Pesto Pasta with Chicken Recipe

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Pesto Pasta with Chicken Recipe in large white pot Elizabeth Rider

This Pesto Pasta with Chicken recipe is one of my favorite 1-pot dishes to create a nutritious meal that not only fills everyone up, but also tastes delicious, too.

This dish is quick, pretty simple to make, and is flexible depending on what you have on hand and what you like to eat.

You can use leftover chicken, rotisserie or storebought chicken, or roast chicken breasts at home. Pesto Pasta with Chicken is high in protein from the chicken, good carbohydrates from the pasta if you use high-quality pasta, and vitamins from fresh herbs like the basil used in the pesto sauce.

Chicken Pesto Pasta in small white bowls Elizabeth Rider 1

Ingredients

  • Pasta: You’ll need 1 (16-ounce) package of short-cut pasta, like fusilli, penne, or bowties. You want a pasta shape that’s gonna grab the sauce well. I think this dish is great with short-cut pasta, but you can also use long-cut pasta like spaghetti, linguine, or fettuccine if you prefer.
  • Extra virgin olive oil: You’ll need 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.
  • Chicken breasts: You’ll need 1 pound (about 2 medium breasts) of boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces. The amount of chicken you add is flexible, anywhere from 1/2 pound (8 ounces) to 1 pound (16 ounces) works. You could also use cooked chicken leftover from a previous meal, or buy already cooked chicken at the hot bar at your grocery store to save time.
  • Pesto sauce: For this pesto pasta with chicken, you’ll need 3/4 cup pesto sauce Here’s how to make my favorite pesto recipe, or you can use store-bought. Any pesto sauce works here. I sometimes use my vegan cashew pesto or make classic pesto depending on my mood.
  • Salt: You can use either sea salt or kosher salt. Salt really brings pasta to life, so always add a few tablespoons to the boiling water before you cook the pasta. The pasta only absorbs a little of it, but it really goes a long way to add flavor to the overall dish.
  • Black pepper: You’ll also need freshly ground black pepper. Freshly ground is always best over the pre-ground pepper that comes in a bottle. Pepper grinders are really affordable these days, so always go for freshly ground black pepper in your kitchen.
  • Extra Parmesan cheese: Most pesto will have some Parmesan cheese in it unless it’s specifically vegan. You can add up to 1/2 cup of extra freshly grated parmesan cheese. Real Parmigiano Reggiano has health benefits and tastes the best, so use that if you can. The stuff that comes in cans or jars is loaded with powdered fillers and preservatives and will prevent the dish from becoming creamy. Get the good stuff and grate it yourself when possible.
  • Spinach: If you want a healthier dish, then add 8 ounces, about two big handfuls, of fresh baby spinach towards the end of the recipe to add extra greens to your dish. It will wilt right in and you’ll barely notice it.

Pesto Notes:

  • Pesto is a dish typically made with fresh basil, fresh garlic, extra virgin olive oil, grated hard cheese (often real Parmigiano Reggiano), and pine nuts. Fresh lemon juice is often added. It’s common in America to substitute pine nuts with almonds or walnuts because pine nuts can be expensive.
  • Fresh: You can make it fresh, which I highly recommend doing as often as you can because fresh pesto has an incredible flavor. I always add fresh lemon juice to make it taste even brighter. Learn how to make pesto here.
  • Store-bought: If the ingredients are not readily available or you’re short on time, you can also choose a store-bought pesto. Sometimes your small local grocer will make it fresh and keep it in the deli section, which is a good option. When choosing store-bought, remember that ingredient quality can vary greatly. Choose something that doesn’t contain a lot of filler and preservatives and also tastes great.
Pesto ingredients in food processor, pesto in bowl

