Meet me at the intersection of creamy comfort food and fabulously fresh for a big, cheesy, and (yes!) healthy serving of Chicken Pesto Pasta.
This recipe is sponsored by DeLallo.
This creamy pasta bake combines whole wheat pasta noodles, golden sautéed chicken, and bright, bursting cherry tomatoes in a vibrant pesto sauce. It’s hearty, filling, and cozy, the way you’d expect a chicken pesto pasta bake to be.
It’s also unexpectedly fresh. A bright basil pesto sauce infuses the pasta with light and sunny flavor. Cherry tomatoes—which taste good year-round but are especially delicious right now—and spinach add healthy servings of veggies. A final sprinkle of herbs lifts the pasta right off of your plate.
I recently served this creamy chicken pesto pasta bake at a party I hosted for girlfriends. We dubbed the occasion a “Pasta Party” and imbibed in all things summery and Italian. It was a blast.
Because pasta bake recipes like this one can be prepared entirely in advance, they’re fabulous not only for busy weeknights (meal prep win!), but for entertaining too. I assembled the chicken pesto pasta with tomatoes entirely the night before and stored it in my fridge. Then, the day of the party, all I had to do was pop it into the oven and bake.
I was less stressed, and my girlfriends loved the recipe. Everyone remarked how its flavor was light, yet it still left them feeling truly satisfied.
And, the little that we had leftover? It reheated like a dream for our dinner the next night.
Whether you need a healthy, ultra tasty dinner option to feed a crowd, want leftovers to enjoy the rest of the week, or are looking for meals you can make in advance, this chicken pesto pasta is a fantastic choice.
How to Make Chicken Pesto Pasta with Tomatoes
- Whole Wheat Pasta. One of my absolute favorite ways to instantly make any recipe healthier without a scrap of extra work is to use a whole grain option instead of white. Whole grains are higher in fiber, protein, and nutrients. DeLallo whole wheat pasta is my go-to. Unlike other whole wheat pasta brands I’ve tried, the texture of the pasta is spot-on al dente and its flavor is so mild, even the pickiest eaters won’t notice it is whole wheat.
In addition to preferring DeLallo whole wheat pasta for its superior texture and flavor, I also love how many shapes it comes in! The best pastas for pesto have some kind of edges or texture so that the pesto clings to it. Penne, gemelli, and fusilli are all fantastic choices for pesto, and DeLallo offers all three in whole wheat. I opted for penne, which we always have on hand.
- Prepared Pesto Sauce. A fantastic store-bought shortcut to keep the recipe easy-breezy! I used DeLallo Simply Pesto Traditional Basil. Its flavor is fresh, pure, and tastes homemade.
- Chicken. Chicken is a meat that goes well with pesto, because its mild flavor lets the pesto shine. Italian sausage goes well with pesto also, so if you decide to make this recipe later on and want to vary it up, sausage is a great choice. I recommend choosing chicken or turkey sausage to keep the recipe lean and healthy.
- Mozzarella. No pesto pasta bake would be complete without some nice, melty Italian cheese. For an elevated flavor, try swapping fontina, smoked provolone, or a mix of cheeses. A sprinkle of Parmesan on top is the finishing touch.
- Cherry Tomatoes. A classic, perfect pairing with pesto. Their color makes the pasta beautiful too.
- Greek Yogurt. My sneak healthy addition to the pesto sauce. It makes the pesto pasta sauce rich and creamy without adding fat and provides protein.
- Frozen Spinach. Sneak healthy addition #2. Spinach is ultra mild and its green color is camouflaged by the pesto, so even picky eaters won’t suspect it.
- Fresh Basil. A lively addition to give the pasta additional freshness.
The Recipe Steps
- First, bring a large stockpot of salted water to a boil. Be sure the water is very well salted (like the ocean!) to give the pasta great flavor. Add the pasta, and cook until al dente. When you drain the pasta, be sure to reserve some of the starchy cooking liquid (we’ll need it in a minute). To save yourself a dish, pour the drained pasta right back into the pot you used to cook it.
- While the water boils, dice the chicken, then saute it until golden brown and fully cooked through. Set it aside.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the pesto and Greek yogurt.
- Next, add the spinach. You’ll need to break the spinach up a bit with a fork. Try not to eat the entire bowl of pesto sauce right this second (you’ll be tempted).
- Add the creamy yogurt pesto mixture to the pot with the pasta and stir gently to coat. The pesto sauce will be thick, so splash in that handy reserved pasta water as needed to thin it.
