Chicken Pesto Pasta is full of flavorful chicken and tender pasta in a creamy, cheesy pesto sauce. It’s quick and easy, coming together in under 30 minutes.
My Chicken Pesto Pasta recipe is a family favorite and a great way to use my nut-free pesto. It’s easy to make – I just whip it up in my food processor. Serve with a side of broccoli or a copycat Olive Garden Salad for a complete meal.
Fast – This pesto chicken pasta is a quick and easy 30 minute meal!
Ultra creamy and cheesy – Parmesan and Mozzarella cheeses blend together with the Pesto to make a supremely luscious sauce.
Great for leftovers – If you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, this dish reheats beautifully.
Ingredients for Chicken Pesto Pasta
This recipe for Chicken Pesto Pasta combines my Nut Free Pesto and a creamy cheese sauce for a truly magical dish. Most of the ingredients are pantry staples you probably already have on hand.
Pasta – I chose penne pasta, but you can use any small cut pasta like farfalle or rotini. You could even use fettuccine or spaghetti if you like.
Chicken breast – You need 1 pound of chicken which is usually 2-3 chicken breasts. Chicken tenders will work too since you’re going to cut the meat into bite-sized pieces.
Fresh garlic and Italian seasoning– for the chicken.
The cheese sauce – Flour and butter to make a roux, chicken broth, heavy cream, Parmesan, and Mozzarella cheeses.
Pesto – Fresh is best, and you can use one of my recipes for Nut Free Pesto or Walnut Basil Pesto Recipe. You only need about half a cup and the leftover can be added to scrambled eggs or spread on Crostini to make Pesto Bruschetta. If you need something quick, there are plenty of delicious jarred options as well.
Salt and pepper
Fresh basil – optional, for garnish.
How to Make Chicken Pesto Pasta
Get a detailed list of ingredients & instructions in the recipe card below.
Cook chicken in a pan on the stovetop over medium-high heat with some garlic and Italian seasoning. Season with salt and pepper and set cooked chicken aside on a plate. Use the same skillet to make the creamy pesto sauce described below.
Cook your favorite pasta according to the package directions. Drain the pasta really well and set it aside with the chicken.
Combine the chicken, pasta, and sauce together in the skillet. Serve with fresh chopped basil for garnish.
Creamy Pesto Sauce
The creamy pesto sauce is similar to an Alfredo but not quite as heavy. It starts as a sort of bechamel, then Parmesan adds a nice bite while Mozzarella makes it super creamy.
Melt some butter in a deep skillet or saute pan, then whisk in flour. Let it cook for a few minutes until it’s like a thick paste and golden in color.
Pour in chicken broth and milk or cream. Nonfat milk will cut some calories but a cream or even half and half will make it more smooth and creamy, so I use a combination of both. Let the sauce simmer for several minutes until it’s thick. Don’t boil it or it could scorch. You just want a nice simmer with bubbles coming to the top.
Remove from the heat and stir in pesto and cheese. Add to the finished dish.
What kind of pasta does pesto go with?
I love penne, rotini, or farfalle (butterfly) pasta with this recipe. But you can put pesto on just about anything from spaghetti and fettuccine to macaroni!
What is pesto sauce made of?
Pesto sauce is traditionally made with fresh basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese. I make mine with sunflower seeds to keep it nut-free. In place of the pine nuts, you can also use walnuts, cashews, or macadamia nuts.
I absolutely recommend making your own pesto. There are just a few ingredients and you can whip it up quickly in your food processor. Fresh really does taste so much better.
Is pesto pasta healthy?
Pesto is made from basil, pine nuts, and olive oil all of which have heart-healthy benefits. Mixed with pasta and cheese, it’s certainly an indulgence, but just keep in mind that you can enjoy just about anything in moderation.
If you’re looking for a healthier dish, you can eliminate the cheese sauce altogether and just add pesto and some fresh parmesan to the pasta and chicken.
Serving Suggestions and Variations
With chicken, pasta, and a creamy pesto sauce, this is a pretty heavy meal. I like to serve it with a simple garden salad on the side. If I’m feeding a larger crowd, I’ll whip up a loaf of garlic bread, too.
Another option is to add some veggies to the pasta. Fresh spinach, kale, or sun-dried tomatoes could simply be added and simmered with the sauce. Or sauteed broccoli, asparagus, mushrooms, or cherry tomatoes would all be fantastic.
Storage and Freezing
Storing: Leftovers should be stored in an airtight container for up to 3-4 days in the refrigerator, or you can freeze them for up to 4 months. Thaw in the fridge when you are ready to eat.
Reheating: I recommend reheating on the stove, at a low heat and adding a couple splashes of milk to keep it creamy. You can also reheat in the microwave, gently, for 60-90 seconds, stirring every 30 seconds to keep the sauce from breaking.
Make this a meatless dish and forego the chicken.
Use leftover or rotisserie chicken breast instead of cooking the chicken. If you do pre-cooked chicken, saute it with some garlic and Italian seasoning to give it a little flavor, just for a few minutes.
I recommend using chicken breasts rather than thighs or dark meat, which can be a little greasy in this recipe.
Cook chicken in a single layer so it will cook and brown evenly.
Remove the pan from the heat when adding the pesto and cheese.
The mozzarella can seize up if you don’t get it blended in right away. Mix quickly. You could also add the mozzarella a little at a time, stirring well to blend it in each time. Same with the parmesan.
More Pasta Recipes You’ll Love
Looking for some more easy pasta recipes to add to your recipe box? Try these:
½poundpenne pastaabout 2 ½ cups dry (half of a one pound box)
1poundboneless skinless chicken breastcut into bite-sized chunks
Salt and pepperto taste
1cuphalf and halfor all milk/cream
½cupfreshly grated Parmesan
1cupfreshly shredded Mozzarella
½cupfresh basil pestoor more, to taste
Fresh basilfor garnish, if desired
Boil pasta to al dente according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and olive oil, then add minced garlic, italian seasoning and diced chicken breast. Season with salt and pepper and cook until chicken is no longer pink, stirring chicken a couple of times to brown on all sides. Transfer chicken to a plate and discard any liquid in the skillet.
Return skillet to the stove over medium heat and melt butter. Whisk in the flour and cook until golden, about 3 minutes.
Whisk in chicken broth and half & half and bring to a boil. If it begins to boil too rapidly, turn the heat down a little. Simmer for about 5 minutes or until the sauce has reduced and thickened.
Remove from heat and stir in pesto and cheeses. Add the pasta and chicken and stir to coat. Garnish with fresh chopped basil and fresh cracked black pepper.
Optional add-ins: fresh spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, yellow squash, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes.The mozzarella can seize up if you don’t get it blended in right away. Mix quickly. You could also try adding half of the mozzarella at a time, stirring well to blend it in each time. Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 4 days, or up to 4 months in the freezer. Make sure to cool completely first.To reheat, thaw completely in the fridge then I recommend reheating on the stove, at a low heat and adding a little bit of milk to help keep it from drying out.
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Kristin Maxwell is the creator and main recipe developer, writer, and photographer of Yellow Bliss Road. A self-taught cook and self-appointed foodie, she specializes in easy, flavorful and approachable recipes for any home cook.