Caprese Chicken Orzo is a baked one-pan dinner. Hearty, healthy and utterly delicious, this comfort food meal is just as ideal for a busy weeknight as it is for casual weekend entertaining.
Caprese Chicken with Orzo and Spinach can be made mostly ahead of time and baked just before you're ready to serve. It's loved by all, and it will even make the pickiest of eaters happy.
Made from a handful of basic, easy-to-find ingredients, it's loaded with fresh and interesting flavors.
An authentic Caprese is typically tomato, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil arranged beautifully on a plate. This "Caprese" is deconstructed, and all of its elements are worked into a delicious casserole.
(I often suggest brands I love and use — these are only suggestions and this is not a sponsored post.)
- chicken - This recipe calls for boneless skinless chicken breasts. Fresh raw chicken should be a light pink color with little to no odor.
- Orzo - Also called Risoni, Orzo looks like rice, but it's actually a short cut pasta that's shaped like grains of rice.
- fresh basil - Choose perky, bright green bunches of fresh basil.
- extra virgin olive oil - I like this one.
- sugar - Just a pinch!
- Kosher salt - I cook with Kosher salt because I like its larger flake size and it usually doesn't contain additives. (If you use table salt, use half the amount.)
- onion - Choose onions that are firm, heavy for their size and without bruises.
- fresh tomatoes - Use any tomatoes you like. Vine-ripened are great, and cherry tomatoes sliced in half will work well, too. Color and feel are the best cues to tomato ripeness. Ripe tomatoes should be slightly firm, but have a little give when gently squeezed, and they should have a deep red color (or whatever the color is intended to be).
- fresh spinach - Choose bunches (or bags) with dark green, crisp looking leaves.
- garlic - Look for firm heads of garlic without any soft spots or green shoots, which are an indication it's old and likely bitter. (Raw garlic cloves should be firm without any dark spots.) Pro tip: if there are green shoots in garlic you already have, just cut the cloves in half and remove them with the tip of a paring knife. The rest of the clove should still be good.
- sun-dried tomatoes. Marinated in oil.
- Mozzarella cheese - The cheese is grated and will melt on top of the dish.
- black pepper - Preferably freshly ground.
(See recipe card below for quantities.)
Substitutions and Variations
If I don't list an ingredient with a substitution, it means I think it's best not to substitute it.
- We'll make an easy basil oil at the beginning of this recipe -- some gets mixed into the orzo, and the chicken will marinate in it. (It's the same as the one I use with fresh fig toast.) It can be substituted with your favorite basil pesto if you'd like, thinned out with a bit of extra olive oil. (Using pesto would replace the basil, extra virgin olive oil, salt and sugar.)
- If you want to use chicken pieces on the bone rather than boneless breasts, cook the orzo only about halfway through, and then bake the entire dish for an additional 15 minutes. You can also use chicken tenders -- as many as you need to total 1½ pounds. (The baking time will be about 5 minutes less with the tenders.)
- Orzo. While this is an orzo pasta recipe, you can substitute it with any pasta shape you like, though I think the smaller cuts will be best. You can also substitute the orzo with rice -- any variety you like. Just follow the instructions on the package, slightly undercook it, and then carry on with the instructions in the recipe card below.
- fresh tomatoes. You can substitute fresh tomatoes with canned, diced tomatoes. You will need 2 cups, and they should be drained first.
- garlic. Feel free to substitute the garlic with shallots or skip it all together if you want.
- sun-dried tomatoes. If you don't have sun-dried tomatoes marinated in olive oil, you can use those that aren't marinated if you hydrate them in very hot water for at least 15 minutes.
- Mozzarella. The mozzarella is of course what makes this Caprese Chicken -- however, to change it up, freshly grated Parmesan cheese would also be delicious.
- To bulk it up a bit, you can add sautéed mushrooms to the tomato mixture.
- Gluten-free version. Use rice instead of Orzo.
- Spicy version. Add red pepper flakes to the tomato-spinach mixture for a little heat.
- Be sure not to cook the orzo completely or it'll become overcooked in the oven. It should be slightly chewier than al dente (which translates from Italian to "to the tooth," which indicates the center is still a bit firm).
- Don't skip pounding the thicker part of the chicken breasts. When you make the thickness even, they will cook evenly.
- We use basil oil (that you'll make at the beginning of the recipe) in the pan to sauté the onions and other goodies. If the pan seems too dry during the sautéing process, add olive oil.
