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
- 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 -1/4 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
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ -1/3 cup basil pesto
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 cup frozen petite peas, thawed
Pat chopped chicken dry while it’s still on the cutting board and season with ½ teaspoon salt and 1/4 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.
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.
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.