This Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta features penne pasta smothered in a buttery cream sauce infused with basil pesto, and juicy chicken. It’s indulgent but not ridiculously rich and is ready in 30 minutes.
This creamy chicken pesto pasta is 30 minute dinner of a tasty combination of cooked penne, creamy sauce and juicy chicken.
The sauce is more like a luxurious alfredo with a faint green color. It's super flavorful, thick, creamy, comforting and satisfying like the chicken broccoli alfredo recipe.
I like to stir in basil pesto at the end, because a delicate herb like basil contains volatile flavor compounds that disperses quickly when cooked. A good basil pesto is am amazing balance with each ingredient is heightened.
If you are lucky to be blessed with an abundant supply of fresh basil in your backyard, then here is a quick recipe - Pulse ¼ cup of toasted pine nuts, 1 large garlic clove and ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese in a food processor, until finely ground.
Add about 3 cups of fresh basil leaves, salt, pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes, close the food processor and turn it on. Slowly drizzle ½ cup olive oil through the feed tube and run the processor until a smooth sauce forms.
This creamy chicken pesto pasta recipe calls for al dente cooked noodles, meaning they are tender but still firm. As dried pasta boils, the starch granules on the surface of the pasta absorb water and swell, whereas the starch in the very centre becomes only partially hydrated and thus retains a slightly firm bite.
It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for something, that’s easy for a busy evening or if you have company coming over for dinner. Everyone is going to rave about the amazing way this dish tastes, just like the instant pot chicken pasta. Let’s get started so you can head in the kitchen and whip up a batch.
Why you'll love this?
- 30 minute meal does not mean short of flavor! This creamy chicken pesto pasta uses convenient shortcuts like jarred basil pesto, chicken stock and the beloved Maillard reaction to make a super flavorful pasta dish.
- It comes together in less than 30 minutes, making it perfect for busy weeknights.
- Use store bought jarred pesto!
- If you love restaurant-quality creamy pasta dishes, like chicken fettuccini alfredo , then you will fall head over heels in love with this greenish white sauce.
A Reader writes "This recipe is FANTASTIC! Wonderful flavors and easy to prepare. I substituted 3 boneless skinless breasts, which I cut in half to make them thinner and they tasted great. The sauce is creamy and rich but not too much of either. A wonderful dish that has delicious pesto flavor without being overpowering. I will definitely make this again!"
Scroll down to the recipe card below for full information on ingredients and amounts.
This creamy chicken pesto pasta dish is anything but bland! We’ll be adding lots of seasonings and flavorings, for maximum deliciousness. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Pasta - As in all our penne pasta recipes, I like to use penne, but you can make this dish with any noodle your heart desires, however, I find using bite size shapes like penne, farfelle (or bow tie), fusilli (spiral shaped) or ziti are easier to toss and are scoop-able along cooked meat.
- Basil pesto - I used store bought jar from Costco. If you are looking to make your own, then check out this highly rated recipe from Simplyrecipes.
- Half and Half - Adds luxurious luscious texture without being heavy.
- Stock - I used 33% reduced sodium stock. If you are using no sodium or regular sodium stock, then adjust salt accordingly.
- Chicken - My favorite is always boneless skinless thighs, because it cooks up so tender (like this grilled boneless chicken thighs recipe) and impossible to over cook.
- Parmesan cheese - Forget the tasteless powdered parmesan in a green can and buy a block of cheese and grate it yourself. It melts ultra smooth without any grittiness.
- Seasonings - Garlic, onion, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.
Pro tip: Here is a good substitute for half and half - ½ cup whole milk + ¼ cup heavy cream (or) ¼ cup low fat milk+ ½ cup heavy cream.
Substitutions & Variations
- Skip cream - Use all whole milk for a lighter sauce, but with some compromise in creaminess and taste. Canned coconut milk may also be used instead of half and half for a healthier twist like in instant pot shrimp pasta.
- With tomatoes - Stir in halved cherry tomatoes or sun dried tomatoes along with cooked penne and parmesan cheese.
- With roasted tomatoes - Toss cherry tomatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and chopped garlic. Spread them evenly in a small baking sheet and roast at 400°F for 15 to 20 minutes or until tomatoes are collapsing and slightly charred. Toss along with cooked penne.
- Add asparagus - Cut trimmed asparagus into 1-inch pieces and saute along with onion and garlic in the recipe. Finish off with halved cherry tomatoes at the end. I like to also toss in chopped leftover pan fried asparagus.
- With vegetables - Stir sautéed zucchini, mushrooms, asparagus or green beans in the recipe.
- Make it cheesy - Stir in grated mozzarella at the end.
- Add spinach - Stir in baby spinach towards the last couple of minutes of cooking.
