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Creamy Pesto Chicken Pasta Recipe
A hearty and satisfying meal packed with flavor
We’re smitten with this Pesto Chicken Pasta recipe and bet your family will be too. This simple dish is stuffed with amazing flavor, great textures and tender chicken all tossed in a bright and creamy pesto sauce.
If you have a garden or planter full of fresh summer basil, then this recipe is for you! We use home-grown garden-fresh basil to make homemade pesto as the base for the sauce, but store-bought pesto also works well.
This dish was adapted from our memorable, creamy and luscious Basil Pesto Cream Sauce with Tortellini. We just can’t get enough of the pasta-pesto combo!
- Penne Pasta or any variety of pasta you have on hand like spaghetti, rotini or Campanelle
- Salt and fresh ground black pepper
- Olive oil
- Grape or cherry tomatoes
- Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- Minced shallot
- Skinless boneless chicken breasts
- unsalted butter
- Prepared basil pesto, homemade or store-bought
- Fresh grated Parmesan cheese
- Baby spinach leaves
How to make Pesto Chicken Pasta
1. Cook the pasta
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain the pasta reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. This will be used to thin the sauce as needed.
2. Blister the tomatoes
While the pasta is cooking heat a large nonstick skillet and olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes and cook until blistered on the bottom.
Add red pepper flakes and the minced shallot. Stir and cook until the tomatoes are well seared.
Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
3. Sear the chicken breasts
Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining olive oil in the now empty skillet.
Cook the chicken until golden brown on both sides, about 7 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and tent with foil.
4. Prepare the pesto cream sauce
In the now empty pot used to cook the pasta add the half-and-half, butter and 1/4 cup of the pesto. Heat on medium stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens.
Add the Parmesan and spinach. Cook until the spinach is wilted and the cheese is melted.
Season with fresh ground black pepper and remove from the heat.
5. Combine the sauce, chicken and pasta
Pour the pasta and tomatoes into the sauce. Add a splash or two of the reserved pasta water to loosen as needed.
Cut the chicken into 1/2-inch thick slices and add to the pasta.
Divide the mixture into 4 pasta bowls and top with fresh grated Parmesan, black pepper and fresh basil leaves. Drizzle the remaining pesto over each dish or pass when serving for those that want more.
Serve with hunks of crusty bread and a nice green salad for a complete meal.
Shortcuts and substitutions for Pesto Chicken Pasta
We love homemade basil pesto for the base of this sauce. Homemade is very easy to make and so versatile. Our recipe makes the perfect amount for this dish which is 1/2 cup.
For an easy shortcut purchase good quality pesto at your favorite grocery store. Price is a good indicator of quality when it comes to pesto.
Look for fresh basil pesto in the refrigerator section and grab a tub of Buitoni Basil Pesto. It’s the best store-bought pesto we’ve ever had. It’s sold a many big grocery store chains and at Wal-Mart.
When using shelf-stable jarred pesto be sure to check the ingredients. You may find more spinach than basil, and the traditional pine nuts replaced with cashews.
If you don’t have fresh basil on hand try making parsley or arugula pesto with walnuts instead. The peppery flavor of arugula is lovely in this dish.
🐓 CHICKEN BREAST
If you have leftover grilled chicken it will work perfectly in this pasta dish. Simply slice or dice the chicken and toss it in the pasta cream sauce.
You can also substitute rotisserie chicken in place of the pan seared breasts.
Feel free to omit the blistered tomatoes if desired, or substitute 1/4 cup of oil-packed drained and chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Add these in at the very end.
The spinach can also be omitted if desired. Substitute 2 cups of fresh steamed broccoli florets or roasted chopped asparagus.
🍽 Storing and reheating leftover Pesto Chicken Pasta
This pasta dish keeps well for up to 3 days stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Add a splash of tap water or chicken broth to individual servings, cover and microwave on 50% power until heated through.
Top with fresh grated Parmesan cheese and black pepper.
We don’t recommend freezing this dish as the dairy and pasta won’t hold up well.
Thanks for PINNING!
Pesto Chicken Pasta
- 8 ounces penne pasta
- table salt
- fresh ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes
- ⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 small shallot minced (about 2 tablespoons)
- 2 skinless boneless chicken breasts (about 6 to 8 ounces each)
- 1 cup half-and-half (8oz)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- ½ cup prepared basil pesto divided (homemade or store-bought)
- ½ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese lightly packed plus more for garnish (1oz)
- 2 cups fresh baby spinach leaves packed (2.5oz)
- Bring 4 quarts water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Add the pasta and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Reserve ½ cup cooking water, then drain and set aside.
- While the pasta is cooking heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and heat until shimmering. Add the tomatoes and cook undisturbed for 3 to 4 minutes or until blistered on the bottom. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and shallot. Stir and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes or until the tomatoes are well seared. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in the now empty skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Cook the chicken until golden brown and the meat registers 160 degrees, about 6 to 7 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and tent with foil while preparing the sauce.
- In the now empty pot used to cook the pasta, add the half-and-half, butter and ¼ cup of pesto. Heat on medium, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the Parmesan and spinach leaves. Cook until the spinach is wilted and the cheese is melted. Season with fresh ground black pepper and remove from the heat.
- Toss the sauce with the blistered tomatoes and cooked pasta. Add a splash or two of the reserved pasta water to loosen as needed. Cut the chicken into 1/2-inch thick slices and add to the pasta. Serve in individual bowls garnished with 1 tablespoon of the remaining pesto and fresh grated Parmesan, black pepper and basil leaves.
- Omit the blistered tomatoes if desired. Or substitute 1/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes drained and chopped added in at the end.
- The spinach can also be omitted if desired. Or substitute 2 cups of fresh steamed broccoli florets or roasted chopped asparagus.
- Previously grilled or cooked chicken breasts or rotisserie chicken can be used in place of the pan seared chicken for a quick option.
Hearty, filling and tasty Pesto Chicken Pasta!
If you love pesto you’ll enjoy this hearty, fragrant and delicious meal made with pan seared chicken and penne pasta in a creamy pesto sauce.
Serve with a big hunk of crusty bread and pass with extra pesto if desired.
More favorite recipes calling for pesto
If you find yourself with extra basil and pesto be sure to try smearing some on this Grilled Cheese with Heirloom Tomatoes. A delicious sandwich indeed!
As mentioned above we adapted this recipe from our favorite Basil Pesto Cream with Tortellini. It’s really fantastic and perfect served along grilled meats or just a fresh salad.
Finally for a delightful change from the everyday try our Grilled Pesto Pizza with Arugula and Feta.
This full flavored pizza is made with fresh pesto and peppery arugula. Feta cheese adds a nice creamy bite to this simple but complex tasting pizza.