How to Make Pesto Pasta with Chicken

  1. If you’re making the pesto from scratch (which I recommend!), make it first. Fresh pesto is bursting with flavor and packed with nutrients. If you’re short on time or fresh basil isn’t in season or available, it’s always ok to use store-bought pesto, too.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt. Add the pasta and cook 8-12 minutes until al dente (in general, follow the package instructions for cooking pasta.) I like to set a timer based on the package cooking time to ensure not overcook the pasta. For example, if the package says 10-12 minutes, I set the timer for 10 minutes.
  3. While the pasta cooks, cook the chicken. (Alternatively, you can use leftover already-cooked chicken that you’ve saved from a previous meal. If you do that, simply toss the chicken with the pasta when you add the pesto sauce.) In a separate skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces to the pan and season with 1/2 a teaspoon of salt and a few spins of freshly ground black pepper. 
  4. Cook, flipping once or twice, 6-8 minutes until opaque and cooked through. The chicken should be lightly brown. Chicken is cooked through when it reaches at least 160°F (72°C).
  5. Reduce the skillet to low heat.
  6. Before you drain the pasta, reserve 2 cups of pasta cooking water (I do this in a coffee mug) and set it aside as you may need it to thin out the pesto sauce to help the dish come together.
  7. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet with the chicken (or, use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer the pasta to the skillet with the chicken.)
  8. Add the pesto and 1/2 cup of pasta water to the skillet. Stir the pasta, chicken, pesto, and pasta water together with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula until a creamy sauce forms. If using, add the spinach at this point and let it wilt in for 3-5 minutes over low heat, string occasionally. Add 1/4 cup of additional pasta water at a time, if needed, to thin the pesto and form a sauce.
  9. Turn the heat off and top with additional parmesan cheese, if desired. Serve immediately.
  10. Leftovers keep in the fridge for up to 3 days. I don’t recommend freezing this dish. 

If you’re looking for a different take on your regular pesto pasta, then you’ll love this gluten-free Avocado Pesto Pasta With Arugula & Basil.

Chicken Pesto Pasta Recipe Elizabeth Rider 4

Cooking Time

About 35 minutes.

For this Pesto Pasta with Chicken, you’ll need around 8-12 minutes to cook the pasta and can cook the chicken while the pasta cooks. The remaining time will just be ingredient prepping and putting the dish together.

Storing

You can keep your Pesto Pasta with Chicken in the fridge for up to 3 days. I don’t recommend freezing this dish. 

Yield

This Pesto Pasta with Chicken recipe makes 4 servings, more or less, depending on your preferred portion size.

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Pesto Pasta with Chicken Recipe in large white pot Elizabeth Rider

Pesto Pasta with Chicken

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  • Author: Elizabeth Rider
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4
  • Category: Pasta
  • Method: Boil, Toss
  • Cuisine: Italian American

Description

Pesto Pasta with Chicken is an easy, delicious, and satisfying meal! It’s also flexible and can be made with already-cooked chicken and any pesto of your choice. This meal is a family favorite.


Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 1 (16-ounce) package of pasta, such as fussili, penne or bowties
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound (2 breasts) boneless skinless chicken breasts*, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup pesto sauce (made fresh or store-bought)
  • sea salt or kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • optional: 1/2 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese, and/or 8 ounces (2 handfuls) of fresh baby spinach

Instructions

(If you’re making the pesto from scratch, make it first, even up to 2 days ahead of time, and store it in the fridge. You can also make it right before you make the pasta.)

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt. Add the pasta and cook 8-10 minutes until al dente (in general, follow the package instructions for cooking pasta.) I like to set a timer to ensure not overcooking the pasta.
  2. Cook, flipping once or twice, 6-8 minutes until opaque and cooked through. The chicken should be lightly brown. Chicken is cooked through when it reaches at least 160°F (72°C). While the pasta cooks, in a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken pieces to the pan and season with 1/2 a teaspoon of salt and a few spins of freshly ground black pepper. 
  3. Reduce the skillet to low heat.
  4. Before you drain the pasta, reserve 2 cups of pasta cooking water (I do this in a coffee mug) and set to the side. Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet with the chicken (or, use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer the pasta to the skillet with the chicken.)
  5. Add the pesto and 1/2 cup of pasta water to the skillet. Stir the pasta, chicken, pesto, and pasta water together with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula until a creamy sauce forms. Add 1/4 cup additional pasta water at a time if needed to thin the pesto and form a sauce.
  6. Turn the heat off and serve immediately. Leftovers keep in the fridge up to 3 days. I don’t recommend freezing this dish. 

Notes

Alternatively, you can use leftover already-cooked chicken that you’ve saved from a previous meal. If you do that, simply toss the chicken with the pasta when you add the pesto sauce.

Optional add-ins: 

  • Add 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese plus another 1/2 cup pasta water with the pasta and pesto, if desired, for an extra cheesy dish. Pesto already contains parmesan, so I only do this if the pesto is light on parmesan. (Do not use powdered parmesan cheese from a can—it’s dehydrated and contains fillers and will not become creamy.)
  • 8 ounces (about two big handfuls) of fresh baby spinach can be added at the same time as the pesto and will wilt down to almost nothing, and provide extra minerals and fiber to your pasta dish.
Chicken Pesto Pasta Recipe Elizabeth Rider 2

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  1. Claudia says:

    I love this pasta! So good to mix up pasta and chicken, for nutrition and satiety! I will make it!

Hi, I'm Elizabeth

I teach you how to be healthier without extremes, so you can live more and obsess less.

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