This Basil Pesto Chicken Pasta Recipe is healthy, light, full of flavor and over-the-top delicious! Stir-fried basil garlic chicken is served over fresh veggie pasta and tossed in a silky, herbaceous basil pesto sauce! It’s fresh, flavorful and can be prepped, ready and on the table in 30 minutes or less!
Update: This post was originally published in September 2016. I made updates to the post below to include more information about Basil Pesto Chicken. Plus, I added a recipe video and step-by-step photos to show you how easy this recipe is to make!
Hi friends! How was your Labor Day weekend? I certainly hope you made the most out of your last unofficial weekend of summer!
Our weekend was fine and dandy! We grilled all the things humanly possible while we sipped on summer-fresh libations. Basically, we basked in the glory of summer.
Speaking of summer’s glory, today’s dish celebrates just that! It’s fresh, fabulous and comes together in a flash (30 minutes or less)! It features fresh produce, luscious pesto, dainty vegetable pasta and succulent chicken! It’s a simple and healthy seasonal dinner that will quickly become a family favorite!
Pesto Chicken Pasta Recipe: overview
Also known as super flavorful and healthy pasta!! Seriously, you guys, this dish is so darn delicious it gives me uncontrollable jazz hands just thinking about eating it! Don’t judge.
I’m hoping you still have a plethora of summer-fresh zucchini, squash and basil, because this pesto chicken pasta is a must!!! I don’t have a garden, but I personally can’t stop myself from buying a lifetime supply of squash every time I go to the market. The struggle is real. Nevertheless, this dish is the BEST way to get rid of your late summer produce… that is, if you feel like eating it instead of shipping it all to me. 😉
Garlicky, basil-y, tender, bite sized pieces of chicken and twirl-tastic, fresh, slightly crisp squash and zucchini noodles tossed in a silky, luscious, herbaceous pesto. Topped with plump, juicy, vine-ripe tomatoes, salty parmesan, crunchy pine nuts, spicy crushed red peppers and fragrant basil leaves. It’s ALL the late summer deliciousness in just ONE bowl.
This basil pesto chicken is fresh, light and healthy, yet fabulously flavorful and seriously satisfying!! Plus, it can be prepped, cooked and on the table in 30 minutes or less! Hello, WINNING at dinner! High fives!!
What’s it made of?
This basil pesto chicken recipe is incredibly flavorful, yet so simple to prepare! It can be made with just a handful of pantry-friendly staples, plus a few easy to find fresh produce ingredients!
Ingredients in pesto chicken pasta
- Pasta: You can use spiralized vegetable pasta or any cooked pasta you love!
- Chicken: You can use any cut of chicken for this recipe. I used boneless, skinless chicken breasts to keep things healthy. However, you can substitute boneless, skinless chicken thighs for even more flavor!
- Oil and Vinegar: Good-quality olive oil and white wine vinegar round out all the flavors and help to thin out the chicken marinade.
- Basil: Fresh basil is must! It provides a robust flavor that is sweet and slightly peppery.
- Shallot: Finely chopped shallots add a delicate, yet deep onion flavor.
- Garlic: Four small cloves of garlic add plenty of robust flavor! If you are averse to garlic, feel free to cut the amount in half!
- Seasonings: Crushed red pepper flakes, kosher salt and fresh black pepper add a ton of flavor!
- Pesto: I prefer homemade basil pesto for the freshest taste. However, you can use any variety of pesto you love! Try sun-dried tomato pesto for a unique twist! Or, if you are in a pinch and looking to save time, you can use any store-bought pesto you love!
Pesto chicken pasta variations
You can easily add various ingredients to this pasta to add even more flavor and texture! Feel free to get creative and use ingredients you have on hand or love!
Delicious ingredients to add to pasta:
- Tomatoes: Fresh cherry or grape tomatoes
- Asparagus: Blanched, roasted or grilled fresh asparagus
- Peas: Sweet petite green peas (thawed)
- Carrots: Grated or spiralized carrots
- Peppers: Bell peppers or sweet mini peppers
- Greens: Various greens such as spinach or arugula
- Legumes: Drained and rinsed chickpeas or white beans
- Marinated vegetables: Roasted red peppers, kalamata olives or sun-dried tomatoes
- Cheese: Mozzarella pearls or torn burrata
- Nuts: Toasted pine nuts, slivered almonds or salty pistachios
What type of pasta can I use?
I used vegetable noodles for this healthy chicken pesto pasta recipe. However, you can use any variety of pasta you prefer! Long noodles, such as spaghetti are a delicious option. And, small pastas with plenty of nooks and crannies, such as mini shells, cavatappi or farfalle are also wonderful choices! Or, you can even use alternative pastas such as gluten-free, chickpea and even whole wheat pasta!
How to cook vegetable pasta?
Cooking zucchini noodles for this Basil Garlic Chicken is completely optional! Once you toss the zucchini noodles with the pesto, the basil pesto sauce softens the zucchini noodles significantly and gives them a “cooked” taste.
