Creamy Basil Chipotle Penne

Creamy chipotle penne pasta for camping
1448 calories
375 grams

3.86 cal/g

red bell pepper1 whole, sliced18 cal
onion1/2, sliced22 cal
fresh basil1 1/2 cups, chopped6 cal
chipotle in adobo sauce1-2 Tbsp, or to taste30 cal
chicken bouillon1 tsp10 cal
sugar1 tsp15 cal
corn starch1 tsp11 cal
salt1/2 tsp, or to taste0 cal
garlic powder1/2 tsp0 cal
penne pasta3 cups929 cal
milk powder4 Tbsp160 cal
olive oil2 Tbsp247 cal

Note: these measurements makes TWO servings! Reduce all ingredients by half for a single serving.

Serving Size: 

TWO Hikers


Bag 1:

  • dehydrated chipotle sauce
  • milk powder

Bag 2:

  • penne pasta


  • olive oil (or other fat)

Note: you can also just put everything into one bag, but you'll have to separate out the penne to cook it first.

The origin of this recipe is pretty serendipitous and only marginally related to backpacking, so feel free to skip my ramblings and head straight to the useful parts. Otherwise, buckle in to waste some time.

I parked my car on a Sunday evening after returning from a trip to Tuolumne Meadows and the Eastern Sierra. I grabbed my bags from the car and started heading in while the neighbor was backing up his truck. We exchanged glances and he hollered out his usual “Hi neighbor!” followed by, “do you like vodka?”

I stared at him completely befuddled; I’d been driving for nine hours and spent the last two days traipsing in the mountains and communing with nature. I became accustomed to the sounds of the mountains and the trills of the trees. English was nowhere to be found on my tongue. After an awkward pause, I furrowed my brows and replied with a perplexed “vodka?” “No” he chuckled, “do you like pasta?”

Ah! I beamed and nodded vigorously. “Yes yes, I like pasta!”

He went on to explain that he worked at a popular restaurant and was on his way to a closing shift; and he’d bring me a hot plate of their famous pasta if I was still up at midnight when he returned. Of course I obliged, no sane person who’s been sleeping outside and eating dehydrated food for two days says no to a hot plate of free food.

Embarrassingly, we’ve been neighbors for nearly five years by this point but we only exchanged pleasantries as we’re coming and going. Our personal lives remained just that, personal.

By 10pm I had cleaned up, put all my gear away, eaten way more than I needed, and the exhaustion of the weekend was setting in. Not wanting to be rude, I kept myself up to wait for his arrival. Midnight came and went, and I had to work the next day. “He probably forgot” I thought to myself.

Just as I laid down in bed there was a rap on the door. I hopped up and bolted over half dressed, I wasn’t going to make him wait, he’d been working for the last six hours and was bringing me food.

I opened the clamshell takeout container and a second wind washed over me. Dinner part deux was now on the books. I took bite after bite of pasta, each one more flavorful than the last. Creamy, distinct strong hits of basil, tons of onions, smoky chipotle flavor followed by a small punch of spicy. Then the thought crossed my mind, “could I make this for backpacking? It’s really not that many ingredients.”

It dawned on me that after all these years of “hi neighbor,” “good morning,” and “have a good one,” that this was our first big interaction and it involved food. It involved food and in a roundabout way, backpacking. I became determined to recreate this recipe for backpacking, and I think this interpretation delivers.

Now… the actual instructions. Slice up one red bell pepper, half an onion, and gather your basil (be very generous with it).

sliced bell peppers, onions, and basil

Heat up a pan on medium (doesn’t matter if it’s stainless or non-stick), and wipe on some oil with a paper towel. We want just enough to keep things from sticking but not so much that it’s greasy; lower fat means it’s less likely to spoil. You can skip this step if you’re using a non-stick pan.

Toss in the onions and bell peppers and let it brown and caramelize.

caramelized onions and bell peppers

While that’s going on, prepare a large handful of basil by cutting it or chopping it into half inch pieces, don’t be shy with it. Those OXO kitchen shears are amazing, they split apart for easy cleaning and are sharp as hell, but I digress.

chopped basil

Now pop open a can of chipotle in adobo sauce and hit it with a stick blender. You can use a regular blender or food processor. Blend until there are no more large chunks, it doesn’t have to be smooth though, just consistent.

blended chipotle in adobo sauce

Add the basil and one tablespoon of blended chipotle. I choose to add chicken bouillon at this point (for more flavor) but salt works just as well. Turn down the heat to low and stir everything together.

Prepare one teaspoon of cornstarch with 2-3 teaspoon of water, mix thoroughly and add to the pan.

creamy chipotle penne sauce

Stir again and cook until no longer watery and runny. Everything should get pretty thick pretty quickly. At this point, taste the mixture and add more chipotle if you want it spicier or more basil if it’s not basil-y enough. Dealer’s choice.

This recipe makes two servings, so split it into two portions and dehydrate at 125 degrees for 6-8 hours or until dry and leathery .

creamy chipotle penne sauce

The result are sheets of delicious smoky goodness. I roll them up and cut them into strips for easier packaging and re-hydrating. Package the chipotle sauce with powdered milk (4 Tbsp for 2 servings or 2 Tbsp for 1 serving), but be sure to keep the penne pasta separate.

dehydrated chipotle penne sauce

dehydrated chipotle penne pasta backpacking ingredients

When you’re at camp, cook the penne (dehydrated will save time and fuel, but raw is fine), drain most of the water, add the chipotle sauce and powdered milk. Err on the side of less water, you can add more water if you need to, you can’t take water out. Stir until the sauce has dissolved and then add olive oil.

backpacking creamy chipotle penne cooking in a pot

Pull out your backpacking stemware, linens, your favorite bottle of pinot, and your nicest silverware. Just kidding, inhale the pasta with a dirty spork and drink two buck chuck from a worn out bota bag while sitting on a stump. Trail life.


At home:

  1. Slice one red bell pepper into strips.
  2. Slice half an onion into strips.
  3. Roughly chop 1 1/2 cups of fresh basil.
  4. Blend/puree 12oz can of adobo in chipotle sauce (you'll only need 1-2 Tbsp, so you can buy the smallest available size if you can find it).
  5. Wipe a light coat of oil on a pan and put on medium heat.
  6. Add bell pepper and onion, cook till lightly brown and caramelized.
  7. Add 1 Tbsp chipotle sauce, chopped basil, chicken bouillon, garlic powder, and sugar.
  8. Prepare cornstarch by adding 2-3 teaspoon of cold water. Do not add cornstarch directly to the pan without mixing with water first.
  9. Add cornstarch mixture, stir, and cook until thick and no longer watery.
  10. Taste, and add additional chipotle sauce or salt if necessary.
  11. Stir, and remove from heat.
  12. Separate into two portions and dehydrate at 125 degrees for 6-8 hours or until dry and leathery.
  13. Cut dehydrated sauce into strips, store appropriately with milk powder and penna pasta.

At camp:

  1. Cook penne pasta.
  2. Drain most of the water, retaining some in the pot.
  3. Add chipotle sauce and milk powder.
  4. Stir until sauce melts and becomes creamy and smooth.
  5. Add optional olive oil and enjoy!