Chicken Riggies are made with rigatoni pasta, tossed in a creamy pink sauce, juicy chicken and peppers. You can also add some mushrooms and/or olives as a flavor variation.
Chicken Riggies is a regional dish created in Utica, NY, where I spent most of my childhood and teenage years until I moved away after marrying my husband in 2006. It is an Italian-American pasta dish, with chicken and peppers in a creamy tomato sauce, that you can make as mild or as spicy as you like. There are many variations of this popular recipe.
Plump and juicy pieces of chicken are paired with bell peppers and cherry peppers. Onions, garlic and parmesan cheese create a great flavor for the creamy tomato sauce. Mushrooms and olives are a great addition to this comforting pasta dinner. The larger tube shaped pasta pairs so well with hearty tomato sauces like this one.
This one pot meal is a perfect option for a quick weeknight dinner for your family or for that time when you get unexpected guests and need something tasty but quick to cook. You can prepare the sauce while you cook the pasta and then toss it all together at the end, serving it right away. Another way to serve Chicken Riggies is to bake it in the oven, topped with cheese, which melts and turns golden brown and gives this dish a wonderful cheesy finish.
Ingredients For Chicken Riggies
- pasta – rigatoni: Chicken “Riggies” gets the name from rigatoni pasta, so that is the pasta to use, although you can use other similar shaped pasta as well.
- salt, ground black pepper
- chicken breast: boneless, skinless chicken breast is used most often and is the simplest to prep. You can use chicken thighs as well.
- olive oil: to saute’ the chicken and vegetables
- onion, garlic: these aromatic vegetables are a must for a tomato sauce and add their sweetness and aroma to the sauce.
- fresh peppers: sweet bell peppers are easy to find. You can use only one type or a combination of different peppers as well. Red, orange yellow sweet peppers, green peppers will all make this dish mild in flavor. You can also add some spicier peppers to give it some heat.
- jarred cherry peppers: this is optional, but I highly recommend that you give it a try. They can be found in most grocery stores in the aisle near the pickles, jarred roasted peppers, banana peppers, etc. They add a unique flavor to the sauce. I also like to pour in a splash of the brine to the sauce. It will be a very subtle but lovely addition. You can use either hot or sweet cherry peppers.
- tomato sauce: Use canned tomato sauce that you like from the store or your favorite homemade tomato sauce will be even better. Instead of tomato sauce, you can also use crushed or diced canned tomatoes, just puree the tomato products before cooking, so you get a smooth sauce.
- heavy cream: it will add a wonderful creamy texture and flavor to the sauce.
- dry and fresh herbs: parsley, basil, oregano, any dry herbs and spices that you enjoy, such as granulated onion/garlic, thyme, parsley, basil, oregano, chives, Italian seasoning, etc.
- Parmesan cheese – to add to the sauce and as a garnish
- Other options: mushrooms, olives, grated cheese to bake on top of the oven baked version of Chicken Riggies.
How To Make Chicken Riggies:
- Prep all the ingredients. Put a large pot of water on the stove to come to a boil for the pasta. (Add the pasta when the water comes to a boil, don’t overcook.) Cut the chicken into 3/4 – 1 inch pieces. Season with salt, pepper and any dry herbs and spices that you like. Chop the onion, julienne the fresh peppers, grate the cheese, peel/mince the garlic. Remove the seeds from the jarred cherry peppers and finely them.
- Cook the chicken. Saute the chicken on medium high heat until golden on both sides. Set aside.
- Saute the vegetables. In the same skillet, add the onions first and cook until tender, then add the bell peppers and garlic. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Pour in the tomato sauce, jarred cherry peppers and dry herbs and spices, seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook at a simmer for about 8 minutes.
- Add the heavy cream, fresh herbs and cooked chicken to the sauce, then add to the cooked pasta. Mix to combine.
- Serve the pasta right away or bake.
Two Ways To Serve:
You can serve the pasta right after mixing it with the sauce. Garnish it with more Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs.
Chicken riggies are often baked it in the oven too, which is especially helpful if you want to serve it later. It is awesome for meal prepping.
Transfer the Chicken Riggies to a large deep baking dish, a 9 X 13 inch baking dish is perfect. Sprinkle with grated cheese on top, just Mozzarella or a mix of Italian cheeses. Cover the baking dish with a lid or aluminum foil and bake in a preheated oven (375-400 degrees Fahrenheit) until it is bubbling around the edges.
If you put it into the oven right away, while everything is still hot, it will be much faster, 15-20 minutes. If the Chicken Riggies were cold, it will take longer for them to heat though all the way, anywhere from 30 minutes – an hour.
Uncover and bake for 5-10 minutes (you can turn up the heat at this point to 450 F), just until the cheese is melted and golden brown.
Chicken Riggies are great with a simple salad and lemon vinaigrette and garlic bread would be just perfect to go along with this Italian meal. Try the Strawberry Spinach Salad or a Crunchy Cabbage Cucumber Salad for a different spin. They both pair nicely with this recipe.
What chicken is best for Chicken Riggies?
Although chicken breast is used most often, boneless and skinless chicken thighs work really well in this recipe too. You can also cooked chicken and use a rotisserie chicken from the store or repurpose leftover chicken. In that case, add the chicken at the end, when the sauce is done cooking and cook it in the sauce for just a few minutes, just to warm it up before adding to the pasta.
How to make it spicy:
To easily add some heat to the sauce, just add some hot sauce. However, you can also vary the spice level depending on the type of peppers that you use. Bell peppers are sweet and not spicy at all. You can use other peppers that will still be mostly milld but have a bit of heat, such as shishito, poblano or cubanelle peppers, but if you add in some jalapeno, fresno, serrano or habanero peppers and you can go from pleasantly spicy to blazing hot.
