Most of my trips to Paris have been in the fall and winter seasons, when it’s been chilly and sometimes frigid outside. I am a lover of cold weather, so this suits me perfectly fine.
I feel like it makes the cafes especially cozy and inviting, and the warm meals taste all the better. One of my favorite bistro items to order during these trips is French onion soup.
I love the salty, rich flavor of the onion soup, as well as its comforting appeal on a cold day. Those are the qualities I was looking to embrace and incorporate when I decided to create this French onion pasta bake.
Rather than create a traditional pasta bake with marinara and mozzarella, I utilized some of my favorite French ingredients to create this hearty dish. This French onion pasta bake is made with penne pasta, herbed chicken, bechamel sauce, mushrooms, peas, gruyere cheese, and crispy fried onions.
The dish is as simple as any pasta dinner; there’s just one additional step at the end where you bake the dish for 10 minutes to allow the cheese to melt and the fried onions to become even crispier. And boy, are the crispy fried onions on top fantastic!
Not only do they provide that delicious French onion flavor, but they’ve got a wonderful crunch that compliments the creamy pasta. Just a side note: crispy fried onions are great to use for sauces and stews, as well; they’ll add great onion flavor while thickening up the sauce/stew.
What I also love about this French onion pasta bake is that it’s very flexible in regards to what ingredients you choose to add or take out. If you happen to have broccoli on hand rather than mushrooms or peas, for example, go ahead and toss those in instead.
If you have bow-tie pasta rather than penne, no problem. Or, even better, if you’ve got some leftover roast chicken or pot roast in the fridge, go ahead and swap that in. This French onion pasta bake is very forgiving once you’ve got the staples down, including the bechamel sauce (a white sauce), gruyere, and crispy fried onions.
It’s also one of those meals that you very easily can freeze and reheat on another day. If I know I’m going to freeze it from the start, I’ll hold off on baking the pasta and simply freeze it with the unmelted cheese. I’ve gifted plenty of happy family and friends with these kind of pasta bakes!
French Onion Pasta Bake
Creamy, cheesy pasta with chicken and crispy onion on top.
- 1/2 box Penne pasta
- 13 oz chicken breast tenders
- pinch of herbes de Provence
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cups sliced mushrooms
- 3.5 oz gruyere cheese shredded
- 3/4 cup canned green peas drained
- 1/3 cup crispy fried onions
- Bechamel sauce see ingredients below
For the sauce
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tbsp butter plus more for greasing pan
- 2 tbsp flour
- 1/4 small onion simply separated into onion layers
- pinch of salt and pepper to taste
- tiny pinch of ground cloves
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour your pasta in a pot of boiling water and cook until al dente, according to the package instructions.
While the pasta is cooking, cut the chicken into small pieces/strips. Sprinkle a pinch of salt all over them, as well as a pinch of dried herbes de Provence. Pour the olive oil into a saucepan over medium heat, then cook the chicken until it's no longer pink. Add the sliced mushrooms in, and continue cooking everything over medium low heat until the mushrooms are softened and tender. Temporarily set this mixture aside.
Once the pasta is ready, drain the pasta and run under cool water to keep the pasta from sticking to each other. Set the pasta side.
Create the bechamel sauce by melting the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour once the butter has melted, and stir with a wooden spoon to create a roux. After a minute, pour in the milk, onion layers, tiny pinch of cloves, and a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir everything over medium heat, just until the sauce is thickened to the point where it lightly coats the back of your wooden spoon. Remove the onion layers.
To assemble, grease a 2 quart pan/casserole dish with a little bit of softened butter. Pour the pasta into the prepared pan. Follow with the bechamel sauce, chicken and mushroom mixture, as well as the green peas. Gently toss everything together to combine. Top with the shredded gruyere and crispy fried onions.
Bake the pasta for 10 minutes to allow the cheese to melt, the onions to become even crisper, and all the contents of the pan to warm up.
If you plan on making this then freezing for later enjoyment, skip the last step where you bake the pasta. Instead, pour all the ingredients into an oven-safe and freezer-safe, glass tupperware dish. Top with the cheese and fried onions, then store in the freezer. To reheat, allow the pasta to come to room temperature, then bake in the oven at 350°F. for approximately 15-20 minutes.
You can freeze leftovers in the same way as well.
If you want to make this in the Instant Pot, cut the chicken into small cubes first. Season the chicken with a small pinch of salt, then add a little oil to your cooking pot and add the chicken and sliced mushrooms in. Sauté just until the exterior of the chicken looks white and no longer pink - about 30 seconds. Add in the dry pasta along with enough water to fully cover and immerse all the pasta and chicken (usually this is enough water to reach about the 4 mark on the inside of the cooking pot). Add a pinch of salt to the water, then place the Instant Pot lid on and close shut. Move the knob on the Instant Pot to sealing, then manual cook for 4 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the bechamel sauce over the stove. Add a pinch of fresh or dried herbs de Provence to the bechamel sauce. When the sauce is ready, pour it into a separate bowl/cup. Rinse the saucepan, dry, and add the crispy onions to the pan to toast for just a minute over medium-low heat. Once the Instant Pot timer is done, place a kitchen towel over the lid and quick release the pressure (the towel will keep any sputtering steam/water from splashing onto your cabinets/counter). Drain any excess water in the pot. Turn on the sauté setting. Add the bechamel sauce to the contents of the Instant Pot, along with the gruyere cheese and drained green peas. Stir everything together. Taste test for salt and pepper. When the pasta is coated well in the bechamel and looking creamy (about 20 to 30 seconds), turn off the Instant Pot and serve the pasta. Add the crispy onions to the top of each serving.