Chicken and Pasta With Lemon Pesto

Linguine with Grilled Chicken and Basil Pesto Sauce

Lauri Patterson / Getty Images

  • Total: 35 mins
  • Prep: 15 mins
  • Cook: 20 mins
  • Servings: 6 servings

Chicken and pasta with lemon pesto is an easy and elegant main dish recipe perfect for entertaining but simple enough for a weeknight dinner. The lemon adds a bit of freshness and brings out all of the flavors of the other ingredients. This recipe calls for simply adding lemon juice and grated lemon zest to purchased pesto and then mixing with cream, making an almost-instant sauce that is delicious tossed with juicy chicken and tender pasta. Baby peas and freshly grated Parmesan cheese add the finishing touch.

All you need to complete this meal is a green salad tossed with a simple dressing along with some garlic toast.


  • 1 (16-ounce) package linguine or spaghetti pasta
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (cubed)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 (9-ounce) package basil pesto (3 tablespoons set aside)
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 tablespoon set aside)
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 cups frozen baby peas
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta to boiling water; cook until al dente according to package directions. When pasta is done, drain well and keep warm. 

  3. Meanwhile, cook chicken. In a large saucepan, combine butter, oil, and garlic over medium-high heat. When garlic begins to sizzle, add chicken cubes; sprinkle with salt and pepper.

  4. Stir over medium heat until chicken is almost cooked through, about 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in cream and bring to a simmer; reduce heat to low.

  5. To the chicken mixture, add all but 3 tablespoons of the pesto, pour in 3 tablespoons lemon juice, the lemon zest, peas, and Parmesan cheese. Toss over medium heat until chicken is thoroughly cooked and the mixture is hot.

  6. Place the warm pasta in a serving bowl and top with chicken mixture. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 3 tablespoons pesto with the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Drizzle over the pasta and chicken and serve immediately.​

  7. Enjoy!


  • To keep pasta warm and fresh, before draining it, remove a bit of the cooking water (about 1/4 cup should be more than enough). Drain the pasta and return to the pot, adding enough of the hot pasta cooking water to keep the noodles moist but not have them floating. Cover the pot and set aside until ready to use.
  • Leftover pasta cooking water is also great to add to sauces; the starch in the water acts as a thickener and will help give loose sauces, such as a lemon-wine sauce, some body without having to add unnecessary ingredients. 
  • The term "al dente" refers to the consistency of the pasta, which should be slightly chewy.

Recipe Variations

  • Peas bring a nice pop of color to this dish, but other vegetables would work as well. Blanched asparagus, chopped tomato, artichoke hearts, and sun-dried tomatoes would all be delicious additions.
  • While store-bought pesto is tasty, pesto made from scratch is even better. Feel free to replace the basil with another herb or swap the pine nuts for walnuts or almonds.
  • Linguini and spaghetti are classic pasta choices, but any other type of pasta is just fine for this recipe.