This spicy chicken rigatoni has a creamy, comforting spicy tomato sauce loaded with lots of parmesan cheese, crushed red pepper flakes, and fresh basil to finish.
And since everything cooks in one pan on the stove, that means fewer dishes for you! You're welcome!
When you want an easy, low-effort dinner that uses a lot of pantry staple ingredients, a one-pan pasta like this spicy chicken rigatoni is exactly what you need. It's great for busy weeknights and lazy weekends, and is a great recipe for beginner cooks!
If you're looking for other one pan pasta recipes with a little less heat, check out my foolproof one pan cacio e pepe and my one pan garlic parmesan chicken pasta. Both of them use this same simple cooking technique!
- About Spicy Chicken Rigatoni // How Spicy Is It?
- Ingredient Notes
- 📋 How One Pan Pasta Recipes Work
- How to Make Spicy Chicken Rigatoni
- 📋 Variations & Substitutions
- ⏲️ How to Store Leftovers
- 👪 Adjusting Number of Servings
- 🧀 Why is the Cheese Measured by Weight?
- Practical Tips & Recipe Notes
- Recipe FAQ
- 📖 Recipe
- Food Safety
- 💬 Comments
About Spicy Chicken Rigatoni // How Spicy Is It?
If you've never made a one-pot pasta dish before, you're going to love this spicy chicken rigatoni. You basically cook everything — including the pasta — all in one skillet on the stove top!
It's almost as easy as ordering it at Bucca Di Beppo (only my version doesn't have peas because it's my recipe and I didn't want them).
That's right, you don't even need to get out a separate pot to boil water for the pasta.
When I'm having a low energy evening and need something tasty without making a lot of dishes, one pan pasta recipes are always my first choice.
I've written this spicy chicken rigatoni recipe so that the heat is undeniably there, but also won't melt your face off. It's spicy! But you should be able to eat a whole bowl without breaking a sweat.
If you love spicy food and are looking for a fiery hot spicy pasta, you may want to double or even triple the amount of red pepper flakes in the recipe. On the flip side, if you have zero tolerance for spicy food, you may want to cut the amount of red pepper flakes in half.
Because there are so few ingredients in this recipe, I do recommend making the effort to use as many fresh ingredients as possible (except for the pasta). That said, if you can't find them or just don't feel like it, pre-packaged or prepared versions of these ingredients will work just fine. See recipe card for quantities.
- Rigatoni Pasta - I used rigatoni pasta for this recipe because it's hearty enough to hold up to the rigorous stirring and boiling this recipe requires. You can use other boxed pasta shapes like cavatappi, gemelli, macaroni, penne, etc. Just avoid anything light or delicate — you're looking for an "al dente" cook time somewhere between 9-12 minutes!
- Chicken Breast - The first step of this recipe calls for slicing or pounding a chicken breast to about half an inch thick. You can also buy thinly sliced chicken cutlets and use those. Adjust the cook time accordingly!
- Parmesan Cheese - I grate my own parmesan cheese with a microplane because the cheese melts best this way. If you're going to buy pre-grated parmesan, just don't get the powdered kind, it tends to clump.
- Tomato Paste - I am obsessed with the squeezable tubes of tomato paste concentrate. They pack a lot more flavor than canned tomato paste and I never end up with a weird half-can of tomato paste left over. If you're using tomato paste from a can, use twice as much as the recipe calls for.
- Shallot - The delicate sweet/sharp flavor of shallots goes really well with this spicy pasta dish. You can also use white, yellow, or red onions instead and you'll be just fine.
- Garlic - Minced or grated. I don't recommend the jarred stuff because I think it tastes funny, but if that's all you've got, go for it.
- Crushed Red Pepper Flakes - Yep, the same ones you put on top of your pizza! You can usually find these in the spice aisle at the grocery store. If not, order them online from a reputable spice store like Spicewalla or World Spice Market.
- Fresh Basil - There's a lot of spicy, acidic flavors happening in here with the cracked red pepper flakes and tomato paste so stirring in some thinly sliced fresh basil just brightens the whole dish up.
