Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta

This creamy chicken pesto pasta is one of my favorite pasta dishes ever! I absolutely LOVE pesto- this one is bursting with flavor, and I think it is going to become your new favorite.

In this recipe, I will show you how to make this dish from scratch, start to finish (except the pasta). I will also provide some shortcuts if you don’t have time or don’t want to make some of the ingredients. 

Pesto Ingredients: 

I highly recommend making your own pesto for this recipe. I have tried so many jarred pestos and I just don’t like ANY of them. You may use jarred pesto of course to cut down time, but I promise it’s MUCH better with homemade pesto.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Basil

  • Salt

  • Pine nuts

  • Parmesan 

  • Pecorino

  • Garlic

  • Extra vigin olive oil

  • Fresh lemon juice

Step-by-step instructions:

1. Begin with a butterflied chicken breast, seasoned with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and paprika. Then coat with sour cream. Let this marinate on the kitchen counter while you make the pesto. 

2. Begin making the pesto by pounding 2 garlic cloves (germ removed) using a mortar and pestle. Then add the pine nuts and grind into a rough paste with the garlic. 

3. Add 1/3 of the basil with a pinch of salt.

4. Grind using circular motions with the pestle on the sides of the mortar. When it’s roughly broken down, add another 1/3 of the basil and repeat until all the herbs are used. The paste will become creamy as it’s broken down. This will take some time and elbow grease.

5. Once all the basil is ground into a paste, add the parmesan, pecorino, and a little extra virgin olive oil. Use the pestle to work it into the pesto.

6. Little by little, work in the remaining olive oil. Add a couple tablespoons at a time, mixing it in until emulsified.

7. Add a squeeze of lemon juice. This is not a traditional ingredient for pesto, but it brightens up the flavors for this dish, and also keeps the pesto from oxidizing. Cover and set aside.

* You may use a food processor to make this pesto as well, but it will not be as creamy nor will it taste as good. Food processor pesto tends to taste bitter and doesn’t properly break down the cell walls in order to achieve maximum flavor. 

If using a food processor, PULSE to break down the herbs, and mix in the olive oil by hand. If your pesto tastes bitter, it’s because of the heat from the blades and/or processing the olive oil. For more info check out this blog post by Serious Eats.

8. Sear the marinated chicken breast in a little neutral oil for about 2 minutes over medium-high heat.

9. Flip the chicken over, then add butter and baste the chicken like you would a steak. Reduce the heat to low, then cover for about 5 minutes. 

Use a meat thermometer to check the temp- I take them out of the pan at 160 degrees Fahrenheit. 

10. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before you cut it. Do not throw out the pan juices (we will be using this same pan to make the pesto cream sauce).

This is my favorite way to cook chicken breast! It’s incredibly flavorful and moist. You can find more details about this chicken here.

11. Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and add salt. Blanch the cherry tomatoes for 1 minute, then let them cool before peeling off the skin.

Add the pasta to the boiling water after you pull the tomatoes out. Cook your pasta (according to the package instructions) and start on the cream sauce in the meantime.

12. Over low heat using the same pan that was used to cook the chicken, add more butter and any additional pan juices from resting the chicken. Add the minced garlic and saute until fragrant. Careful not to burn it.

*Note: If you are subbing the chicken for rotisserie or not making it at all, I recommend adding some of the Lawry’s seasoned salt at this time- about 1/4 tsp. 

13. Next stir in the heavy cream

14. Add garlic powder and mix until thickened, about 2-3 minutes.

*Note: As a general rule of thumb with Italian cooking, every time you introduce something new to the pan that isn’t seasoned, you should taste and season with a little salt to build flavors as you’re cooking.

However, keep in mind that parmesan cheese is salty and the addition of the pasta water will also impart salt.

15. Turn off the heat. Stir in the parmesan cheese until combined.

16. Stir in some hot pasta water, then add the pesto and one squeeze of lemon juice. The heat should still be off, do not cook the pesto. Just mix it in with the hot cream sauce.