Mushrooms and olives are so good in this recipe.
To add mushrooms, saute them along with the onions. The olives need to be added at the very end, either simmered in the sauce or mixed in right before adding to the pasta.
Another secret ingredient that you can try in the sauce is cream cheese. Yep, you heard me right:). Use soft cream cheese, bring it to room temperature before you start cooking, then whisk it in to the tomato sauce instead of or in addition to the heavy cream. Not only is it really rich, silky and creamy, but it will give a slightly tangy flavor to the sauce. (You can use 4 oz or use an entire 8 oz, if you want it to be ultra rich and creamy.)
This recipe does make a large batch, so you can certainly halve it or save it to enjoy another time, because it is perfect for meal prepping. It’s so convenient to make it all in advance and then just reheat or bake before serving.
- Option #1. Make the sauce separately. Store in the refrigerator for 3-5 days until ready to serve. Cook the pasta, reheat the sauce and serve.
- Option #2. Make the sauce and the pasta, mix to combine. Transfer to a baking dish and store in the refrigerator for 3-5 days until ready to serve.
Freezing Chicken Riggies
Chicken Riggies freezes really well, as long as you undercook the pasta. The pasta will naturally become softer during the freezing process and will absorb some of the sauce. Just as I explained above, you can freeze the sauce separately and then cook the pasta when serving.
You can also freeze the entire recipe with the pasta, I would recommend adding more sauce than you would use because some of it will be absorbed and then soak into the pasta even more when baking. Make it as airtight as possible, I suggest several layers or plastic wrap/aluminum foil. (Don’t forget to remove the plastic wrap before baking.) It is best to thaw it before baking, especially if you use a glass baking dish. If you use an aluminum baking dish, you can put it into the oven right out of the freezer, but of course, it will take longer to heat through.
Utica Chicken Riggies are made with rigatoni pasta, tossed in a creamy pink sauce, juicy chicken and peppers. You can also add some mushrooms and/or olives as a flavor variation.
- Prep Time: 15 min
- Cook Time: 35 min
- Total Time: 50 minutes
- Yield: 6-8 1x
1 lb rigatoni pasta
1–2 Tablespoons olive oil
salt, ground black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 – 2 lbs chicken breast halves, cut into 3/4–1 inch pieces
1 onion, finely chopped
4–6 garlic cloves, minced
2 large bell peppers, julienned (cut into slices) red, yellow or orange (green will work as well)
1/4 cup minced cherry peppers, plus a few Tablespoons of the brine
28 oz. can tomato sauce (you can also use crushed tomatoes or diced tomatoes with the juice, pureed
1/2 Tablespoon dry herbs and spices, such as Italian seasoning, poultry seasoning, dry chives, parsley, thyme, oregano, granulated onion/garlic, etc.
1/2 – 3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnishing
1–2 Tablespoons fresh herbs (parsley, basil, oregano, etc.)
8–16 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced, optional
1/4–1/2 cup sliced olives, optional
1 cup grated cheese, optional, to spread on top if baking (mozzarella, provolone, Parmesan, etc.)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the rigatoni pasta. (If you will be serving it right away, cook the pasta all the way through, the way you like it. If you will be baking it, slightly undercook the pasta, since it will continue cooking while in the oven.)
Meanwhile, prep all the ingredients and make the sauce while the water is coming to a boil and the pasta is cooking.
Cut the chicken into pieces and season to taste with salt, pepper and dry herbs and spices of your choice. Chop the onion, slice the peppers, peel/mince the garlic, remove the seeds from the cherry peppers and finely chop them.
In a large skillet, heat oil and cook the chicken on medium high heat in 2 batches until golden brown on both sides. Set the chicken aside.
In the same skillet, add more oil if needed and add the onion. Season with salt and pepper, cooking on medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the bell peppers and the garlic, seasoning with salt and pepper and cook for another 3-5 minutes.
Pour in the tomato sauce, add the cherry peppers and some of the brine (1-2 Tablespoons, or more if you want to give your sauce a more briny flavor.). Season to taste with salt, pepper and dry herbs and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for about 8 minutes.
Add the cream, Parmesan cheese, fresh herbs and the chicken. Mix to combine, just until everything is heated through and turn off the heat.
Mix the sauce with the cooked pasta until evenly combined. If serving right away, garnish with more Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs.
If you want to bake it in the oven, transfer the Chicken Riggies to a large deep baking dish, (13×9 inches), sprinkle with grated cheese on top, cover with foil and bake in a preheated oven (375-400 degrees Fahrenheit) until it is bubbling around the edges. Uncover and continue cooking for 5-7 more minutes, until the cheese is melted and golden.
Meal Prepping and Freezing Instructions
This recipe is perfect for meal prepping.
You can make the sauce separately and then cook the pasta when you’re ready to serve, reheating the sauce.
What we did most often was to make the sauce and the pasta, (don’t forget to undercook the pasta slightly) mix the sauce with the cooked pasta and place it into a baking dish. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3-5 days in the refrigerator or even freeze up to 3 months.
Take out of the refrigerator and let come to room temperature for 20-30 minutes and then bake in the preheated oven until bubbling around the edges, remove the cover and bake until the cheese is melted and golden brown. The time will depend on how cold the pasta is. It will take much longer if it was in the refrigerator (or frozen) than when baking immediately after preparing and everything is already hot.
Other Flavor Variations
Mushrooms are a popular addition to Chicken Riggies. Add the mushrooms to the skillet with the onions and cook, then proceed with the rest of the instructions.
Olives are also a nice flavor variation. Slice the olives and add them to the sauce at the very end, right before adding the sauce to the pasta.
Keywords: Chicken Riggies, Utica Chicken Riggies, Rigatoni Pasta with chicken, pink sauce and peppers