This copycat Applebee's three cheese chicken penne is our favorite pasta recipe. It's super cheesy, creamy, fresh, and delicious. We season our chicken with Italian-inspired herbs, make our own three-cheese cream sauce, and top the pasta with a homemade bruschetta that's super delicious and easy to make. This may be a copycat recipe, but it's better than the real thing.
I grew up in the Midwest, where chain restaurants are everything. I've had the three cheese chicken penne at Applebee's countless times, and while I keep ordering it, it's not as good as I remember it being when I was a kid. This copycat Applebee's three cheese chicken penne though? It's so so good. I'd eat it every night if I could.
Most copycat recipes call for jarred alfredo sauce. We make our own three cheese cream sauce, and it's so dang easy and delicious. After making this sauce, you'll never want to buy pasta sauce again. We top this pasta with homemade bruschetta, and oh my gosh, it's the best. It lightens up this heavy dish in the best way and makes it the perfect spring or summer pasta recipe.
Looking for other easy summer pasta recipes? Try our creamy red pepper and tomato pasta, spicy sausage pasta, or creamy red pepper, spinach, and shrimp pasta.
Key Ingredients and Substitutions
For the bruschetta topping:
- Cherry or grape tomatoes- You can also use a regular diced tomato, but we prefer the taste of cherry tomatoes. They tend to be sweeter and better year-round.
- Balsamic vinegar
- Fresh basil
- Fresh minced garlic
- Other ingredients- salt and black pepper, olive oil
For the pasta and chicken:
- Chicken breast- You can also use chicken breast tenderloins or chicken thighs. Use whatever you have on hand or prefer. You'll be cutting it into small chunks anyway, so the shape and size don't matter.
- Penne pasta
- Asiago cheese
- White cheddar cheese- Get a good-quality white cheddar cheese. It makes all the difference!
- Parmesan cheese- Get fresh parmesan cheese, not the fake unrefrigerated stuff in the canisters.
- Heavy whipping cream
- Chicken broth
- Other ingredients- olive oil, salt, black pepper, Italian seasoning, paprika, and red pepper flakes
See recipe card for amounts.
Step 1: Make the bruschetta. Add tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, basil, garlic, salt, black pepper, and olive oil to a small mixing bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.
Step 2: Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain it and set aside.
Step 3: Add raw chicken, olive oil, Italian seasoning, salt, black pepper, paprika, and red pepper flakes to a large mixing bowl. Mix until everything is combined and the chicken is evenly coated.
Step 4: Add olive oil to a large pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through, about 8 minutes. The internal temperature should be 165°F. Once the chicken has finished cooking, remove it from the pan and set it aside.
Step 5: Turn the heat to medium-low. In the same pan you cooked the chicken in, add the cream. Bring the cream to a simmer, about 3 minutes, then add the asiago, parmesan, white cheddar, and a dash of pepper. Let the cheese melt, then add the chicken broth. Let it simmer and thicken for 5-7 minutes, until it reaches your desired consistency.
Step 6: Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir to combine. Add it to a serving bowl, then top with the chicken. Drain most of the liquid off of the bruschetta, then add the tomatoes to the top of the pasta. Serve immediately while the sauce is still super soupy and delicious. Top with extra cheese if that's your thing.
Frequently asked questions
We tested this recipe with whole milk instead of cream, and the sauce just wasn't the same. It tasted great, but the creaminess just wasn't there. We don't recommend it.
You can! Any short-grain pasta would work well.
Store the leftovers in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. To reheat, put the leftover pasta in a saucepan over medium heat with a little bit of extra cream and heat until warm. You can also reheat it in the microwave with a little bit of extra cream and cheese for about a minute.
Diana Neill says
I made the sauce a little different. I added the broth first, sautéed for just a minute (which it took about 15 just to get it to simmer.) Then I added italian mix cheese (mozzarella, provalone, romano, fontina, parmesan, and asiago). The mozzarella makes it like glue, so I took it off the burner and mixed with the noodles. It still turned out alright, but would probably be better with the actual cheese that the recipe calls for. The bruschetta is definitely the star of the show. Oh, and I did the chicken differently, too. I cooked it in the instant pot 30 minutes, then browned it in the pan with the seasonings, then sliced. I like my chicken this way, as it thoroughly cooks in the instant pot, making it juicy and oh so tender.