This is the kind of meal I get really excited about. This Chicken Basil Pesto Pasta is a dinner of super simple ingredients that can be made in less than half an hour, and that includes making your own basil pesto.

Top down view of 2 black bowls filled with pasta next to a small bowl of pesto and a large serving bowl of the remaining pastaAnd before we move on, in case you’ve had bad experiences, this pesto pasta is NOT too oily or dry, it’s juuuust right. I’ve got all the tips you need to turn this into your new favourite chicken pasta.

I’ve been making loads of fresh homemade pesto lately due to an abundant supply of basil and I’m not one bit upset with all the pesto dinners we’ve been eating. One of them was my Easy Salmon Pesto Pasta last week to this even EASIER version this week using chicken.

Not greasy, not dry, it’s just right.

The trick to making your pesto pasta just the perfect combination of moist, without making it greasy from adding too much oil, is adding the pasta water.

The pesto and the scant amount of oil the chicken is cooked in is all you need for this recipe. Adding some of the pasta water (and by the way do this with every pasta dish you make) does a bunch of wonderful things.

  1. Makes the sauce carry all the way through the dish without having to add loads more oil.
  2. The starch in pasta water helps the sauce to cling to the spaghetti.
  3. It’s also the starch that adds a silky, creamy effect to the sauce.
  4. It adds seasoning to your dish as long as you are salting your pasta water which you always should.

Just to reiterate, you should always add a little pasta water to your pasta dishes for the reasons above. Make sure to take the water right before you drain the pasta for the best result since this is when it’s starchy.

Close up shot of a black bowl filled with pesto pasta on a marble background and a grey tea towel

How to cook perfect pasta

Which leads me to some pasta rules to live by.  

  • Always salt the water generously – roughly 1 tablespoon per litre (aka quart or 4 cups). Don’t worry all that salt won’t stay on or be absorbed by the pasta. A little will, which is great for seasoning but most of it will stay in the water but if you don’t add enough your pasta won’t be seasoned at all.
  • Cook according to the packet – different pasta shapes and brands will cook at different times so check the packet for instructions.
  • Cook it to al dente and not super soft – pasta should have a ‘bite’ to it. You should need to chew it. It shouldn’t fall apart on your fork or dissolve in your mouth (cue the ewwww).
  • Don’t throw it at walls – it’s just a waste of good pasta, unless of course it gives you a laugh, then go for it. Just bite a piece to test it, you should feel the ‘bite’ but it shouldn’t taste raw.
  • Undercook it slightly only if you’re going on to bake it further and the sauce has a little liquid in it.

Which pasta to use

For this chicken pesto pasta, I like spaghetti or even a tagliolini (like spaghetti but flat) but you can use any shape you like. Shapes like spirals and penne also work really well with this but go ahead and use your favourite or what you have on hand. The wonderful thing about this glorious sauce is that it seems to hold onto all types of pasta.

Three quarters view of a black bowl filled with pesto pasta with a pesto bowl and a pasta serving bowl in the back

How to reheat pasta

Can you reheat this pasta? Yes, you can, my friend – this Chicken Basil Pesto Pasta reheats like a dream. I should know, I’ve been doing it for the last few weeks.

I have found the best result from putting it into a dry saute pan, add a dash of water then heat it over low-medium heat, tossing it constantly and adding water as necessary so that it doesn’t dry out. Only heat it until just heated through so it doesn’t go dry.

You can reheat in the microwave and I’ve done that too but it does dry out quicker even when you add a splash of water to the dish first but it will work if you really don’t want to get the pan out.

