Chicken Pesto Pasta

5 from 8 votes
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This quick and easy chicken pesto pasta combines tender chicken, al dente pasta, and a vibrant homemade pesto sauce for flavorful bites. Whether you’re cooking for a weeknight dinner or entertaining guests, this recipe will surely impress.

Large pot of chicken pesto pasta with cherry tomatoes.

Instead of using multiple pots to cook the noodles, meat, and sauce, this pesto chicken pasta recipe is brought together in one pan. I’ll show you my simple cooking sequence to save time. And if you enjoy this flavor combination, you’ll want to try my pesto chicken pizza next.

Pieces of tender and juicy chicken are sauteed first. This enables you to develop a flavorful crust and ensures the meat stays moist. Add the dried pasta straight to the pot with chicken stock. In about 15 minutes, the pasta will be al dente. Now, stir in the pesto, cream, parmesan, and tomatoes, then serve.

Recipe ingredients

Ingredients needed to make this chicken pesto pasta recipe.
  • Chicken: For a lean, quick-cooking protein, use boneless, skinless chicken breast. Cut them into about ¾ inch pieces. This will give plenty of surface area for the chicken to sear and brown without drying out too quickly. If you prefer dark meat, use chicken thighs, but it may take a few minutes extra to cook.
  • Pesto: Use my homemade basil pesto recipe made in a food processor for the best, freshest taste. It yields ½ cup, the perfect amount to make the sauce. If using store-bought pesto, purchase the refrigerated products. Jarred products are dark in color and have a muddy taste.
  • Pasta: Use short-cut pasta like penne. The tubular shape catches the sauce for more flavorful bites and holds its shape well when stirring. You’ll need 8 ounces or 2 ¼ cups of dried pasta. Cook it with chicken stock for a more flavorful taste.
  • Cream: Add heavy whipping cream to add a thicker consistency to the sauce. Half-and-half is a good swap for a lighter sauce. The cream can be omitted for a classic pesto flavor. Just add in water to make it easier to mix.
  • Cheese: Add aged parmesan cheese to the pasta for a nutty and salty flavor.
  • Tomatoes: Use a mix of sweet julienned tomatoes and fresh cherry tomatoes.

Prepare the chicken

Cubes of chicken breast in a mixing bowl with salt and pepper.

Step 1: Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces to ensure they cook quickly. I simply season the meat with salt, pepper, and olive oil. You can add garlic powder or onion powder for an allium flavor.

To make it spicy, stir in chili powder or red pepper flakes. This recipe is also great to make with any leftover shredded chicken if you have some.

Cook the chicken

Pieces of chicken searing in a large pan.

Step 2: To make all the components in one pot, use a large, high-sided pan or Dutch oven. Cook the chicken in hot olive oil to sear and brown the surface. I don’t move the chicken for several minutes to allow the flavorful crust to form, then saute until the meat is cooked. Transfer to a clean bowl while you make the pasta.

Cook the pasta

Penne pasta cooking in a large pot of chicken stock.

Step 3: One of my favorite ways to speed up the pasta cooking process is to boil it in chicken broth or stock and a bit of salt. This method cooks the penne pasta by absorption. In about 15 minutes, the penne absorbs the water, becomes al dente, and is well seasoned.

You can always add more water to the pan to tenderize the noodles if needed. I use this same method for my go-to one-pot pasta recipe. If using gluten-free penne, cook the pasta a few minutes shorter.

Make the sauce

Step 4: Turn the heat down to low to preserve the flavor of the fresh herbs in the pesto. Stir in the pesto sauce, heavy cream, and parmesan cheese. Now, you can add the sliced sun-dried tomatoes. I love the concentrated sweetness and slight chew, so I use the tomatoes jarred in olive oil.

Add the cooked chicken, stir it well, and warm it in the pan before serving. I like to garnish with sliced cherry tomatoes and fresh basil.