That said, you can cook the zucchini noodles if desired! While boiling and roasting zucchini noodles are two methods of cooking zucchini noodles, they aren’t my preferred method for this recipe. Sautéing zucchini noodles is by far my favorite way to cook them. It’s super quick, easy and the results are delish!
To sauté zucchini noodles, simply place a skillet over medium to medium-high heat and add the zucchini noodles. Drizzle them with a bit of oil and sauté for 3-4 minutes, tossing frequently. You want to make sure you do not overcook the zucchini noodles – they should still have some crunch!
How to prevent veggie pasta from being watery?
Unfortunately zucchinis are made up of more than 95% water, so zucchini noodles will never taste exactly like a real noodle, and they will have some moisture no matter what. However, there are a few steps and best practices to ensure your zucchini noodles are as waterless and limp-less as possible.
- Select the best zucchini: Make sure you are using a firm, ripe zucchini prior to spiralizing! An overripe zucchini is guaranteed to become mushy and lifeless.
- Don’t peel it: Never peel the zucchini prior to spiralizing! The zucchini skin prevents moisture from seeping out of the zucchini and helps the noodles keep their shape.
- Do not add salt: Never add salt to your zucchini noodles prior to cooking or during cooking! Salt draws moisture out of the zucchini, so only add salt to the zucchini noodles right before eating.
- Never overcook the zucchini noodles: You only want to cook your zucchini noodles for a couple minutes and they should still have crunch! Over-cooking the zucchini noodles also causes moisture to seep out of the zucchini and become mushy.
How to keep basil pesto green?
To keep your pesto a bright green color, you need to blanch the fresh basil leaves prior to preparing the pesto. Blanching basil is completely optional. However, if you plan on keeping the pesto for a few days prior to use, I recommend you blanch the basil first. There is nothing less appealing than brownish-green colored pesto.
Blanching basil is very quick and easy to do! Simply place the basil leaves in gently boiling water for 5-10 seconds. Then, use a slotted spoon to remove the basil leaves and transfer them directly to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. After a couple minutes, drain the leaves in a colander and transfer them to a paper towel to dry completely before proceeding to make the pesto.
How long does pesto last?
If you are making homemade basil pesto, I highly recommend you make a double batch to have some on hand for other recipes! Basil pesto can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
- Refrigerator: Homemade basil pesto should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. When properly stored, it will keep for 5-7 days.
- Freezer: Homemade pesto can also be stored in an airtight, freezer-safe container and frozen for up to 6 months. Make sure you thaw the pesto in the refrigerator before using.
- Store-bought pesto: Once opened, ready-made pesto should be tightly sealed and stored in the refrigerator. Properly stored, it will keep for 7-12 days.
What type of pesto can I use to make chicken pasta?
I prefer to use basil pesto for chicken pasta, however you can use any variety of pesto you love! Try sun-dried tomato pesto or arugula pesto if you want to switch things up!
If you are looking to save time and energy, you can absolutely use store-bought pesto! When selecting pesto at the store, make sure you look at the consistency and check the ingredients. Some brands of pesto are extremely oily and not very appetizing. Other brands can contain unhealthy preservatives and additives. Make sure you select a brand that is thick in consistency, green in color and only contains ingredients you recognize – such as, basil, fresh herbs, olive oil, nuts, parmesan, lemon and spices. I have found that the best store-bought pesto options are located in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.
How to make pesto chicken with pasta?
This recipe is made with fresh, flavorful ingredients and comes together in 30 minutes or less! You can use store-bought pesto sauce to save even more time if desired!
(Scroll down for the detailed measurements and instructions in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the page.)
- Marinate the chicken: In a small bowl whisk together the basil and garlic chicken marinade. Place the chicken in a large resealable bag. Pour the marinade over the chicken. Toss to coat. Transfer the chicken to refrigerator for at least 3 hours, or up to 12 hours for the most flavor.
- Make the basil pesto: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the all the ingredients for the pesto, except the oil. Pulse until coarsely chopped. With the processor running, slowly add in the olive oil in a steady stream. Process until smooth. Set aside.
- Cook chicken: In a large skillet, heat olive oil. Add shallots and cook until softened. Add garlic and stir until fragrant. Remove chicken from marinade (discarding marinade) and add chicken to the skillet. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is browned all over and cooked through, about 6 minutes total. Transfer to a clean plate.
- Toss pasta with pesto: Toss the vegetable noodles (or cooked pasta of choice) with 3/4 cup of pesto to coat. Set aside.
- Serve: Transfer pasta to a serving platter or individual bowls and top with chicken. Garnish as desired. Top with a dollop of pesto or serve remaining pesto on the side. Enjoy!
Basil pesto chicken recipe step by step photos
What to serve with basil pesto chicken?
This pesto chicken pasta is light and healthy, yet hearty and eats like a complete meal! It can be served in a variety of ways. This dish is packed with protein and plenty of vegetables, so you can enjoy it by itself. However, the serving options for this dish are endless! This basil pesto chicken has an Italian flair, so I recommend pairing it with sides on par with those flavors.
