Chicken Pesto Pasta is a winning weeknight dinner. Not only is it ready in just 30 minutes, but the simple ingredients pack in layers of comforting flavors. The irresistibly smooth and creamy bites are impossible to resist!
Pasta with sauce is a lifesaving go-to meal when you’re short on time. Whether it’s a Garlic Bacon Pasta or Vegan Mushroom Pasta, this classic combo never fails to pack in big flavors and comfort while using minimal ingredients.
You can add this Chicken Pesto Pasta to the list of lifesavers because it’s so easy and tasty! It may look like an extravagant, gourmet dish, but it’s really quite simple. Featuring layers of Italian flavors, easy homemade pesto and juicy pan-fried chicken breast, it hits the spot on busy weeknights or for weekday lunches.
- It may look fancy, but this pesto pasta with chicken recipe is very easy and perfect for beginners.
- All you need are a handful of healthy ingredients, some of which you may already have on hand.
- It’s easy to make dairy free, gluten free, and vegan.
- Pasta - Short, textured pasta is best here! The ridges or tubes in farfalle, rotini, penne, rigatoni, or fusilli pasta will scoop up the sauce, ensuring you get full flavors in every bite. If you’re gluten free, feel free to use your favorite gluten free pasta noodles instead.
- Chicken breast - The chicken is sliced into bite-sized pieces for easy eating and a quick cooking time. If you’d really like to save some time, use pre-cooked grilled or baked chicken or a storebought rotisserie chicken instead.
- Tomatoes and garlic - Your aromatic flavor enhancers! Grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes are best, or you can leave them out if you aren’t a tomato fan.
- Pesto - This is the real star of the meal. Store-bought pesto is fine, but homemade pesto (recipe listed below in the recipe card) is what gives this recipe its signature herby, cheesy and nutty elements. Or, use my dairy-free kale pesto or almond pesto to keep it dairy free!
- Cheese - Use mozzarella, parmesan, or a blend of freshly shredded Italian cheese.
Step 1: Cook the pasta. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Set aside some of the pasta water before draining the noodles.
Step 2: Brown the chicken. Meanwhile, cook the chicken in an oiled oven-safe skillet until golden brown.
Step 3: Make the pesto pasta sauce. Add the tomatoes and garlic to the same pan. Sauté until fragrant, then add the cooked pasta and homemade pesto and stir to combine. Stir in as much reserved pasta water as you need to transform the pesto into a creamy pesto pasta sauce.
Step 4: Add the cheese and bake. To finish, stir most of the cheese into the pasta and sprinkle the rest over top. Cover the skillet with a lid and bake in the oven until the cheese is gooey and melted. Season to taste, then dig in!
Expert tips and FAQs
- Cook your pasta al dente. Otherwise, it may overcook while in the oven and become mushy.
- You can also bake or grill the chicken in advance and stir it in with the cheese before the dish goes into the oven.
- No oven-safe skillet? Simply cook the chicken pesto pasta in a large pan, then transfer it to a baking dish. Sprinkle a layer of cheese over the top, cover, and bake.
What else can you add to chicken pesto pasta?
Load your pesto pasta up with vegetables like spinach, broccoli, asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini, and sun-dried tomatoes. Alternatively, you can swap out the chicken for bacon, pancetta, chorizo, Italian sausage, or shrimp.
Can it be made vegan?
To make this without dairy or animal products, use vegan-friendly pesto (like my almond pesto) and vegan mozzarella. Give the dish a protein boost by replacing the chicken with chickpeas, baked tofu, vegan chicken, tempeh bacon, or white beans.
What goes well with chicken pesto pasta?
Chicken pesto pasta is a hearty dish on its own, but feel free to serve it alongside crusty bread and a light salad.
Fridge: Keep the cooled leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Reheat them in a pan over medium heat or in the microwave.
More delicious pesto dinners
If you made this recipe, be sure to leave a comment and star rating below. Thanks!
Chicken Pesto Pasta
- 12 oz. pasta
- ¼ cup salted pasta water reserved
- 1 lb. chicken breast diced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 12 oz. grape tomatoes
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- ⅓ cup shredded mozzarella or parmesan cheese
for the pesto:
- ⅓ cup pine nuts
- 2 small garlic cloves
- 1 cup spinach
- 2 cups basil
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese freshly grated
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 400°.
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water and reserve ¼ cup of the pasta water before draining.
- While the pasta is cooking, make the pesto: Add the pine nuts, garlic, spinach, basil, lemon juice, parmesan, and salt to your food processor and blend. With the motor still running, pour the olive oil in through the top and pulse until smooth; set aside.
- Next, heat the olive oil in a large, oven-proof skillet over medium heat, then add the chicken and cook it until it's golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and tomatoes to the skillet and sauté for 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat.
- Add the cooked pasta, along with the pasta and HALF of the mozzarella cheese and stir to combine. Now, add the pasta water to thin out the pesto.
- Sprinkle the remaining cheese overtop, then place a lid on the skillet and put it in the oven for 10 minutes until the cheese is melted. Add salt and pepper to taste, along with red pepper flakes (optional) and enjoy!
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