Flavor variations

You can easily customize the dish once you learn how to make chicken pesto pasta. Try some of these tasty variations:

  • Pasta: Instead of penne, try farfalle, cavatappi, shells, or rotini.
  • Cream: Heavy whipping cream can be substituted for half-and-half to make the sauce less rich. The cream can be omitted, and water can be added to loosen the pesto. The starches released from the pasta in the cooking liquid help give body to the sauce.
  • Pesto: Try my classic pesto sauce or add spinach or arugula to the basil pesto.
  • Cheese: Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano will give a similar flavor to parmesan.
  • Vegetables: Stir in baby spinach right at the end of cooking. It will wilt down and add extra nutrition. Instead of sundried tomatoes, try roasted bell peppers. Add sauteed mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, or eggplant.

Serving suggestions

Frequently asked questions

How do I make homemade pesto sauce?

It combines fresh basil leaves, raw garlic for pungency, parmesan cheese, olive oil, pine nuts, salt, and pepper. It can be processed in a food processor or blender. Walnuts, cashews, or almonds can be substituted for pine nuts.

Can I substitute basil with another herb in the pesto sauce?

You can switch up the basil with spinach, arugula, or parsley.

Can I use a different type of pasta instead of penne?

Yes! Short cut pasta like fusilli, cavatappi, farfelle, or rotini works well. If you prefer long pasta, spaghetti works best for the one-pot absorption cooking method.

Close up of chicken and pasta tossed in a creamy basil pesto sauce.

Recipe Science

Using homemade vs. store-bought pesto

Homemade pesto sauce uses fresh herbs or greens and high-quality olive oil. It will always give the most vibrant color, intense aroma, and best taste. For convenience, use refrigerated pesto. Similar ingredients like basil, pine nuts, parmesan, and olive oil tend to be used, but the texture is more pureed. No-refrigerated products must be heat treated to be shelf stable, and their color is darker green with a muddy, dried herb flavor. They tend to use ingredients like vegetable oils, cashews, and potato flakes to thicken the sauce. I would skip this version!

Chicken Pesto Pasta

If you're craving a delicious and satisfying pasta dish, my chicken pesto pasta is the answer. It's easy to make and customize to your liking.
5 from 8 votes
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time25 minutes
Total Time40 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine Italian

Ingredients 
 

  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 ounces dried penne , 2 ¼ cups
  • 4 cups unsalted chicken stock , broth, or water
  • ½ cup basil pesto
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup sliced sundried tomatoes
  • ½ cup halved cherry tomatoes, optional
  • 1 tablespoon sliced basil leaves, optional

Instructions 

  • Prepare the Chicken – Cut the chicken breast into about ¾-inch cubes. In a medium bowl, combine the pieces with ½ teaspoon salt, black pepper, and 1 tablespoon olive oil.
  • Cook the Chicken – Heat a large, high-sided skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once hot, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chicken to a single layer, and cook without moving until the surface is golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Saute until fully cooked, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a clean bowl and cover to keep warm.
  • Cook the Pasta – Add the pasta, chicken stock, and ½ teaspoon salt to the pan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook and stir frequently until tender, and the stock has mostly evaporated, about 14 to 16 minutes. Add more water if needed, ½ cup at a time, for a softer pasta. Keep a small amount of liquid in the pan to create a light sauce.
  • Make the Sauce  Reduce heat to low. Stir in the pesto sauce, heavy cream, and parmesan cheese. Stir in the sundried tomatoes and chicken, cooking until warm, about 2 minutes.
  • To Serve – Serve garnished with baby tomatoes and sliced basil.

Notes

  • Recipe Yield: About 8 cups
  • Serving Size: 1 cup
  • Using Salted Chicken Stock: Omit the ½ teaspoon of salt added to the pasta.
  • Storing: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
  • Reheating: Cover and reheat in the microwave on the high setting in 30-second increments, stirring in between, until hot.
  • Make it Gluten-free: Use 2 ¼ cups of gluten-free penne. The pasta may be al dente a few minutes sooner.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 8 servings
Calories 370kcal (19%)Carbohydrates 27g (9%)Protein 21g (42%)Fat 20g (31%)Saturated Fat 6g (30%)Polyunsaturated Fat 1gMonounsaturated Fat 6gTrans Fat 0.01gCholesterol 57mg (19%)Sodium 747mg (31%)Potassium 534mg (15%)Fiber 2g (8%)Sugar 3g (3%)Vitamin A 651IU (13%)Vitamin C 4mg (5%)Calcium 82mg (8%)Iron 1mg (6%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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