17. Add the pasta straight from the boiling pot, then mix to coat evenly.

18. Top with sliced chicken breast, cherry tomatoes, and seasoned arugula.

The cherry tomatoes and seasoned arugula are totally optional, but I highly recommend adding them! They both add some texture and brighten up the creamy dish. To make the seasoned arugula, I just tossed it in a TINY bit of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Any kind of vinegar will work. 

Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta

5 from 18 votes
Servings 2 people

Ingredients
  

  • 5 oz pasta of your choice 5 oz of uncooked pasta
  • 1 tsp salt for boiling

For the chicken:

  • 1/2 lb chicken breast butterflied
  • 1/2 tsp Lawry's Seasoned Salt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp sour cream
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp neutral oil

Pesto:

  • 2 oz basil
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts
  • 2 garlic cloves germ removed
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 oz parmigiano reggiano
  • 1/4 oz pecorino romano
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Cream sauce:

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 garlic cloves minced
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 oz parmigiano reggiano
  • 1/4 cup pasta water
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup pesto

Optional:

  • cherry tomatoes blanched and skinned
  • arugula tossed in a little olive oil & balsamic vinegar

Instructions
 

Season the chicken:

  • Season the chicken breast all over with Lawry's Seasoned Salt, pepper, paprika, and garlic powder. Coat the seasoned chicken in sour cream and let it rest on the counter for 30 min to marinate and come to room temperature.

Make the pesto:

  • In a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic cloves.
    *Note: You can use store bought pesto or use a food processor to make it faster, but it is really 100x better when you make pesto the traditional way with a mortar and pestle.
  • Next add the pine nuts and crush into a rough paste with the garlic.
  • Add 1/3 of the basil with a pinch of coarse salt. Grind using circular motions with the pestle on the sides of the mortar. When it looks like this, add another 1/3 of the basil and repeat until all the basil is used. This will take some time and elbow grease.
  • After all the basil has been added and ground, this is what it should look like before proceeding to the next step.
  • Add the parmesan, pecorino, and a little olive oil. Use the pestle to work it into the pesto, adding more olive oil little by little.
  • Mix in fresh lemon juice then transfer the pesto to an airtight container and set aside.

Cook the chicken breast:

  • In a skillet on medium high heat, add some neutral oil and sear the chicken breast for 2-3 minutes.
  • Flip the chicken over, add the butter and baste the chicken a few times until covered in butter. Then reduce the heat to low and COVER for about 5 minutes.
    I use a meat thermometer to check the temperature and take it out of the pan at 160 degrees Fahrenheit (the chicken will continue to cook a little more while resting)
  • Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before you cut it. Do not throw out the pan juices.
    This is my favorite way to cook chicken breast. You can find more details about this chicken here.

Boil the pasta and tomatoes:

  • Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and add salt. Blanch the cherry tomatoes for 1 minute, then let them cool before peeling off the skin. Add the pasta to the boiling water after you pull the tomatoes out. Cook your pasta (according to the package instructions) and start on the cream sauce in the meantime.

Make the pesto cream sauce

  • Over low heat using the same pan that was used to cook the chicken, add more butter and any additional pan juices from resting the chicken. Add the minced garlic and saute until fragrant. Careful not to burn it.
    *Note: If you are subbing the chicken for rotisserie or not making it at all, I recommend adding some of the Lawry's seasoned salt at this time- about 1/4 tsp. 
  • Next stir in the heavy cream and garlic powder until thickened, about 2-3 minutes.
    *Note: As a general rule of thumb with Italian cooking, every time you introduce something new to the pan that isn't seasoned, you should taste and season with a little salt. This builds the flavors as you are cooking. However, keep in mind that parmesan cheese is salty and the addition of the pasta water will also impart salt.
  • Turn off the heat. Stir in the parmesan cheese until combined.
  • Stir in some hot pasta water, then add the pesto and one squeeze of lemon juice. The heat should still be off, do not cook the pesto. Just mix it in with the hot cream sauce.
  • Add the pasta straight from the boiling pot, then mix to coat evenly.
  • Top with sliced chicken breast, cherry tomatoes, and seasoned arugula.

*This post contains affiliate links to products that I actually use & recommend. I am not sponsored by these brands, but I do make a small commission from qualifying purchases made through these links.

