This is an extremely simple dish with tremendous flavor. The main flavor-maker in this bucatini pasta dish comes from our homemade classic basil pesto mixed with a little reduced cream. The peas, chicken and, of course, one of our favorite pastas, bucatini, are so delicious together with the pesto. We know you will love this Pesto and Pea Bucatini Pasta with Grilled Chicken recipe and come back to it again and again! This creamy pesto pasta with flavorful chicken recipe is for all the pasta lovers out there and it is a great way to enjoy fresh basil pesto sauce.
This pesto pasta dish breaks a few traditional Italian rules and is not technically what you’d find in Italy. Bucatini is a southern Italian specialty and basil pesto is more of a northern Italian sauce. But being lovers of both, why not bring them together here?
Bucatini pasta is basically a long pasta noodle with a hole in the center, resembling a straw. Bucatini has other names depending on regions, (boccolotti, candele, perciatelloni, and more) but they are not used outside of those areas. This pasta is known worldwide, and is most associated with the region of Lazio and the famous dish bucatini all’amatriciana made with guanciale (recipe coming soon!).
This recipe incorporates our Quick and Delicious Homemade Basil Pesto Recipe in a creamy sauce with the bucatini pasta! This time of the year we always have an abundance of fresh basil pesto around using basil from our garden. So we make a bunch of dishes with basil pesto like this dish, such as Whipped Ricotta with Pesto and Sun Dried Tomatoes or Creamy Pesto Pasta with Seared Scallops.
This pesto chicken pasta is made with the following simple ingredients:
- Chicken Breasts: Boneless skinless chicken breast is the best option for this recipe.
- Sweet Paprika: Sweet paprika is preferred here over hot paprika or smoked paprika.
- Salt and Pepper
- Unsalted Butter
- Sweet Onion: A sweet yellow onion is the best choice to balance the recipe without adding that sharp onion flavor to the finished dish.
- Dry White Wine: Use a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. We always recommend cooking with wines that you would drink, but you don't need to buy anything expensive. Just make sure you would drink it on its own and it will work great here.
- Vegetable Stock: Look for a low sodium option for vegetable stock.
- Heavy Cream
- Basil Pesto: Traditional basil pesto (or pesto alla Genovese). We always opt for homemade over store-bought for recipes like this since pesto is super quick and easy to make. Check out our homemade version HERE.
- Olive Oil
- Red Bell Pepper: The red bell pepper adds additional texture, color and flavor to the final dish, and it really complements the other flavors in this pesto pasta recipe.
- Green Peas: We use frozen sweet peas in this recipe. They are a simple addition to this dish that really provide some sweet pea flavor and a nice texture.
- Bucatini: Bucatini is a type of pasta that is long with a hole down the center of the noodle like a straw. We love this type of noodle in a creamy sauce like we have here.
- Panko Bread Crumbs: These are toasted lightly in a little olive oil to add a nice crunch to the final dish for serving. This is an optional garnish in the recipe, but we love the nice texture it gives this dish.
See recipe card below for quantities.
As mentioned, this is a very simple dish to prepare.
- Prep the chicken breasts. Simply season the chicken breasts with salt, pepper, and paprika on both sides, place them on a wire rack and refrigerate while prepping the sauce.
- Make the creamy pesto sauce. The cream sauce requires several steps, but is quite easy to make. You will start by melting the butter in a medium saucepan to sauté the minced onion and bell pepper. Then add the wine and reduce, followed by the stock and peas and reduce to a couple of tablespoons of liquid. Finally add the cream and reduce until thickened. The pesto is added to the cream right before serving.
- Step 3: Grill the chicken. Next, grill the chicken. You can grill it outdoors, in a grill pan or griddle, or simply cook it in a skillet if desired. The chicken should be cooked to 160°F, which will result in tender, fully cooked, juicy chicken (see hint below). Use a thermometer to check the chicken and take off the grill when it reaches 160°F and let it rest for at least 4 minutes before slicing.
- Cook the pasta. While the chicken cooks, make the pasta. Cook the pasta to al dente according to the package directions in a large pot of salted boiling water (about 2 tablespoon of salt per 6-8 quarts of water).
- Finishing the Dish. Right before the pasta is done, stir the pesto into the cream sauce. Taste for seasoning and adjust if you wish. Once the pasta is cooked, drain and toss with the sauce, serve with sliced chicken on top. You can add the optional toasted breadcrumbs on top with fresh basil leaves, and grated Parmesan cheese as a garnish.
Hint: Chicken “safe” temperature per the USDA is 165°F. Cooking it to 160° on a grill or a grill pan will ensure your chicken is safe for two reasons.
- First, there will be carryover, meaning the chicken will continue to rise in temperature after it is removed from the heat source.
- Second, time plays an important role in ensuring food safety. For example, milk left out at room temperature for 5 minutes will not create any issues, but it will spoil if left unattended overnight! Chicken cooked to 160° needs only to stay at that temperature for 15.3 seconds to kill any harmful bacteria! That will easily be accomplished during carryover. And your chicken will not be tough and dry.
Here are a few common substitutions for the ingredients in this recipe:
- Bucatini: Bucatini can be tricky to find, depending on where you live. It can be substituted with any long pasta, such as spaghetti, linguini, or fettuccine, or a tubed short pasta such as ziti or penne pasta. This pasta dish will be great with a variety of pasta shapes, or even whole wheat pasta, so use what you love! You can also substitute the pasta in this recipe for a gluten free options if you follow a gluten free diet.
