Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta

This chicken pesto pasta recipe is a 30-minute one pot wonder the whole family will go crazy for!

This creamy chicken pesto pasta is a must have recipe for your easy dinner arsenal!  It’s a vibrant, comforting dream dressed in a creamy yet light aromatic basil pesto sauce spiked with nutty Parmesan and lemon juice (without any heavy cream!). All the ingredients are simmered in one pot (yes, even the pasta!), which makes for an astonishingly easy, flavor-packed dish you’ll definitely want seconds of. This chicken pesto pasta is stand alone fabulous but also extremely flexible.  You can swap the chicken for Italian sausage or add sun-dried tomatoes, veggies, or a blanket of mozzarella- because it’s all about the sauce. Serve this chicken pesto pasta recipe with garlic bread and tomato cucumber salad for an easy one pot weeknight dinner win!

This Chicken Pesto Pasta is just one of my many one-pot pasta recipes! If you’re looking for more one pot wonders, don’t miss my One Pot Basil Chicken and Orzo, One Pot Chicken Parmesan Pasta, One Pot Hamburger Helper, One Pot Lasagna Soup, One Pot Cheesy Penne, One Pot Chicken Fajita Pasta, One Pot Tortellini Toscana, and my One Pot Chili Mac and Cheese!

up close of of a scoop of chicken pesto pasta showing how creamy it is

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Chicken Pesto Pasta Recipe

This chicken pesto pasta recipe is about to become a household favorite! You’ll love it because it’s:

  • Easy with hardly any chopping
  • Made in one pot
  • Made with pantry friendly ingredients
  • Versatile
  • Creamy without any heavy cream
  • On your table in 30 minutes!

This chicken pesto pasta recipe is a flavor bomb begging to explode in your mouth.  It’s seriously addicting comfort food with just the right amount of creamy swag brightened by herbaceous pesto and a bright pop of lemon juice. But the best part?  It’s SO EASY!  You don’t have to chop any veggies, just the chicken, and everything cooks in one pot in less than 30 minutes!

Are you familiar with one pot pasta dishes?  They are culinary changing!  You don’t have to wait for the pasta water boil, drain the pasta or dirty another dish for the sauce.  Instead, the pasta boils in the sauce so it’s not only more convenient, but more flavorful as well!  The trick to creamy one pasta dishes is using chicken broth along with evaporated milk which doesn’t curdle and reduces down to a creamy sauce. Evaporated milk is also healthier than using half and half or heavy cream AKA winning at life!

You’ll also love that you can make this creamy pesto chicken pasta any time because it’s all made with pantry friendly ingredients – including frozen peas and evaporated milk – there never was a more pantry friendly creamy pasta!  Of course, you can add whatever veggies your belly desires or whatever you have on hand because this is YOUR chicken pesto pasta recipe!

To make this chicken pesto pasta, you’ll briefly sauté juicy chicken and garlic then simmer it in ONE POT with pasta, chicken broth, evaporated milk and seasonings that reduce to become the creamy sauce then finishing it off with pesto, Parmesan and a kiss of lemon juice. That’s it! Huge flavor, minimal effort and one dish to clean – it can be our saucy, sassy little secret.

What Pasta Should I Use?

My favorite pasta to use for chicken pesto pasta is cavatappi/cellentani (pictured) because it cradles the sauce beautifully and is a sturdy, forgiving pasta so it is not likely to become mushy when cooked in one pot.  You may also use other short, sturdy pastas such as:

  • Campanelle
  • Farfalle
  • Fusilli
  • Penne
  • Gemelli

Please be aware that substituting pasta shapes may alter the cooking time, and shorter cooking times will impact the consistency and amount of sauce.   