- Salt and Pepper - For seasoning the chicken and seasoning the pasta. Flavor, baby!
Not pictured: Water. You'll need enough water to just barely cover the pasta in the pan.
📋 How One Pan Pasta Recipes Work
This one pan pasta cooking method isn't just efficient — it also helps intensify the flavors in the pasta dish. Because the pasta cooks in the same pot you cook the chicken in and cooks right along with all the sauce ingredients, the pasta absorbs all those flavors as it cooks.
You know how people always talk about reserving the pasta water to thicken sauces? When you make a one pan pasta recipe, the water absorbs into the pasta or boils away, leaving all those starches behind in the small amount of water left when the timer goes off.
So not only will you have pasta that's packed with flavor, you've also got super concentrated starchy water left in the pan at the end. It's perfect for combining with parmesan cheese to make a silky pasta sauce!
How to Make Spicy Chicken Rigatoni
The first step in making spicy chicken rigatoni is to butterfly the chicken breast. This helps it cook faster.
How to butterfly a chicken breast: Pat the chicken breast dry on a cutting board. Hold your knife horizontally, parallel to the cutting board. Press the heel of your other hand down on top of the chicken breast with your fingers flared up to keep them out of the way of the knife. Slice across the chicken breast, cutting it into two chicken breast pieces each about half an inch thick.
(If you prefer, you can pound the chicken breast to about half an inch thick with a meat tenderizing mallet instead.)
Season the top sides of the chicken breast pieces with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, in a medium sized skillet with straight sides about 3" high, heat up the oil. Read more: How to Preheat Stainless Steel to Prevent Food From Sticking.
Place the chicken breasts in the oil seasoned side down, then season the tops with salt and pepper.
Cook the chicken until golden brown on both sides. When the thickest part of the chicken hits 160F on a meat thermometer, remove it to a cutting board and reduce the temperature of the pan to medium.
Chicken is considered fully cooked at 165F, but it will continue cooking as it rests. We're pulling it off the pan a little bit early so that it doesn't overcook!
Now we're going to use the same pan, without cleaning it out, to cook the aromatics and the pasta. Those brown bits on the bottom are called fond, and they are going to give the spicy rigatoni sauce SO much flavor.
Add a little more oil to the pan, then add the shallot and sweat it down, stirring occasionally for about 3-5 minutes.
Then add the tomato paste concentrate, crushed red pepper flakes, and garlic to the skillet. Cook 1 minute more, stirring until the tomato paste starts to caramelize slightly.
Pretty quickly, everything will start sticking to the bottom of the pan. That's okay, as long as nothing is burning. The brown bits on the bottom of the pan are called "fond" and they're going to add a ton of flavor to our pasta.
Add a splash of water to deglaze the pan; Bring the water to a boil, and use a spatula to scrape up the fond.
Next, add the uncooked pasta along with salt and sliced cherry tomatoes. Give it a quick stir.
Now the one pan pasta magic happens. Add just enough water to the pan to almost cover the rigatoni.
It's okay if some of the pasta is sticking up above the water. You can always add more water later if it needs it, so better to start out with slightly less water than you think you need.
Increase the heat to high and keep an eye on the skillet. As soon as the water starts to boil, set a timer for the "al dente" cook time on the pasta box.
Keep the water boiling for the entire cook time and stir frequently to keep the rigatoni from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
The goal is for most of the water to have absorbed and evaporated by the time the timer goes off. The water left in the skillet will be creamy, easily coating the pasta.
Remember, different pasta varieties absorb water at different rates, and water will evaporate differently based on the size of your skillet. If the water seems to be boiling away too quickly, its okay to add a bit more.
Every time you add more water, the temperature in the skillet will drop. Add water in small amounts, and let it come back to a boil before you add more.
TIP: Do a bite test to confirm the pasta is fully cooked before you add the cheese. Bite a noodle in half — if you can see a ring of uncooked pasta in the center, it needs a little more time to cook. Add a splash of water if needed and keep stirring until the pasta is cooked through. Repeat as needed.
When the timer goes off, reduce the heat to low and add the parmesan cheese all at once. Stir until it melts into a sauce.
