Chicken and Pasta With Lemon Pesto

Chicken and Pasta With Lemon Pesto

The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 20 mins
Total: 35 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.

Ingredients

  • 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 (divided)
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (divided)
  • 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.

    Chicken and Pasta With Lemon Pesto ingredients

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente according to package directions. 

    cook pasta in salted water

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  3. When pasta is done, drain well and keep warm. 

    drain cooked pasta in a colander

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  4. Meanwhile, cook the chicken. In a large saucepan, combine the butter, oil, and garlic over medium-high heat.

    combine the butter, oil, and garlic in a pot

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  5. When garlic begins to sizzle, add the chicken cubes and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

    add the chicken cubes to the butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  6. Stir over medium heat until chicken is almost cooked through, about 4 to 6 minutes.

    chicken cooking in a pot

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  7. Stir in the cream and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low.

    add cream to the chicken mixture in the pot

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  8. To the chicken mixture, add all but 3 tablespoons of the pesto, 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, the lemon zest, and Parmesan cheese.

    To the chicken mixture, add the pesto, lemon juice, the lemon zest, and Parmesan cheese

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  9. Toss over medium heat until chicken is thoroughly cooked and the mixture is hot. Add peas and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer until just warmed.

    chicken sauce cooking in the pot with peas

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  10. Place the warm pasta in a serving bowl and top with the chicken mixture.

    pasta with chicken the chicken mixture on top

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  11. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 3 tablespoons pesto with the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice.

    pesto with lemon juice in a bowl

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

  12. Drizzle the lemon pesto over the pasta and chicken.

    Chicken and Pasta With Lemon Pesto in a bowl

    The Spruce / Julia Hartbeck

Tips

  • 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.