throughout.