- Add the chicken, cherry tomatoes, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Stir until everything is nicely mixed.
- Layer half of the chicken pesto pasta mixture into a lightly greased 9×13-inch casserole dish. Sprinkle on the cheese and basil, spoon in the rest of the pasta, then add more cheese on top.
- Bake the chicken pesto pasta at 375 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes. It will be melty, cheesy, and your kitchen will smell irresistible. Sprinkle with more basil and more cheese, then serve!
Make Ahead Tips + How to Store and Reheat
This Chicken Pesto Pasta is a meal-prep dream. It’s also freezer friendly and excellent leftover.
- To make ahead. Assemble the entire chicken pesto pasta in advance and refrigerate unbaked for up to 1 day. When ready to bake, let it come to room temperature, then bake as directed just before serving.
- To store. Place the baked chicken pesto pasta in an airtight storage container and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- To freeze. You can freeze individual portions or large quantities of this chicken pesto pasta, either before or after baking. Place your desired amount into a freezer safe storage container or ziptop bag and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- To reheat. Defrost chicken pesto pasta in the refrigerator overnight. Then, either bake at 375 degrees F until hot in the center or microwave gently until warm.
And now, some fun party pictures!
In addition to the chicken pesto pasta, I set up a build-your-own bruschetta bar and arranged lots of my favorite DeLallo antipasti items too. And, since too much is never enough, I added a cheese plate (easy!) and charcuterie. For a fresh option, I served my Cucumber Tomato Avocado Salad (which I also prepped a day ahead).
The pasta was the hearty main, and my friends had a blast trying all of the different bruschetta toppings. We’re already talking about making the Pasta Party a summer (and maybe winter!) tradition.
I know you’re going to love this healthy Chicken Pesto Pasta Bake as much as my gal pals and I did. It’s comfort food at its freshest and finest!
Chicken Pesto Pasta
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into bite-sized pieces
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 pound DeLallo Whole Wheat Pasta penne rigate, rigatoni, fusilli, or similarly shaped pasta
- 1 6.35 ounce jar DeLallo Simply Pesto Traditional Pesto flavor
- 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
- 1 (10-ounce) package frozen spinach thawed with as much of the liquid squeezed out as possible.
- 2 pints cherry tomatoes halved (or 4 cups chopped fresh tomatoes of choice. If the tomatoes are very liquidy, blot away the excess liquid first)
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese or a blend of mozzarella and provolone
- ¼ cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves roughly chopped, divided
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly coat a 9x13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray.
- In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high. Once the oil is hot and shimmering, add the diced chicken. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté the chicken until golden on all sides and fully cooked through, about 4 minutes. Remove to a plate and set aside.
- In a large stockpot of boiling, generously salted water, cook the pasta to al dente according to package instructions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid, then drain. Return pasta to the stockpot.
- While the pasta cooks, in a small bowl, whisk together the pesto and Greek yogurt until evenly combined. Stir in the spinach, breaking it up as needed and stirring until evenly combined.
- To the stockpot with the pasta, add the pesto/Greek yogurt mixture. Gently stir to coat the noodles in the pesto mixture. If the sauce is too thick, splash in some of the pasta water. It should be a little saucy.
- Add the cooked chicken, cherry tomatoes, and red pepper flakes. Gently toss to combine.
- Pour half of the pasta into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with 1/2 cup mozzarella and half of the basil. Layer the remaining half of the pasta over the top, spreading it into an even layer. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cheese is melted and just barely starts to turn golden. Remove and sprinkle immediately with the Parmesan cheese and fresh basil. Serve warm.
- TO MAKE AHEAD: Assemble the entire chicken pesto pasta in advance and refrigerate unbaked for up to 1 day. When ready to bake, let it come to room temperature, then bake as directed just before serving.
- TO STORE: Place the baked chicken pesto pasta in an airtight storage container and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- TO FREEZE: You can freeze individual portions or large quantities of this chicken pesto pasta, either before or after baking. Place your desired amount into a freezer safe storage container or ziptop bag and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- TO REHEAT: Defrost chicken pesto pasta in the refrigerator overnight. Then, either bake at 375 degrees F until hot in the center or microwave gently until warm.
- TO MAKE GLUTEN FREE: Swap gluten free pasta noodles.
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I am sharing this post in partnership with DeLallo. As always, all opinions are my own. Thanks for supporting the brands and companies that make it possible for me to continue to create quality content for you!