Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta

published Apr 19, 2022
Chicken Pesto Pasta

If you love a good pesto pasta and have a soft spot for creamy sauces, you are going to love pesto chicken pasta.

Serves4

Prep10 minutes to 15 minutes

Cook24 minutes to 30 minutes

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penne with chicken and pesto sauce with green vegetables tossed together
Credit: Kelli Foster

Of all the ways to make pesto pasta for dinner, this is a dish I want to keep making again and again. If you love a good pesto and have a soft spot for creamy sauces, you are going to love pesto chicken pasta. Al dente penne and chunks of tender, juicy chicken breast are slicked with a creamy pesto sauce that’s bursting with herby, garlicky flavor. The brightness of the pesto plus a full bag of baby spinach keeps the richness of the creamy sauce in check.

And while it’s certainly a meal on its own, an easy side dish (like a simple arugula salad, a fresh tomato salad, or some garlicky broccolini) is always a nice way to round out this pasta dinner.

What’s the Best Pasta for Chicken Pesto Pasta?

We’re partial to penne, although any tube-shaped pasta is perfect for making chicken pesto pasta. Not only does the sauce coat the outside of the pasta, but when stirred together pockets of creamy pesto sauce and wisps of spinach will also get trapped inside the pasta tubes.

What Is Pesto Pasta Sauce Made Of?

This pesto pasta sauce is bright and herby, with just a little rich creaminess, which helps it cling to the pasta. It comes together with just a few common ingredients. Here’s what you’ll need.

  • Basil pesto sauce (homemade or store-bought)
  • Heavy cream
  • Pasta water
  • Parmesan cheese

Can You Add Jarred Pesto to Pasta?

Absolutely! Any pesto sauce is fair game in this recipe. If you’ve got a haul of fresh basil (or any other greens) to use up, and you’re up for it, go ahead and make your own pesto (remember that leftover pesto freezes really well!). Otherwise, if convenience is the name of the game, grab your favorite store-bought version. Both refrigerated pesto (like Gotham Greens pesto, my personal favorite) and jarred pesto work well here.

Credit: Kelli Foster

Chicken Pesto Pasta

If you love a good pesto pasta and have a soft spot for creamy sauces, you are going to love pesto chicken pasta.

Prep time 10 minutes to 15 minutes

Cook time 24 minutes to 30 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2 cloves

    garlic

  • 1 ounce

    Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 firmly packed cup finely grated or 1/3 cup store-bought grated), plus more for serving

  • 1 pound

    boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 small)

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt, divided, plus more as needed

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 12 ounces

    dried penne or other tube shaped pasta

  • 1 tablespoon

    olive oil

  • 5 ounces

    baby spinach (about 5 cups)

  • 1 cup

    heavy cream

  • 1/2 cup

    basil pesto

  • Fresh basil leaves, for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, mince 2 garlic cloves. Finely grate 1 ounce Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 packed cup) or measure out 1/3 cup store-bought grated. Pat 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts dry with paper towels and cut into 1-inch cubes. Season the chicken all over with 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.

  2. Add 12 ounces dried penne pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions until al dente,10 to 12 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the chicken.

  3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 12-inch or larger high-sided skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the chicken in a single layer and cook, flipping occasionally, until cooked through and browned all over, 5 to 8 minutes total. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. If the pasta is not ready yet, remove the pan from the heat.

  4. When the pasta is ready, transfer 1/2 cup of the pasta water to the pan with the chicken, then drain the pasta. Add 1 cup heavy cream, 1/2 cup basil pesto, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt to the chicken and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is reduced and thickened slightly, 6 to 8 minutes.

  5. Add the Parmesan and pasta to the sauce and toss to combine. Add 5 ounces baby spinach a handful at a time, stirring each handful into the pasta until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed. Serve garnished with more grated Parmesan cheese and fresh basil leaves if desired.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days.