  • Pasta types:  You can use your favorite whole wheat pasta, lentil pasta, brown rice pasta, gluten free pasta, etc.  These types of pastas may require additional liquid, so just be prepared to add additional broth if needed.
  • Pastas to avoid: I would stay away from more delicate pastas such macaroni, smooth pastas such as ziti, and long pastas such as spaghetti. 
top view of chicken pesto pasta recipe in a white bowl garnished with basil

Ingredients for Chicken Pesto Pasta 

In addition to pasta, you will need the following pantry friendly ingredients to make this creamy chicken pesto pasta:

  • Basil pesto: Use your favorite store-bought pesto or make your own. 
  • Chicken breasts: I use boneless, skinless chicken breasts but you are welcome to use chicken thighs, leftover chicken or rotisserie chicken.
  • Butter: Use unsalted butter so you can control the amount of salt in the dish. 
  • Olive oil: I like to sauté the chicken in a mixture of olive oil and butter. Butter adds a lot of flavor but is prone to burning — the oil prevents it from doing so.
  • Garlic: I used four cloves of garlic for maximum flavor; use more or less depending on your garlic love.
  • Evaporated milk: NOT to be confused with sweetened condensed milk! Evaporated milk is the secret to making an ultra-creamy chicken pesto pasta and allows you to cook the pasta directly in the sauce without it curdling.
  • Chicken broth: I recommend using reduced sodium chicken broth so you can control the amount of salt – you can always add salt, but you can’t take it away! If you don’t have reduced sodium broth, omit the salt and bouillon in the sauce then add to taste at the end.
  • Chicken bouillon: Infuses the sauce with intense flavor, just as if it had been simmering and reducing all day.  You may use granulated bouillon, bouillon cubes or better than bouillon.  If using bouillon cubes, crush it up before stirring directly into the pot (don’t dissolve in water first).
  • Cornstarch: Helps to thicken the sauce. Make sure to whisk the cornstarch into the chicken broth before adding it to the pot, otherwise you’ll wind up with lumps of it in your pasta that will never dissolve.
  • Spices: I flavored this chicken pesto pasta with dried oregano, parsley, thyme, and red pepper flakes. The red pepper flakes add a small kick of heat, which cuts through the creamy pasta beautifully.
  • Lemon juice: Brightens up the dish without making it taste lemony. 
  • Parmesan: Parmesan is stirred into the creamy chicken pesto pasta just before it’s served. Parmesan infuses the pasta with alluring salty, nutty flavor.  You are welcome to use more or less to taste.
  • Frozen peas: Thaw the peas before adding them to the skillet. To thaw them quickly, run them under warm tap water or microwave at 30 second intervals. 

How to Make Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta 

This one-skillet chicken pesto pasta recipe comes together quickly with minimal prep work. Here are the basic steps to making this recipe: 

  • Step 1: Prep the chicken. Cut the chicken breasts into larger bite-sized pieces. While the chicken is on the cutting board, pat it dry using a paper towel and season it generously with salt and pepper.
  • Step 2: Cook the chicken. Add the seasoned diced chicken to the Dutch oven and cook until the chicken is opaque, but not yet cooked through. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant. 
showing how to make chicken pesto pasta recipe by sauteing chicken in a black Dutch oven
  • Step 3: Let simmer. Whisk together the broth and cornstarch, then add to the Dutch oven. Add the evaporated milk, pasta, bouillon and remaining spices. Pop the lid onto the Dutch oven, bring it to a simmer, then let cook for about 15 minutes or until the pasta is al dente.
showing how to make chicken pesto pasta recipe by adding pasta, evaporated milk, chicken broth and seasonings to black Dutch oven
  • Step 4: Add cheese and pesto. Once the pasta is cooked, stir in the Parmesan, thawed peas, lemon juice, and basil pesto.
showing how to make chicken pesto pasta recipe by stirring in pesto, peas and Parmesan into the cooked pasta
  • Step 5: Adjust to taste. Add additional chicken broth for a saucier pasta if desired and season with salt and pepper to taste, then serve!
showing how to make chicken pesto pasta by garnishing with Parmesan

Tips for Success with “One Pot” Pasta Dishes

This chicken pesto pasta recipe boasts one pot preparation. One pot pasta dishes are quick and simple, but there are a few things to pay attention to for success:

  • Use a large enough pot.  The pasta and sauce all combine in one dish so you’ll need a pot with plenty of wiggle room.  I used a 4 quart Dutch oven.  If you don’t have a medium Dutch oven like this, then use a larger one.
  • Use a quality pot.  A Dutch oven is ideal for one pot pasta dishes because it’s thick and transfers heat evenly.  Thin cookware will cook the pasta unevenly, leaving some pasta cooked and some undercooked.
  • Use a strong simmer.  Keep an eye on the strength of the simmer throughout the entire cooking process, adjusting if needed.  You want to maintain a strong simmer otherwise the pasta will become mushy.
  • Cooking times will vary:  Whenever pasta dishes are cooked in one pot, there are several variables such as the type of pot, size of pot, actual simmer temperature and actual pasta shape used.  Due to these variables, the chicken pesto pasta may take more or less cooking time so be prepared to pay attention and be flexible. Monitor the pasta for doneness, relying on YOUR tasting skills.  Less sturdy pastas will likely require less time. 
  • Stir often:  Be diligent about stirring the pasta every two minutes or else the sauce can burn on the bottom of the pan. You may need to stir it more often towards the end of cooking when there is less sauce. I recommend using a rubber spatula so you can really scrape the bottom of the pot. 
  • Quickly replace the lid:  Once you stir the pasta, quickly replace the lid to stop the liquid from evaporating.
  • Add additional liquid as needed: Don’t be scared to add more chicken broth!  If your pasta isn’t done cooking yet and most of the liquid is evaporated, then add additional broth.  If you would like a “saucier” or more creamy chicken pesto pasta at the end of cooking, then add more broth.

More Tips for Making Chicken Pesto Pasta 

  • Parmesan: Please don’t use the powdered or pre-shredded cheese. Freshly grated Parmesan cheese tastes far superior and melts much better.  
  • Chicken: Error on the side of chopping the chicken larger so it remains juicy and doesn’t overcook.
  • Sear chicken, don’t cook:  Remember we are just searing the chicken, it will finish cooking with the pasta.  You don’t want it cooked all the way through initially or it won’t be as juicy.
  • Use additional Parmesan:  Parmesan adds fantastic flavor. Depending on how Parmesan forward you would like your pasta, add more or less to taste.
  • Add lemon juice to taste.: 2 tablespoons lemon juice brightens the pasta without it tasting ‘lemony.”  You can use more or less depending on how citrusy you would like your creamy chicken pesto pasta. 

Recipe Variations to Try 

  • Amp up the pesto:  You may want to use more pesto depending on how strong you want the flavor.   Start with less then add more to taste.  
  • Pesto pasta with sun-dried tomatoes:  Sauté ¼ cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes with the chicken for zesty flavor profile.
  • Pesto pasta with mozzarella:  You can stir freshly shredded mozzarella directly into the creamy chicken pesto pasta or sprinkle it on top of the finished dish, cover and let it melt into a blanket of cheesy splendor.
  • Pesto pasta with sausage: Mild or hot ground Italian sausage would be amazing. You could also use turkey sausage or chicken sausage.  Cook the sausage in place of the chicken and simmer with the pasta in the sauce.
  • Pesto pasta with shrimp: Roasted shrimp or butter garlic shrimp would be fabulous.  Stir into the pasta after it’s done cooking.
  • Pesto pasta with bacon: Sizzle up thick-cut bacon and use the drippings to sauté the chicken in or sauté veggies of your choosing.  Add chopped bacon to the pasta at the very end of cooking.  
  • Pesto pasta with sautéed veggies:  You can add any veggies your heart desires such as broccoli, bell peppers, asparagus, corn, tomatoes, cauliflower or green beans!  Just keep in mind the more veggies you add, the less saucy the pasta, so you may need to add additional broth. To add veggies, sauté them with the chicken, keeping in mind they will continue to cook with the pasta.
  • Pesto pasta with roasted vegetables: You can use your favorite roasted veggies such as roasted broccoli, roasted cauliflower, roasted asparagus, roasted Brussels sprouts, roasted root vegetables.  Add them to the pasta at the end of cooking.
  • Pesto pasta with spinach:  Stir in 1-2 cups baby spinach at the end of cooking, cover and allow to wilt.
  • Spicy pesto pasta: Amp up the heat with additional red pepper flakes. I always add at least ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes but if you really like a kick, add ½ teaspoon. You can also add additional red pepper flakes to individual servings to keep the pasta family friendly.
  • Gluten free pesto pasta:  Use your favorite gluten free pasta. The rest of the ingredients are gluten free.
up close of chicken pesto pasta showing how cream it is

What Can I do with Leftover pesto?

