This Pesto Pasta with Chicken is a flavorful meal that’s ready in less than 30 minutes! Leftovers are satisfying and filling, making this perfect for busy weeks.
Pesto pasta has always been a favorite of mine. I like experimenting with unique versions, such as this ramp pesto pasta with pickled onions. But more often than not, I go for a classic basil pesto. It can be used in so many ways: on pasta, as a condiment on sandwiches or crostini, baked into bread, mixed into salad dressing… you get the idea. It comes together quickly, so I never feel the need to purchase prepared versions. This pesto pasta with chicken is a very basic preparation that I like for weeknight dinners, because who wants complicated on weeknights?
- You can lighten up this recipe by using boneless, skinless chicken breasts and cutting back slightly on the olive oil and cheese. The chicken breasts will be dryer, which is why I prefer the thighs. In the pesto, you can use only 1/2 or even 1/3 cup of the oil, and then use more pasta water to combine the ingredients at the end. You can also try using a mix of oil and cooking spray to brown the chicken.
- Pine nuts are my favorite in pesto, but they’ve gotten so expensive! I often swap them out for nuts that don’t have a skin (such as the skin on whole almonds). Some examples are cashews, walnuts, pistachios, or blanched almonds. Pecans will also work, but they will add their unique flavor to the pesto.
- Good quality cheese makes a difference. I highly recommend buying whole blocks and grating your own. Any parmesan will work, but if you can find it, my favorite is Parmigiano-Reggiano.
- If you love quick and easy chicken meals, be sure to also check out my rotisserie chicken tacos! These are a lifesaver. Also, if you’re interested in trying a more unique pesto recipe, you’ll love this edamame, mint and arugula pesto pasta.
- 2 cups basil leaves, packed
- 1/4 cup pine nuts or cashews (see notes)
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic (approximately 3 cloves)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 - 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 8 ounces pasta (I used spaghetti)
- 4-6 boneless skinless chicken thighs
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- Optional garnish: shaved parmesan cheese
- Optional garnish: sliced basil
- Optional garnish: toasted slivered almonds (highly recommended!)
Place the basil, pine nuts, garlic, salt, pepper and cheese in a food processor. Pulse several times to chop, then scrape down the sides with a spatula. With the machine on, pour in the olive oil until combined.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the pasta until al dente. Before draining, reserve approximately 1/2 cup of the pasta water and set aside.
- Trim any excess fat away from the chicken thighs. Toss in a medium bowl with the olive oil, salt and pepper.
- In a large skillet set over medium heat, cook the chicken for 5-7 minutes per side until browned and cooked through (the internal temperature should read 165 degrees on a meat thermometer). Remove from the heat, place the chicken on a cutting board and slice into bite sizes pieces.
- In a large bowl (I used the pasta pot), toss together the pasta, pesto, and chicken, adding the reserved pasta water as needed to help bring the ingredients together. Taste; add additional salt and pepper if desired.
- Divide into individual portions and garnish with the parmesan, basil, and slivered almonds, if using.
Pine nuts are my favorite in pesto, but they’re expensive. Cashews, walnuts or pistachios will also work (I avoid almonds unless the skins are peeled). Avoid store-bought toasted nuts unless they are unsalted, otherwise you might wind up with overly salty pesto. To toast: place the nuts on a baking sheet. Toast in a 350 degree F oven for approximately 4-6 minutes, shaking the pan periodically, until the nuts are golden and fragrant. You can lighten up this dish by using boneless skinless chicken breasts and cutting back on the olive oil and cheese. I wouldn’t cut out the olive oil completely, but you can brown the chicken in a mix of olive oil and cooking spray.