- To make this a creamy chicken orzo dish, drizzle the orzo with heavy cream before baking it.
How to Make it
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Add the washed and dried fresh basil leaves to a blender with the oil, salt and sugar. Blend until smooth and set aside.
- Place the chicken breasts between 2 pieces of plastic wrap, and use a smooth meat mallet to gently pound their thicker sides so they're the same thickness throughout.
- In a bowl, coat them with ¼ cup of the basil oil, and let them marinate while you prepare the rest of the dish.
- Bring roughly 1½ quarts of water to a boil, add the orzo, turn the heat to a simmer and cook just until it's almost done, about 7 minutes. It should be a bit chewy at this point. Drain and add it to the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
- Add 3 tablespoons of the basil oil to it and mix. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and then spread it out evenly. Set aside.
- While the orzo is cooking, add the remaining basil oil to a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes.
- Add the sun-dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes and spinach, and cook until the spinach has wilted, about 3 minutes. Again, season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Add the tomato-spinach mixture on top of the orzo and spread it out evenly. Use a spoon to make 4 indentations for the chicken breasts. Let this cool for about 15 minutes, so it's no longer hot.
- Remove the chicken breasts from the bowl and place them in the spaces you made, along with any extra basil oil. Lightly sprinkle the top of the chicken with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Bake in the preheated 375°F oven just until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. At the halfway point, sprinkle evenly with the mozzarella cheese.
Other Impressive Chicken Dinners
- Parmesan Herb-Crusted Chicken with Potatoes
- Sheet Pan Chipotle Chicken with Corn Salsa
- Apple-Bacon Roasted Chicken Recipe
- Cuban Chicken Stew with Alcaparrado
- Roasted Garlic Chicken and Rice
- Apricot Chicken with Olives
Though this Chicken Caprese recipe with Spinach is a one-pan dinner that really doesn't require anything additional, it welcomes a salad.
Even just a bowl with mixed greens with a lovely tangy citrus dressing would be excellent.
Making it Ahead
- Up to 1 day ahead: Make the basil oil, orzo and tomato-spinach mixture.
- about 40 minutes before you're ready to serve: Pound and marinate chicken, assemble and bake.
- Caprese Chicken Orzo recipe is best the day it's baked, however it'll keep well for about 3 days tightly wrapped in the refrigerator.
- To loosen it up if it's been in the refrigerator, you can add a little chicken stock before reheating it.
This is one of our favorite baked chicken recipes and I hope you love it!
Caprese Chicken Orzo Recipe
- 2 cups lightly packed basil leaves (about 3-ounces), washed and dried
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
- pinch Kosher salt
- slightly over-flowing ¼ teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 4)
- 1¼ cups dry orzo pasta
- 1 cup diced yellow onion
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped, marinated sun-dried tomatoes, drained
- 2 cups roughly chopped tomatoes, washed and dried
- 4 cups packed spinach leaves, washed and dried
- ½ cup grated mozzarella cheese
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Make the basil oil. Add the washed and dried basil leaves to a blender with the oil, salt and sugar. Blend until smooth and set aside.
- Prepare the chicken. Place the chicken breasts between 2 pieces of plastic wrap, and gently pound their thicker sides so they're the same thickness throughout. In a mixing bowl, coat them with ¼ cup of the basil oil, and let them marinate while you prepare the rest of the dish.
- Make the orzo. Bring roughly 1½ quarts of water to a boil, add the orzo, turn the heat to a simmer and cook just until is almost done, about 7 minutes. It should be a bit chewy at this point. Drain and add it into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Add 3 tablespoons of the basil oil to it and mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper and then spread it out evenly. Set aside.
- Sauté tomato-spinach mixture. While the orzo is cooking, add the remaining basil oil to a large skillet and add the onion and garlic. Over medium heat, cook until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the sun-dried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes and spinach, and cook until the spinach is wilted, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Assemble. Add the tomato-spinach mixture on top of the orzo and spread it out evenly. Use a spoon to make 4 indentations for the chicken breasts. They will not be exact. Let this cool for about 15 minutes, so it's no longer hot. Remove the chicken breasts from the bowl and place them in the spaces you made, along with any extra basil oil. Lightly sprinkle the top of the chicken with salt and pepper.
- Bake. Bake in the preheated 375°F oven just until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. About halfway through, sprinkle evenly with the mozzarella cheese.