10 delicious dishes to serve with pesto chicken pasta
- Green Salad: Simple leafy green salad, wedge or Caesar!
- Fruit Salad: Combine your favorite fresh fruits or try a grilled fruit salad!
- Bread: Crusty artisan bread or cheesy breadsticks!
- Corn: Grilled corn on the cob or sauteed corn
- Spinach: Sauteed or steamed
- Mushrooms: Oven roasted or simply sauteed
- Peppers and Onions: The best sauteed peppers and onions
- Cauliflower: Roasted, or try cauliflower rice or mashed cauliflower!
- Potatoes: Mashed, smashed or baked
- Grains: Rice or quinoa
With only a couple weeks of summer remaining, and pumpkin threatening to invade your personal space, you NEED to get on this healthy, yet seriously delicious Pesto Chicken Zucchini Pasta!
Until Thursday friends, cheers – to fall food waiting it’s proper turn. 🙂
Looking for more easy pasta recipes?
If you love this dish, try one of these fast and fabulous pasta recipes next!
How to make Basil Pesto Chicken Pasta Recipe and step-by-step video👇
Basil Pesto Chicken Pasta Recipe
- Small mixing bowl
- Food Processor
- 4 Zucchini or Yellow Squash – spiralized(about 2 pounds total)
- Kosher Salt & Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
- 2 Pounds Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts – cut into bite sized pieces* (about 4 total)
- 9 TBS Olive Oil , divided + more for sautéing
- 1 TBS White Wine Vinegar
- ¼ Cup Basil , packed – roughly chopped
- 1 large Shallot – finely chopped, divided
- 4 Cloves Garlic – minced, divided
- ½ tsp Crushed Red Pepper Flakes , plus more for garnish
PESTO: (yield - roughly 1 cup)
- 2 Cloves Garlic - peeled
- 2 Cups Basil Leaves , packed plus more for garnish*
- ½ Cup Parmesan Cheese – freshly grated, plus more for garnish
- 1/3 Cup Pine Nuts , plus more for garnish
- 1 TBS Lemon Juice
- ½ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Optional for Serving: Cherry Tomatoes, Lemon Wedges
- Marinate the chicken: In a small bowl whisk together 1/2 cup olive oil, vinegar, basil, 1 tablespoon shallot, 3 cloves of the minced garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Transfer to a large zip-closure bag and add the chicken. Toss to coat. Place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, and up to 12 hours to marinate.
- Make the pesto: In the bowl of a food processor, combine the garlic, basil, cheese, pine nuts, lemon juice, ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Pulse until coarsely chopped. With the processor running, slowly add in the olive oil in a steady stream. Process until smooth. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Cook chicken: In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat. Add the remaining shallots and cook, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add remaining clove of minced garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove chicken from marinade (discarding marinade) and add chicken to the skillet*. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is browned all over and cooked through, about 6 minutes total. Transfer to a clean plate and set aside.
- Heat zucchini noodles (OPTIONAL)*: Return skillet and reduce heat to medium. Add the zucchini noodles to skillet and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Cook, stirring, until noodles are just warmed through, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat and add in ¾ cup of pesto. Toss gently to combine. IF NOT HEATING NOODLES: Toss zucchini noodles with 3/4 cup of pesto to coat. Set aside.
- Serve: Transfer noodles to platter or bowls and top with chicken. Garnish with fresh basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, tomatoes and lemon wedges. Top with a dollop of pesto or serve remaining pesto on the side. Enjoy!
- I cut my chicken into bite sized pieces roughly ¾ - 1’’ small. You can cut yours larger or smaller if you like, you will just need to adjust the cooking time accordingly.
- I marinated my chicken overnight, which is what I recommend for optimal flavor. However, if you are in a pinch, you can marinate it for less time. But, I wouldn’t recommend any less time than 3 hours.
- When cooking the basil garlic chicken make sure you are using a large sauté pan, or cook the chicken in batches. You do not want to overcrowd the pan. If you do, your pieces of chicken won’t get a nice golden brown color.
- If you want your pesto to be a bright green color, you can blanch your basil. This is step is completely optional, and I only blanch basil for my pesto if I plan on keeping it for a few days in the refrigerator. Blanching the basil will prevent the pesto for turning a muted green color if stored for a couple days. To do so, simply place the basil leaves in gently boiling water for 5-10 seconds. Use a slotted spoon to remove the basil leaves and transfer them to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain the leaves in a colander and then transfer them to paper towel to dry completely.
- You can either sauté the squash and zucchini noodles or serve them raw. I actually prefer them raw. Once the pesto thoroughly coats the noodles, it softens them and gives them a "cooked" taste. Just make sure you do NOT salt the zucchini noodles until ready to serve. Salt draws moisture out of the noodles and will cause them to get watery.
- The Basil Garlic Chicken & Pesto Zucchini Noodles are really delicious with fresh, burst cherry tomatoes! Recipe as follows.
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