Easy to stock ingredients create a flavor-packed sauce for this rustic Chicken Pesto Pasta. This quick and easy pasta is loaded with tender bites of chicken, pesto, roasted red peppers and creamy ricotta cheese.
Ever since I discovered that Costco carries a great big jar of very good quality pesto at an amazing price, it’s been a fun, ongoing challenge to find as many ways as possible to put it to use. And, friends, this seriously delicious Chicken Pesto Pasta is one of the best. It’s so easy to prepare but makes for a truly special meal.
A jar of roasted red peppers combines beautifully with pesto to create a simple but super flavorful pasta sauce. To add some nice body to the sauce, I add a little half and half and finish it with scoops of ricotta cheese over the top. The ricotta melts slightly over the finished dish and you can scoop up a little (or a lot!) in each serving. Heavenly.
- Penne – I think penne is the best choice for this recipe but any short pasta will work. Feel free to substitute farfalle (bowtie), medium shells, fusilli, or ziti.
- Olive oil
- Chicken – Boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 1 ½-inch pieces.
- Minced garlic
- Seasoning – Salt, freshly ground black pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes for a little kick.
- Roasted red peppers – Choose jarred roasted red peppers that are packed in water, not oil, so they’ll be adding great color and flavor to the dish without any added fat.
- Pesto – Store bought or your own homemade pesto.
- Half and half – I find half and half to be plenty rich enough but if you want to make this an over-the-top, luscious dish you can substitute heavy cream.
- Ricotta cheese – Either part-skim or whole milk ricotta is fine, depending on your preference. I always use part-skim.
- Parmesan cheese – Grated parmesan adds really great flavor. Amp it up by garnishing the finished dish with some larger pieces of shaved Parmesan.
- Fresh basil – Not pictured but it makes an excellent but optional garnish.
How to Make Chicken Pesto Pasta
Before beginning, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions.
- Sauté the chicken and garlic in olive oil over medium-high heat until the chicken is just lightly golden brown. Season with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper.
- Add the roasted red peppers and cook, stirring, for another minute or two until the chicken is thoroughly cooked.
- Reduce the heat to medium and add the half and half and pesto and stir well to combine it with the chicken and any accumulated juices in the skillet to create a sauce.
- Add cooked penne to the skillet with the chicken and stir to combine the mixture. Drop small dollops of the ricotta over the pasta and sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top. Cover the skillet and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the ricotta is softened and beginning to melt. Ricotta melting over a skillet full of Chicken Pesto Pasta is a beautiful thing!
And, that my friends, is all there is to it!
A little fresh basil goes a long way to add a nice burst of fresh flavor and it’s just really pretty, too.
More Ways to Use Pesto
Keeping a jar of prepared pesto in your refrigerator is one of the best ways to quickly add a ton of flavor to a wide variety of recipes. Here are some of my favorites.
- Pesto Chicken Salad Sandwiches
- Pesto Green Beans
- Baked Chicken Pesto Parmesan
- Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad
- Chicken Pesto Pizza
Serve Chicken Pesto Pasta with a simple green salad tossed with Homemade Italian Dressing or Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette. Round out your meal with a warm loaf of French bread or try my easy Cheater Garlic Bread.
Chicken Pesto Pasta
- 10 ounces dry penne pasta, about 2 ½ cups (see Notes below)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breast
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
- 12 ounce jar roasted red peppers, chopped
- ½ cup half and half
- ½ cup pesto
- 1 cup ricotta cheese, part-skim or whole
- ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for garnish
- fresh basil, sliced or torn (optional garnish)
- Cook the penne about one minute shy of the package directions. Meanwhile, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a deep 12-inch skillet over MEDIUM-HIGH heat. Add the chicken and garlic and sauté for several minutes, until the chicken is just lightly golden brown. Season with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. Add the roasted red peppers and cook, stirring, for another minute or two or until the chicken is thoroughly cooked. Reduce the heat to MEDIUM and add the half and half and pesto and stir well to combine it with the chicken and any accumulated juices in the skillet to create a sauce.
- Drain the cooked pasta well and add it to the skillet with the chicken and stir to combine the mixture. Drop small dollops of the ricotta over the pasta and sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top. Cover the skillet and simmer over LOW heat for about 10 minutes, or until the ricotta is softened and beginning to melt into the pasta.
- Garnish with additional Parmesan and fresh basil before serving, if desired.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated using generic ingredients, and is an estimate not a guarantee. For more accurate results, please refer to the labels on your ingredients at home.
This post was originally published on March 5, 2015. It has been updated with new text and images.