Remove from the heat, stir in the sliced chicken and half the fresh basil and give it a good stir to combine.
That's it! That's how you make one pan spicy rigatoni chicken. The whole process start-to-finish is about twenty minutes, and you've only used one pan!
Serve immediately, garnished with more parmesan cheese and the remaining fresh basil.
📋 Variations & Substitutions
Out of a specific ingredient or need to make a substitution? I've got you covered.
- Vegetarian - Skip the chicken! You'll miss out on the flavor from the fond, but you can make up for it by doubling the amount of shallots, AND/OR by sautéing some thinly sliced leeks with the shallots before you add the pasta.
- Extra Spicy - Double the amount of red pepper flakes AND/OR season the chicken breast with a pinch of cayenne on each side. You could also add a dash of your favorite hot sauce to the pot when you add the water. Add extra red pepper flakes to garnish.
- Out of Parmesan - If you don't have parmesan cheese, pecorino romano or parmesano reggiano will also work.
- No Fresh Basil - Dried basil will also work, it just won't have quite the same fresh flavor! You could also use fresh oregano or parsley.
⏲️ How to Store Leftovers
Store any leftover spicy chicken rigatoni in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. To reheat, microwave in 30 second bursts, stirring in between, until warmed throughout.
👪 Adjusting Number of Servings
This spicy chicken rigatoni uses 8 ounces of rigatoni and 1 pound of chicken breast. That's enough for three hungry people OR two moderately hungry people plus a small child (or with plans for leftovers) OR four people who are also eating side dishes.
If serving five or more, I recommend adding 4-5 ounces of rigatoni and ⅓-½ pounds of chicken per person, depending on how hungry everyone is.
The cooking process is the same no matter how much pasta or chicken you're using. Just remember, the more crowded the pan is, the more water you'll need, and the longer it will take the water to absorb/evaporate!
🧀 Why is the Cheese Measured by Weight?
Finely grated parmesan cheese is very light and delicate. It's hard to measure accurately using cups because there's so much air in it. If I told you 1 cup of parmesan and you use a denser, thicker grated parmesan, you'll have WAY too much cheese.
Measuring by weight means no matter how you grate your parmesan cheese (or if you buy the pre-packaged stuff) you'll have the right amount of cheese!
If you don't have a kitchen scale, I recommend adding the cheese ¼ cup at a time and stirring until it melts. When the sauce is as cheesy as you want and clings to the noodles, stop adding cheese.
Practical Tips & Recipe Notes
- The size of your skillet matters a lot here. I recommend using a 10-inch high-sided skillet for this recipe. I like to use a 3 or 4 quart saute pan like my All-Clad 3 Quart Saute Pan for this recipe. If you use a skillet that's too wide, you'll have a shorter layer of pasta, which means the water will evaporate much more quickly and it will be harder to submerge the pasta. And if you try this cooking method using a regular sauce pot, the water will be too deep to have evaporated by the time the pasta is done cooking.
- You do want to have a little bit of water left in the pan when there's a minute left on your timer and it's time to add the cheese. How much water? It should feel like you're stirring a very saucy pasta. Not so much that the noodles are swimming, but enough to be able to say "yeah, there's still some liquid in here."
- Stir vigorously to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan but also be cautious — the tube pastas get slippery and often try to leap out of the pan if you're not careful!
- This recipe is best served immediately. The cheesy sauce starts to dry out pretty quickly as it cools. If you need to buy yourself a little time, you can leave it in the pan off the heat. Just turn the heat back to low and give it a few stirs to re-melt the cheese before serving.
- I first learned of this one pan pasta technique from a recipe credited to Martha Stewart (though her recipe is actually inspired by a dish one of her editors ate in Italy, so to call it Martha's is a bit misleading). But I've been obsessed with the technique ever since.
Unfortunately, no. Fresh pasta cooks too quickly and is so starchy that it will break down in the water giving you more of a paste than a pasta water. Even dried fancy pastas tend to be a little too starchy to work really well here. It doesn't mean you can't use them, they just don't always hold up as well to the rigorous boiling and stirring as boxed pastas do.
