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Pesto Pasta with Chicken Recipe in large white pot Elizabeth Rider

Pesto Pasta with Chicken

  • 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


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.


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


(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. 


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.

Keywords: Chicken Pesto Pasta