Quick and Easy Pesto Pasta

Pesto pasta is a delicious and easy meal you can toss together in less than 30 minutes. It’s one of the last minute emergency meals we use when no one is in the mood to cook. Even our teens make this when we’re not around.

pesto pasta with chicken
Pesto Pasta with chicken, tomatoes, Parmesan and basil pesto on whole wheat spaghetti.

Variations of Pesto Pasta

Not only is it easy, it’s super versatile too with endless variations.

pesto pasta just tomatoes
Petso Pasta with walnut arugula pesto and cherry tomatoes on rotini pasta.

Here are just a few ideas for switching things up. What else can you think of?

  • replace the chicken with walnuts, pine nuts, Italian sausage or nothing
  • replace steak seasoning with lemon pepper, cajun, Italian Seasoning, hot pepper flakes or whatever you like
  • use whatever kind of pasta you enjoy – whole wheat, gluten free, long pasta, short pasta, etc.
  • replace pasta with spaghetti squash or spiralized veggie noodles like zucchini or butternut squash
    pesto pasta zucchini
    Basil pesto with chicken, tomatoes and mozza on spiralized zucchini.
  • skip the cherry tomatoes
  • add fresh basil leaves instead of or in addition to pesto
  • use homemade basil pesto, store bought pesto made with any kind of greens and nuts/seeds
  • top with your favorite cheese or leave it out – try Parmesan, goat cheese, Pecorino, old cheddar, etc.
  • add a handful of greens to the mix – try spinach, swiss chard or kale
  • use stinging nettle pesto instead
    nettle pesto pasta with tomatoes
    Stinging nettle pesto pasta.

Pesto Pasta Recipe

pesto pasta with chicken
Print Recipe
5 from 2 votes

Pesto Pasta with Endless Variations

Enjoy this classic pesto pasta recipe with basil pesto, tomatoes and chicken or use it as a template to create your own version. So quick and easy. For assembly tips read full article.
Prep : 10 mins
Cook : 15 mins

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pasta any shape
  • 2 boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1/2 Tbsp steak seasoning
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 3-4 Tbsp basil pesto
  • 1/2-3/4 cup pasta water
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  • Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente.
  • Slice chicken into bite size pieces and saute in canola oil until cooked through, 5 minutes.
  • Drain pasta reserving about 1 cup of cooking water.
  • Pour pasta in large serving bowl, top with pesto and 1/4 cup of pasta water. Mix well adding more pasta water as needed to create a nice glossy sauce and distribute the pesto all over. 
  • Toss in chicken and tomatoes.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning. 
  • Serve immediately on warmed plates and top with extra Parmesan cheese.

Notes

Variations:
  • omit chicken or replace with walnuts
  • choose whatever type of pesto you prefer
  • use salt and pepper, hot pepper flakes, Italian seasoning instead of steak seasoning
  • replace pasta with spiralized veggie noodles
  • use whatever kind of cheese you prefer
  • add greens like spinach or kale for extra goodness
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Assembly Tips

Here are a few tips for assembling the pesto. Sometimes we get lazy and don’t do all of these things, but when we do we’re reminded that it’s worth the extra 2 minutes.

pesto pasta assembly

Keep it Hot, But off the Stove Top – Basil does not like heat and will turn black and taste a little bitter if heated too much. So it’s best to assemble pesto pasta in the final serving bowl and not on the stove or the pot that the pasta was cooked in. To ensure your final dish is hot enough to enjoy, use piping hot pasta and chicken pieces hot from the pan.

Use the Pasta Water – Using pasta water is the not-so-secret cooking hack that’s been used ever since pasta was invented. It’s starchy and salty and is perfect to ensure your pasta and pesto come together without being dry. The starch from the pasta water emulsifies (binds/mixes) with the oil in the pesto. As you stir in the pasta water, the pesto mixes in nicely and coats the pasta perfectly.

Serve on Warm Plates – A simple touch that will keep the pasta at just the right temperature. And, if you’re warming up the plates, you might as well warm up the serving/mixing bowl.

Using Zucchini Noodles – When the zucchini are bountiful, this is one of our favorite recipes for spiralized zucchini noodles.  Add the spiralized zucchini to a skillet and sauté them over medium heat for only 1-2 minutes. You just want them to get hot, overcooking will turn them too soft and mushy. Remove the zucchini noodles from the pan and toss them with the pesto. The moisture from the zucchini noodles will replace the pasta water and all will be good.

pesto pasta with zucchini and goat cheese
Spiralized zucchini noodles with basil pesto, goat cheese, tomatoes and pine nuts.
pesto pasta with walnuts
Arugula and walnut pesto with tomatoes and walnuts on pasta shells.
pesto pasta with whole basil
When you don’t have pesto but plenty of basil!

Going through all these photos, it’s clear we make this dish a lot! Rarely does it ever look the same.

I’d love to hear if you make pesto pasta and your favorite variation. Tag me with any photos so I can see it and like it! I’m on instagram @getgettys and Facebook @GettyStewart.HomeEconomist.

Sign up to get articles by Getty delivered to your inbox. You’ll get recipes, practical tips and great food information like this. Getty is a Professional Home Economist, speaker and writer putting good food on tables and agendas. She is the author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, a mom and veggie gardener.

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