- Use leftover rotisserie chicken instead of thighs.
- Sear shrimp and toss at the end like in garlic butter shrimp pasta.
How to make?
You can find full printable recipe below, but here is a quick overview of the procedure along with step-by-step photos.
1 & 2. Cook cubed boneless, skinless thighs or breasts in some olive oil, until almost cooked. Transfer to a bowl.
Pro tip: Searing the chicken in high heat, triggers the cascade of chemical reactions known as Maillard reaction. It increases the savoriness, adds complexity and a depth of flavor.
3. Saute chopped onion and garlic in butter, until translucent.
4. Add all purpose flour and cook for about a minute until the raw smell is gone.
5. Stir in stock, half & half, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring until it comes to a boil and begins thickening.
Pro tip: A good broth will improve anything you cook with it, so select a good quality chicken stock that's full of rich flavor and a full body.
6.Add cooked meat (along with accumulated juices) and basil pesto. Stir well and let simmer for about 2 minutes, to thicken slightly.
7 & 8. Stir in cooked penne and parmesan cheese. Mix well and serve.
Storage and reheating
Store any leftovers in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. After that, the flavors might tend to get muted.
To Reheat, simply microwave the dish or reheat it on the stove over low heat, with a splash of water or broth to moisten it up.
- Basil pesto - You can use homemade or store bought, whichever you prefer. I often use store bought to save on time. Be sure to choose jars from the refrigerator case rather than the shelf stable type.
- Use Boneless skinless thighs or breasts.
- Be sure to cook your meat in a single layer so it gets a golden brown crust. If you overcrowd the pan, it might steam instead. It’s best to work in batches if your pan is not large enough to fit everything at once.
- Use your favorite noodle shape instead of penne.
- Don't have half & half? Use equal parts of heavy cream and milk.
- This is a great recipe to use leftover or rotisserie chicken. Just throw it together with the penne, heat it through, and serve (with some compromise in flavors).
- Cook your penne al dente. Otherwise, it may overcook while in the oven and become mushy.
Basil pesto is made from fresh basil leaves, good quality extra virgin olive oil and pine nut, which contains heart healthy fats. However, it can be also high in calories when compared to a marinara sauce, made from mostly tomatoes and herbs.
Creamy sauce pastas are not great candidates for freezing, as the texture might change to grainy and the noodle will get mushy when reheated.
If you’re not a fan of chicken or if you are out of it, you could try this recipe with shrimp, salmon, or even tofu. Just be sure to adjust the cooking time accordingly.
Whole milk might work, but it would definitely thin things out (probably too much!). I recommend sticking with half and half for a perfectly thickened, velvety sauce.
So there you have it – a delicious, easy, and quick creamy chicken pesto pasta recipe. I hope you’ll give it a try the next time you’re looking for a simple but tasty meal.
More pasta dishes with chicken
Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 to 3 chicken thighs boneless & skinless, cut into bit size chunks
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup chopped onion
- 2 garlic cloves chopped
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1 cup chicken stock I used 33% reduced sodium
- ¾ cup half & half
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes or taste
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup basil pesto
- ½ cup parmesan cheese
- 8 ounces penne cooked
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add chicken in a single layer, season with salt and pepper. Cook stirring occasionally until almost cooked. Transfer to a bowl,Pro tip: Searing the chicken in high heat, triggers the cascade of chemical reactions known as Maillard reaction. It increases the savoriness, adds complexity and a depth of flavor.
- Reduce heat to medium, add butter, chopped onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally until translucent. Stir in flour and saute for about a minute or until raw smell goes off.
- Add chicken stock, half & half, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Mix well, continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until sauce comes to a gentle boil and has thickened slightly (about 2 minutes).Pro tip: Here is a good substitute for half and half - ½ cup whole milk + ¼ cup heavy cream (or) ¼ cup low fat milk+ ½ cup heavy cream.
- Add cooked chicken (along with accumulated juices) and pesto. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 2 minutes for the sauce to thicken. Stir in cooked pasta and parmesan cheese. Mix well and serve.
Nutritional information, based on third-party calculations, should be seen as estimates, not guarantees, as various factors like product types, brands, processing methods, and more can alter the nutritional content in recipes.
Did you make this recipe? I’d love your feedback! Please let me know by leaving a comment or review below or snap a photo and share on Instagram.
All contents and images are my original work, unless and otherwise mentioned. Please do not use my recipes or images without linking back to www.kitchenathoskins.com. If you wish to republish a recipe, please rewrite in your own words and don’t forget to include a link back to the original recipe.
Some of the links above are affiliate links, which pay me a small commission for my referral at no extra cost to you! I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Thank you for supporting kitchenathoskins.com.