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One Pot Creamy Pesto Pasta with Chicken

5 from 33 votes

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Step up your pasta game with this creamy pesto pasta recipe! Loaded with tender chicken and a silky basil pesto sauce that will have you licking your plate clean, this one pot pasta recipe is ready in under 30 minutes!

Creamy pesto pasta in a white bowl.

Say goodbye to boring pasta nights

As someone who values their time in the kitchen, one pot pasta recipes are a lifesaver.

They’re incredibly easy to make and require minimal cleanup, which is always a plus.

This creamy pesto pasta is one of my favorites. It was inspired by the pesto gnocchi that I enjoyed in Cinque Terre a few years ago. Pesto is a regional specialty there, and it really made me appreciate the beautiful simplicity of this flavorful basil sauce.

The creamy sauce and tender chicken make it feel like a special occasion meal, even on a weeknight. Every time I make this recipe, I’m transported back to that little coastal town in Italy.

If you’re a fan of fast and easy dinners that are full of flavor, you’re definitely going to want to try this recipe.

Buon appetito!

What you’ll love about this recipe: 


  • Ready in 30 minutes. Perfect for busy foodies with a tight schedule!
  • Budget-friendly. This recipe uses simple, affordable ingredients that you can easily find at your local grocery store.
  • Easy clean up. Only one pot to wash!
An overhead view of the ingredients needed to make one pot creamy pesto pasta.

Ingredients you’ll need:

Chicken Breasts. To add filling protein to this easy dinner recipe. You could also use chicken thighs.

Garlic. You can never have too much!

Pasta. I like to use penne for this recipe because the creamy pesto sauce clings to all of the ridges so nicely. You could also use something like rigatoni. You can sue a different pasta shape, but it might effect the cooking time. Just keep an eye on it; when the pasta is al dente, move on to the next step.

Chicken Broth. Cooking the pasta in chicken broth gives it even more flavor. You can use water instead, but you’ll want to add some salt.

Heavy cream or Half and Half. It wouldn’t be creamy pesto pasta without cream!

Cream cheese. This adds even more creaminess and helps the pesto sauce thicken and cling to the pasta.

Pesto. I used jarred pesto, but homemade pesto works too if you’re lucky enough to have it!

Baby Spinach. For added color and nutrition.

Sauteeing chicken in a large pot.
Pouring in the pasta.
Adding broth.
Adding pesto and cream cheese.

How to make it

  1. Brown the chicken in a little olive oil, then remove it from the pan so it doesn’t overcook. To cut down on dishes, I use my pot lid as a plate to hold the chicken until I’m ready to use it again.
  2. Simmer the pasta, broth, and cream in the same pot until the pasta is tender.
  3. Stir in the pesto sauce, cream cheese, spinach, and chicken. Cook a few minutes until the sauce thickens and everything is warmed through.

Busy Foodie Tip

  • Pro chefs add reserved pasta cooking water to their sauce. The starches in the water help thicken it and give it a luscious, velvety texture. One pot pasta recipes like this one work on the same principle, with the cooking liquid creating the sauce as it reduces.

Variations:

  • Use leftover grilled chicken instead of cooking fresh chicken. Start at Step 2 and add the chicken at the end.
  • Tired of chicken? Top this pesto pasta with cooked shrimp instead.
  • If you like a little heat, add 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes along with the garlic in step 2. Sautéing them in oil will help their flavor bloom, resulting in a more complex and layer flavor than if you just sprinkle them on at the end.
  • If you want more vegetables, you can add yellow squash, zucchini, or halved cherry tomatoes to the sauce.
  • Scatter toasted pine nuts or walnuts over the top for a little bit of crunch.
  • Turn it into a cold pasta salad by leaving it in the refrigerator overnight and then stirring in 1/3 cup of white wine vinegar.
Extreme closeup view of one pot chicken pesto pasta.

Frequently asked questions

Can I make this pasta ahead?

Yes! This creamy pesto pasta is actually one of my favorites pasta for reheating.
For the best results, add a few tablespoons of milk or cream and reheat in a covered pan over medium heat. The additional cream will help loosen the sauce, so it’s just as good as it was on day 1.

How should I store leftovers? 

Leftovers will keep well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.

Can I use a different type of pasta?

You can, but different pasta shapes and sizes will effect the cooking time. Ignore the package directions and move onto the next step when the pasta is al dente.

As a point of reference:
Spaghetti will take 9-10 minutes.
Bowties (farfalle) take 11-12 minutes.
Mini shells take about 12 minutes.

What should I serve with it?

This creamy pesto pasta is a full meal on its own, but if you can never go wrong with a leafy green salad or some crusty bread.

Is there something I can use instead of cream cheese?

If you don’t have cream cheese, you can use soft goat cheese, but it will add a tangier flavor to your sauce. You could also stir in a few tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt.

Or just leave it out. The sauce won’t be quite as creamy, but it will still be delicious!

Can I make this recipe vegetarian?

Sure! Skip the chicken and use vegetable stock instead of chicken broth as your cooking liquid.

Can I make this recipe in an Instant Pot? 

Yes! Just make sure the pasta is completely submerged in the broth and cook under high pressure for 5 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally for 4 minutes, then carefully remove the cover and stir in the remaining ingredients.

How does one pot pasta work? What is this magic? 

When you boil pasta, it absorbs some of the water as it cooks. For one pot pasta, you use the exact right amount of liquid to rehydrate the pasta without leaving a ton of excess that needs to be drained. (It does feel a little magical!)

More one pot pasta recipes

Two white bowls filled with creamy pesto chicken pasta.
Creamy pesto pasta in a white bowl.

Creamy Pesto Pasta with Chicken

Indulge in the flavors of Italy with this quick and easy creamy pesto pasta recipe. Inspired by my visit to Cinque Terre, this recipe combines tender chicken and a rich and flavorful pesto sauce. It’s sure to become a family favorite that you’ll make again and again.
5 from 33 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4 people
Calories 623 kcal

Equipment

  • large pot

Ingredients
  

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound chicken breasts diced
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon cracked black peper
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • ½ pound penne pasta
  • 3 cups chicken broth or 3 cups water + 1 tablespoon salt
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • cup jarred pesto
  • 4 cups baby spinach fresh or frozen

Instructions
 

  • Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add it to the pan. Cook for 4-5 minutes, or until deeply browned and cooked through. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
  • Add garlic to the pot and cook for 1-2 minutes, until softened and fragrant.
  • Stir in the pasta, broth, and heavy cream. Cook for 10-12 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente. Remove form heat.
  • Add the cream cheese and pesto stirring constantly until the sauce is smooth and creamy. Stir in the cooked chicken.
  • Stir in the cooked chicken and spinach. Cover and let sit for 1-2 minutes, until the spinach is wilted.

Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 623kcalCarbohydrates: 48gProtein: 36gFat: 31gSaturated Fat: 12gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0.01gCholesterol: 126mgSodium: 1350mgPotassium: 804mgFiber: 3gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 3895IUVitamin C: 11mgCalcium: 127mgIron: 2mg
Love this recipe?Mention @TheBusyFoodieLauren or tag #busyfoodie!
By on January 2nd, 2023
lauren

Hi, I'm Lauren!

I love to cook -- but even more importantly, I really like to eat! I have a demanding day job that keeps me busy, so time is precious. I'm a culinary school graduate and five-time cookbook author who's all about finding ways to make delicious, restaurant-quality meals at home on a tight schedule. Read more...

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