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Gina

    5 stars
    now I know I can make this pesto pasta……..the kimchi takes so much work for me but it’s worth it in the end. your recipes are top tier. amazing.

  2. Fahm

    5 stars
    Yummm I love an easy Pesto pasta recipe! Looks incredible and will have to try it. Easy to follow instructions a plus too!

  3. Allan

    5 stars
    Simple and tasty. Made with skirt steak and was delicious. Thanks.

  4. Ham

    5 stars
    Made this for my fiancee a couple weeks ago and it was 10/10. Simple and delicious.

  5. Diana

    5 stars
    I’m a big pasta girly, i tried this for the first time and loved it. Definitely added this to my menu.

  6. Estrella Hernandez

    5 stars
    Tried to make this pesto sauce! I never really liked the pesto taste but this really made me change my mind. Thank you!

  7. Danica Savillo

    5 stars
    Pesto has always been my comfort food and this recipe is so far my all time favorite. I made this last night for dinner and husband loved it! Thank you for sharing this amazing recipe!
    (Oh, I used salmon instead of chicken since that’s the only thing we have last night.)

  8. Lily

    5 stars
    Made this pesto pasta a couple weeks ago for lunch and it was 10/10!! Very flavorful and wasn’t hard to make. Only had cashews and didn’t have pecorino, but it was still very delicious.

  9. Nehiel Rivera

    5 stars
    This recipe is awesome!!! I love how flavorful and simple this recipe is!! Thank you for making this recipe so easy to follow! Best pesto I’ve had! I’m learning to get more involved in the kitchen and this recipe showed me that I can do it! It definitely gave me the confidence to try more recipes! I’m definitely sticking to your recipes because of how awesome this one turned out to be! thank you!!

    1. Ariana Tufariello

      5 stars
      This recipe is soooo good & it is so creamy! I love that this recipe has tomatoes in it because they pair so well with pesto. Delish!!

  10. tanya

    5 stars
    i made this recipe a while back and tagged you. 🙂 it was labor intensive but worth it, especially the hand crushed pesto. i hate chicken breast (i’m a dark meat girly) but could see the difference in the way your technique made it so juicy and will never make it any other way again. thank you!

  11. Emily (Zuzu)

    5 stars
    Good pesto recipes are always hard to grab, but having a recipe that’s both simple and delicious is a gold mine! I LOVE food and cooking! I’m usually skeptical with pesto recipes, but this one resembles the pesto my mother taught me growing up with an amazing addition such as pecorino! I’ve never used it before and it made such a big difference! I 100% recommend!
    I’m hoping to try more recipes in the future! 🤞🏻

  12. Jessica Orozco

    5 stars
    Such a great and easy recipe for Pesto ! 🙌🏼🥲❤️ if I knew it was that easy I would have made it a long time ago ! By the way, your tortas ahogadas recipe is identical to my mom’s! She also complains about not finding the right type of bread 🥖 but we use the sourdough baguette lol and make do. We are originally from Guadalajara 🇲🇽❤️ thank you for all your recipes!

  13. Vivian Nguyen

    5 stars
    I absolutely loved this recipe! It was easier than I expected and it packed lots of flavor. My boyfriend and I made it on our anniversary and it has been our go to recipe. Thank you for this recipe!!

  14. Keri Baldridge

    5 stars
    Thank you for this recipe ❤️

  15. Sophia Purugganan

    5 stars
    I LOVE pasta. So when I saw that Stella shared this pesto dish, I just knew it was going to be delicious. Something about making your own pesto just makes it even better! Recipe was easy to follow and easy to understand. Hands down, one of my new favorite go-to dishes at home when I’m craving pasta. Thanks for sharing, Stella!

    🖤

  16. Aly

    5 stars
    I tried this pesto pasta and it is so delicious. The freshness of the pesto sauce is refreshing and so creamy, it has become one of favorite pasta dishes!

  17. Quynh

    5 stars
    This is by far one of my favorites of all time. Simple yet Delicious!

    Thank you for the recipe

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Hi, I'm Stella!

I come from a multicultural background, and cooking has been one of the best ways for me to stay connected to my heritage. My recipes are tried and tested, many of them passed down through family. I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we do!

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