How to make chicken pesto pasta

  • Make the pesto (5 minutes, tops) – this is a matter of putting 5 ingredients in a food processor and blitzing until finely chopped, then slowly pouring in the oil while it processes until all combined.
  • Cook the pasta – according to packet directions but start with a big saucepan, half fill it with water and add about 1 tablespoon of salt per litre  (quart or 4 cups) of water.
  • Cook the chicken – start by slicing a large chicken breast through the middle so you butterfly it out and have two thinner pieces. Season it then cook for 6-7 minutes on each side until goldend
  • Add the bacon to the pan – you can add this as the chicken is almost ready or as soon as you take the chicken out.
  • Cut the chicken – into small pieces
  • Drain the pasta  – reserving 1/2 cup of the water first, then throw it into a very large bowl
  • Add the pesto, chicken, bacon and some pasta water – then use tongs to toss the spaghetti and ingredients together, lifting and folding it all over itself a few times.
  • Taste it – add seasoning if it needs it add more pasta water if it seems too dry then serve and devour.

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A black bowl filled with pesto pasta with a fork in it. It sits on a marble background and a grey towel.

I honestly can’t say enough good things about this chicken spaghetti recipe. It’s rich and bold but somehow light and it’s utterly delicious. I love that it is just as easy to make during the week after work as it is when entertaining and thoroughly satisfying every single time.

More pasta recipes you’ll love

 

A black bowl filled with pesto pasta It sits on a marble background with a grey tea towel next to it

Chicken Basil Pesto Pasta

5 from 5 votes
This Chicken Basil Pesto Pasta is easy enough for a weeknight meal but special enough for a dinner with friends. Succulent chicken and bacon tossed through spaghetti and pesto sauce, this is a quick and insanely tasty dinner.

Ingredients

FOR THE BASIL PESTO

  • 2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves (42g / 1.5oz)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • ½ cup finely grated parmesan (35g / 1.2oz)
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup light extra virgin olive oil

FOR THE SPAGHETTI

  • 250 g dried spaghetti (9oz)
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large chicken breast (300g / 10.5oz)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ cup diced bacon (60g / 2.1oz)
  • fresh basil leaves to serve

Instructions
 

FOR THE BASIL PESTO

  • Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan over low-medium heat, tossing regularly until just turning golden. Let them cool a little.
  • Add basil, garlic, parmesan and toasted pine nuts to the bowl of a food processor and blend on low until coursely chopped.
  • With the processor running, slowly drizzle the oil in until everything is well incorporated.

FOR THE SPAGHETTI

  • Bring a large pot filled with about 4 litres (4 quarts) of water to the boil and add 1 tablespoon of salt. You can start the chicken (step 6) while this is happening.
  • Once the water is boiling, add the spaghetti and push it down into the boiling water. Cook according to packet instructions until al dente. Remove 1/2 cup of pasta water and set aside, then drain the pasta and place in a large bowl.
  • Cut the chicken breast in half (through the thickness off it) then fold it out so you two thinner fillets. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.
  • Heat the oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat then add the chicken and cook 6-8 minutes on each side until golden and just cooked through. (see notes)
  • Set the chicken aside and use the pan over medium to fry the bacon until crispy.
  • Cut the chicken into bite size pieces.
  • Place the drained pasta into a large bowl. Add the chicken, bacon, most of the pesto and 2-3 tablespoons of pasta water. Use tongs to toss together well.
  • Taste and add salt and pepper if needed, then top with basil leaves and serve.

Notes

  1. This reheats well. Add it to a pan over medium heat, with a touch of water. Cook turning until heated through. Also makes a good meal prep option.
  2. Cooking chicken breast: It's easy to overcook chicken breast and make it dry. Cooking time will depend on how thick your chicken breast is. Cut into it and it should still be juicy but not pink so test it early. If using a thermometer it should be 73C / 165F in the thickest part.
  3. Which pasta? I find spaghetti and tagliolini (thin flat spaghetti) best but most types will work. Penne and spirals are other good options.
  4. Careful not to overcook the pasta. It should still have bite to it - cooked through but firm and not so that it will break on your fork or dissolve in your mouth.
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A black bowl filled with pesto pasta It sits on a marble background with a grey tea towel next to it