This chicken pesto pasta recipe only uses ¼ cup pesto so you will need some delicious uses for your remaining pesto.  You can either freeze it or:

Can I Prepare This Recipe in Advance? 

This chicken pesto pasta recipe can be made completely in advance (it reheats really well!) or you can prepare the individual ingredients ahead of time: 

  • Chicken: Can be chopped up to three days ahead of time and stored in the fridge. 
  • Garlic:  Can be minced and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Cheese: Can be grated and stored in an airtight container in the fridge.
chicken pesto pasta recipe in a white bowl

How to Store and Reheat Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta 

  • Storage: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. 
  • Microwave: Microwave small portions for 1 minute, stir, then continue to heat at 30-second intervals until warmed through.
  • Stove: For larger portions, reheat pasta gently on the stove, stirring occasionally. You may need to add a splash of milk to make it ultra creamy again.

Can I Freeze Chicken Pesto Pasta?

I do not recommend freezing this creamy chicken pesto pasta recipe because the creamy sauce can break and become a funny texture. The pasta will also become mushy when frozen and thawed. 

What to Serve with Chicken Pesto Pasta 

This chicken pesto pasta recipe is extremely versatile. We love it with a simple side of sautéed or roasted veggies or a bright refreshing salad along with garlic bread! Here are some tasty options:

favorite sides for chicken pesto pasta

Looking for More Easy Pasta Dinners? 

top view of creamy chicken pesto pasta with Parmesan and peas in a white bowl

Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta

This creamy chicken pesto pasta is a must have recipe for your easy dinner arsenal!  It’s a vibrant, comforting dream dressed in a creamy yet light aromatic basil pesto sauce spiked with nutty Parmesan and lemon juice (without any heavy cream!). All the ingredients are simmered in one pot (yes, even the pasta!), which makes for an astonishingly easy, flavor-packed dish you’ll definitely want seconds of. This chicken pesto pasta is stand alone fabulous but also extremely flexible.  You can swap the chicken for Italian sausage or add sun-dried tomatoes, veggies, or a blanket of mozzarella- because it’s all about the sauce. Serve this chicken pesto pasta recipe with garlic bread and tomato cucumber salad for an easy one pot weeknight dinner win!
Servings: 4 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound chicken breasts chopped into 1-2” pieces
  • salt and pepper
  • 8 oz. (about 3 cups) cavatappi pasta -see notes
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • pinch -¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes -optional
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 cups reduced sodium chicken broth
  • 1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon granulated chicken bouillon
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp EACH dried oregano, dried thyme, onion powder

ADD LATER

  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ -1/3 cup basil pesto
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup frozen petite peas, thawed

Instructions

  • Pat chopped chicken dry while it’s still on the cutting board and season with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
  • Melt butter in olive oil in a 4 quart (or larger) Dutch oven over medium high heat until hot. Add chicken and cook until most of the chicken is opaque (chicken will not be cooked through). Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook an additional 30 seconds.
    showing how to make chicken pesto pasta recipe by sauteing chicken in a black Dutch oven
  • Whisk 1 cup chicken broth with the cornstarch and add to the pot. Add remaining chicken broth and all remaining ingredients up to the “Add Later.”
  • Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, stir, replace lid and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 12-16 minutes, or until pasta is tender, stirring every couple minutes and quickly replacing the lid so the pasta cooks evenly and the sauce doesn’t burn on the bottom. Add additional broth if the pasta isn't done and most of the liquid is evaporated. *Pasta may take more or less time depending on pasta used.
  • Once the pasta is al dente, reduce heat to low and stir in Parmesan until melted followed by pesto, lemon juice and peas. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper (I add ¼ teaspoon more of each). If desired, you can make the dish "saucier" by stirring in additional broth, milk or cream.
    showing how to make chicken pesto pasta recipe by stirring in pesto, peas and Parmesan into the cooked pasta

Notes

TIPS FOR SUCCESS WITH “ONE POT” PASTA DISHES

  • Pasta shapes: My favorite pasta to use for chicken pesto pasta is cavatappi/cellentani (pictured) because it cradles the sauce beautifully and is a sturdy, forgiving pasta so it is not likely to become mushy when cooked in one pot.  You may also use other short, sturdy pastas but please be aware that substituting pasta shapes may alter the cooking time, and shorter cooking times will impact the consistency and amount of sauce.   
  • Chicken bouillon: You may use granulated bouillon, bouillon cubes or better than bouillon.  If using bouillon cubes, crush it up before stirring directly into the pot (don’t dissolve in water first).
  • Chicken: Error on the side of chopping the chicken larger so it remains juicy and doesn’t overcook. Remember we are just searing the chicken, it will finish cooking with the pasta.  You don’t want it cooked all the way through initially or it won’t be as juicy.
  • Use a large enough pot.  The pasta and sauce all combine in one dish so you’ll need a pot with plenty of wiggle room.  I used a 4 quart Dutch oven.  If you don’t have a medium Dutch oven like this, then use a larger one.
  • Use a quality pot.  A Dutch oven is ideal for one pot pasta dishes because it’s thick and transfers heat evenly.  Thin cookware will cook the pasta unevenly, leaving some pasta cooked and some undercooked.
  • Use a strong simmer.  Keep an eye on the strength of the simmer throughout the entire cooking process, adjusting if needed.  You want to maintain a strong simmer otherwise the pasta will become mushy.
  • Cooking times will vary:  Whenever pasta dishes are cooked in one pot, there are several variables such as the type of pot, size of pot, actual simmer temperature and actual pasta shape used.  Due to these variables, the chicken pesto pasta may take more or less cooking time so be prepared to pay attention and be flexible. Monitor the pasta for doneness, relying on YOUR tasting skills.  Less sturdy pastas will likely require less time. 
  • Stir often:  Be diligent about stirring the pasta every two minutes or else the sauce can burn on the bottom of the pan. You may need to stir it more often towards the end of cooking when there is less sauce. I recommend using a rubber spatula so you can really scrape the bottom of the pot. 
  • Quickly replace the lid:  Once you stir the pasta, quickly replace the lid to stop the liquid from evaporating.
  • Add additional liquid as needed: Don’t be scared to add more chicken broth!  If your pasta isn’t done cooking yet and most of the liquid is evaporated, then add additional broth.  If you would like a “saucier” or more creamy chicken pesto pasta at the end of cooking, then add more broth.
  • Recipe variations:  See post for lots of recipe variation ideas and how to use leftover pesto.

How to Store and Reheat

  • Storage: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.  I do not recommend freezing this recipe.
  • Microwave: Microwave small portions for 1 minute, stir, then continue to heat at 30-second intervals until warmed through.
  • Stove: For larger portions, reheat pasta gently on the stove, stirring occasionally. You may need to add a splash of milk to make it ultra creamy again.

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4 Comments

  1. Ramya says

    will be making this soon with few subs as am a vegan i love pasta sooooooooo much Thanks Ramya

    • Jen says

      You’re so welcome! Pasta hugs are the best!

  2. Shauna says

    We have tried many of your recipes and haven’t been disappointed . My son is allergic to dairy but even using nondairy alternatives, everything has been wonderful.

    We want to try this recipe for creamy chicken pesto pasta but myfamily prefers more of a liquidy texture, is it necessary to add so much cornstarch or do you think it would be too runny without it?

    • Jen says

      Thanks for your kind words! If they prefer more liquid, I would use the same amount of cornstarch but add additional liquid at the end until it reaches your desired consistency. Good luck!