If your heat isn't already as high as it can go, crank the heat and stir really well — the more you stir, the faster the water will evaporate. If you truly have way too much water left, use a spoon, ladle, or turkey baster to remove some water out of the pan.
You can, but I don't recommend it. There is so much chicken flavor already absorbing into the pasta from the fond that using chicken broth instead of water is a little overpowering.
If you order spicy chicken rigatoni at Bucca Di Beppo, yes, it does. But I didn't want peas in mine so I didn't include them. If you want to include them, add the frozen peas after you add parmesan cheese but before you add the chicken and stir well. They'll defrost and warm up from the heat in the pan.
Spicy Chicken Rigatoni
- 1 chicken breast (butterflied)
- 8 ounces rigatoni pasta
- ½ cup cherry tomatoes (sliced in half)
- ⅓ cup minced shallot (about one medium-large shallot)
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste concentrate (use 2 tablespoons of canned tomato paste)
- 1 teaspoon salt (plus more for seasoning)
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper (plus more for seasoning)
- 1 ounce parmesan cheese (freshly grated works best!)
- 1 sprig fresh basil (how to chiffonade basil)
- Place the chicken breast on the cutting board and pat dry. Holding your knife so the blade is horizontal, butterfly the chicken breast so that you have two thin slices. Season the top side of the chicken breast pieces with salt and pepper.
- Preheat high sided skillet over medium heat 30-45 seconds. Add 1-2 tablespoons cooking oil. When the oil has loosened up and coats the bottom of the pan when you swirl it, place the chicken seasoned side down in the pan. Season the top side of the chicken with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Increase the heat to medium-high and cook the chicken about 3-5 minutes per side until cooked through (at least 160°F* on an instant read thermometer). Then remove it to a plate or clean cutting board to rest.
- Without cleaning out the pan, reduce the heat to low and add the remaining tablespoon of cooking oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently about 2-3 minutes until softened. Then add the tomato paste, garlic, and cracked red pepper flakes and cook 1 minute more until things start to caramelize slightly. NOTE: It will start to stick to the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Don't worry about that — that's a good thing! Just don't let it burn.
- Add a splash of water to the pan, just enough to cover the bottom. It will immediately sizzle on contact with the pan. Increase the heat to high and use a wooden spoon or spatula with a sturdy edge to stir and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom as the liquid begins to boil.
- Add the pasta, tomatoes, salt, and pepper to the pan and give them a quick stir. Then add just enough water to almost cover the pasta. It's okay if some of the pasta noodles are sticking out above the water.
- When the water begins to boil, set a timer for the "al dente" time given on the rigatoni box. Keep the heat at high the whole time, stirring constantly as the water boils and the pasta cooks to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add water in very small amounts as needed (some pasta shapes absorb water more quickly than others). The idea is to have very little water left in the pan just as the timer goes off.
- When there is about a minute left on the timer, and very little water remains in the pan, check the pasta for doneness, reduce the heat to low, add the parmesan cheese all at once and stir vigorously to melt the cheese into a creamy sauce. If the pasta isn't done yet, keep cooking, adding water as needed until it is cooked through.
- Take the pan off the heat. Slice the chicken and add it back to the pan, along with half the thinly sliced basil. Stir to combine. Serve immediately, topped with the remaining sliced basil and additional grated parmesan cheese.
- The internal temperature for doneness on chicken breast is 165F, but the chicken will continue cooking as it rests. You can safely pull it off the heat when it hits 160F. If you're particular about cooking chicken until it's done, let it go until it hits 165F and then remove it from the pan to rest.
- 8 ounces of rigatoni and 1 pound chicken breast is enough for three very hungry people OR or four moderately hungry people who are eating this with side dishes.
- Every time you add new water to the skillet, it will cool down the temperature of the pan. This can slow down the cooking time. Add additional water in small amounts, but only as needed!
- Cook to a minimum temperature of 165°F (74 °C)
- Do not use the same utensils on cooked food, that previously touched raw meat
- Wash hands after touching raw meat
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended