Creamy Pesto Pasta with Chicken
Easy homemade creamy pesto pasta with chicken! This creamy pesto pasta recipe is an easy recipe but it’s full of flavor. Tastes like fancy takeout but simple enough to make at home. Guaranteed to please pasta lovers!
Creamy pesto pasta is the newest addition to my easy pasta dinner series.
I wanted to create something that started with searing the chicken in a skillet. Then building the flavors one ingredient at a time. We’ll use chicken stock to deglaze the pan so that all of that flavor goes right into the creamy pesto sauce. I’m happy to report that not only is this recipe simple enough for anyone to make, it’s delicious and perfect for date night too!
Most of the ingredients in this recipe are pantry staples. If you’re someone who like basil pesto, I have a killer recipe for a homemade version but you can also use store-bought pesto if you’d like. My tip for using store-bought pesto is to check the refrigerated prepared food section of your grocery store to see if they sell a fresh refrigerated version instead of the one in the tomato sauce or pasta aisle. That tends to make this whole thing taste so much better!
What ingredient do you need to make creamy pesto pasta?
- Chicken: You can use any boneless, skinless chicken for this recipe. I usually use chicken tenders or chicken breasts, but you could also use chicken thighs as well.
- Seasonings: You’ll need the usual – kosher salt, black pepper, and garlic powder to season the chicken with. You’ll also need red pepper flakes to season the creamy pesto sauce with.
- Pasta: I like to use penne pasta for this recipe because the sauce clings to the ridges and gets inside the pasta and bursts with very bite. You can also use shell or bowties if you’d like. Other short-cut pasta will also work.
- Butter: The butter is used to saute the garlic and is the base of the pesto cream sauce.
- Garlic: I like to use a garlic press or a grater to make the prep work extra quick for this recipe. You can use as much or as little garlic as you’d like for this recipe. I suggest tasting the pesto to see how much garlic it has before you add garlic to the recipe. I usually opt for around 3 cloves and it tends to be perfect for our taste.
- Flour: You’ll need a tablespoon to create a roux along with the butter which will then help thicken the sauce. I usually prefer to use flour for this recipe so I can use half and half and still have a thick sauce that clings to the pasta. You can also swap the flour, use a little less chicken stock, and use heavy cream in place of the half and half if you wanted this to be a bit more luxurious or if you want to skip the all-purpose flour all together.
- Chicken Stock: helps deglaze the pan once the onions and red pepper flakes have cooked in the butter.
- Half and Half: adds creaminess to the sauce. Half and half is a product sold here in the States. It’s essentially just a 50:50 combination of whole milk and heavy cream.
- Basil Pesto: is a condiment that is from the Liguarian region of Italy. It contains ingredients like fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, olive oil and garlic. I have a homemade version here. If you aren’t a fan of basil pesto, you can also use my homemade spinach pesto for this recipe instead.
- Broccoli florets: Broccoli adds color and an added serving of veggies to the pasta. Feel free to omit the broccoli or use something else instead if you’d like. I just steam the broccoli in the microwave or in a steamer basket before adding it to the sauce at the end.
How to make pesto chicken pasta:
- Prepare the pasta. Get a large pot of water going and make sure to salt the water generously when it boils. Allow the pasta to cook for a minute or two less than the package directions so that you can finish cooking the pasta in the sauce at the end. You’ll want to save a splash of pasta water before you drain the penne. Pasta cooking water is perfect for creating a silky, glossy sauce!
- Season and sear the chicken. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with kosher salt, black pepper, and garlic powder. Add a drizzle of oil to a sauté pan (I like to use a cast iron casserole pan) and when it’s hot, cook the chicken, flipping halfway through until the chicken is done. Remove it to a cutting board or a plate and keep warm for later.
- Make the sauce in the same pan. Add the butter to the sauce pan and saute the garlic and red pepper flakes. When the garlic is fragrant, add the flour and stir to combine. You want to make sure to let the flour cook in the butter for at least a minute so you cook out the raw flavor. Then, slowly pour in the chicken broth as you whisk to scrape up all that stuck on flavor. Allow the chicken stock to heat through. The flour will cause the sauce to thicken. Then, pour in the half and half and pesto and stir to combine. Add parmesan cheese, let the sauce simmer, when the sauce starts to thicken, add the prepared pasta and broccoli to the sauce. You can also chop the chicken and add it right in or just slice and lay the chicken on top. It the pesto sauce gets too thick at any point, you can thin it out with a splash of pasta water.
- Serve warm. I usually slice the chicken and serve it right on top– family style! You can also stir it all together and just serve in plates.
FAQs about creamy pesto pasta
Do I have to use the chicken?
Absolutely not! You can sauté mushrooms the same way I sautéed the chicken if you’d like. This helps double up on the veggies and skip the chicken to make it vegetarian. Using shrimp instead of chicken would also make a delicious, pescatarian-friendly meal!
How long will leftovers last?
Leftovers typically last 3-4 days in the refrigerator in an airtight container. You may need a splash or water or chicken stock when you’re reheating the pasta to bring it back to the freshly-made consistency.
What are your serving suggestions for this meal?
I love a good no-knead focaccia on the side, but I also wouldn’t mind a salad dressed with Italian dressing. I also love a good Kale Caesar salad or an everyday kale crunch salad to add more greens to dinner. Cacio e pepe inspired brussel sprouts (or the garlic butter kind) or a marinated mozzarella tomato salad would also pair well.
If you like this recipe, you might also like
- Paprika Chicken Pasta
- One-Pot Creamy Mushroom Pasta
- Easy Weeknight Pasta Puttanesca
- Lemon Basil Arugula Pasta Salad
- Garlicky Calabrian Chili Pasta with Shrimp
- 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts (tenders or thighs)
- 1 tablespoon oil
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper AND garlic powder
Pasta and Sauce:
- 12 ounces penne (or other short-cut pasta)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2-4 cloves garlic, pressed
- 1 tablespoon flour
- ¼ - ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ¾ cup chicken stock
- 1 ¼ cup half and half
- ¼ cup homemade or store-bought basil pesto (see notes)
- 1¼ cup steamed broccoli florets
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese
- BOIL: Bring a large stock pot of water to boil. Salt generously and cook the pasta 1 minute less of package directions; save ½ cup of pasta water. Drain and set pasta aside for now.
- CHICKEN: Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Heat a casserole pan (or saute pan) over medium-high heat. Add the oil and cook the chicken for roughly 6-12 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through to 165ºF. Remove to a plate; keep warm. Once cooled, you can slice or dice it.
- SAUCE: Over medium heat, add the butter to the same pan. Allow it to melt, then saute the garlic and red pepper flakes for 30 seconds before adding the flour. Let the flour cook for 1 minute. Slowly pour in the chicken stock as you whisk to scrape up and deglaze any stuck on bits. Allow the sauce to simmer and thicken slightly; about 1-2 minutes. Then pour in the half and half and pesto. Stir to combine and allow it to regain a simmer. Add the Parmesan cheese, pasta, and steamed broccoli. If the sauce thickens too much at any point, use the pasta water to thin it back out. Taste and adjust with additional salt or more pasta water as desired.
- SERVE: Add the chicken to the serving dish and serve family style, or serve pasta in bowls and top with chicken.
- Pesto: You can also swap the basil pesto for homemade spinach pesto.