- Frozen peas: You can use fresh peas in place of frozen peas if desired. If using fresh peas instead of frozen, adjust your cooking time accordingly, as fresh peas won't need to cook as long. You can also substitute peas with cut snap peas or snow peas if desired, or even shelled soybeans! You can also omit the peas altogether if you are not a fan without taking too much away from the final dish.
- Red Bell Pepper: Using orange or yellow bell pepper in place of red are good substitutes in this recipe.
- Pesto: Although we think that fresh homemade basil pesto is far better in all ways than store-bought, you can replace the pesto in this recipe with store-bought in a pinch if needed. Just be careful with the salt content, as jarred store-bought pesto is often very salty.
There are, as you can imagine, endless variations that can be applied to this creamy chicken pesto pasta. Try some of these variations out:
- Use a different protein: Many proteins will work well here, such as shrimp, grilled pork, or any game birds like quail, pheasant, or others.
- Vegetarian: If you prefer a vegetarian option, simply skip the chicken altogether!
- Spicy: Make this dish spicier with crushed red pepper flakes! Crushed red pepper can be added to the cream sauce to spice up the dish or replace the paprika on the chicken with cayenne pepper for more of a kick.
- Use different pestos: You can always experiment with different pestos in this dish to make something unique.
Try out our Roasted Red Pepper Pesto in this dish for a fun variation!
All you need to make this chicken pesto pasta recipe are a few pots and pans and a grill, grill-pan or large skillet for the chicken. It is highly recommended that you have a good digital thermometer to temp the chicken.
If you decide to make our homemade pesto sauce recipe to incorporate into this pasta, then you will also need a food processor (see recipe for Quick and Delicious Homemade Basil Pesto for details).
This dish is definitely best fresh. Freezing leftovers is not recommended, but if you need to store leftovers, refrigerate them in an airtight container for up to 5 days. To reheat leftovers, heat on low slowly in a pan. The sauce may not hold up as well as when it was made fresh and you may not get that same creamy texture.
The three top tips for this recipe are:
- Don’t overcook your chicken! No one likes dry chicken, so make sure you watch it closely and temp it as recommended here.
- Don’t overcook the bucatini. Ugh, mushy pasta is not good! It should have a little “bite” (al dente) and hold its shape. Perfect al dente pasta is what you need. And salt the water the pasta cooks in! A good rule of thumb is 40g (1.5 oz) of kosher salt per gallon of water.
- When reducing the cream, stir often while getting it to a “sauce” consistency. It should be thick and coat the back of a spoon. If your cream is at the point you want, but you haven’t started grilling chicken or cooking pasta, it’s OK. Turn the heat off and reheat the cream just to a simmer before combining everything together for the sauce.
Any poultry, shrimp, and pork are good options to use here with this creamy pesto pasta.
They’re both long pastas, so they are similar in that aspect. But side by side, it’s easy to tell that bucatini is much different than spaghetti. It has a hole in the center (bucatini means “pierced”) and there is much more actual pasta per piece in bucatini than spaghetti.
In many places in Italy, meats and pastas are served in different courses. However, proteins in sauces, like a ragù, for example, are very common to see with pasta. Grilling and slicing chicken and serving it over a pasta dish is certainly more American than Italian, but that doesn’t have to always be considered a bad thing, and it isn’t here!
Looking for other pasta dishes? Try these:
These are some tasty appetizers to serve before this dish:
Pesto and Pea Bucatini Pasta with Grilled Chicken
- 1 large pasta pot
- 2 chicken breasts boneless skinless
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1 cup frozen sweet peas
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
- ½ cup sweet onion minced
- ½ small red bell pepper - small dice
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- ¼ cup vegetable stock
- 1 ½ cups heavy cream
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 cup basil pesto
- 12 ounces bucatini
- Large pot of salted water for cooking the bucatini
- ⅓ cup panko breadcrumbs lightly toasted in butter (optional)
- Grated parmesan cheese optional
- Fresh basil leaves for garnish (optional)
- Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and paprika. Place the chicken on a wire rack over a sheet pan or baking sheet and refrigerate until ready to cook.
- Start a large pot of water for the pasta and begin to make the cream sauce. Put the frozen peas in a separate bowl of water to thaw at this point, they won't need long.
- Over medium heat in a large sauté pan, add the butter until melted. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook until the onion is translucent and bell pepper has softened. Increase to medium-high heat and add the wine. Once the wine has reduced to about a tablespoon or less, add the stock and peas. Reduce the liquid to a couple of tablespoons, turn the heat back to medium, then stir in the cream.
- The cream can be simmered until it has thickened, approximately 5-15 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the chicken on a grill, a grill pan or skillet over medium heat. This should take about 10 minutes total, but more importantly, until the internal temperature reaches 160°F. Once the chicken is cooked, remove from the pan and let the chicken rest before slicing (for at least 4 minutes) while you finish the sauce.
- While the chicken is cooking, salt the boiling water in the pot for the pasta (about 2 tablespoon per 6-8 quarts of water. Cook the bucatini to al dente according to the instructions on the package (usually around 9 minutes).
- The sauce should be thick and creamy at this point. Turn the heat off and add the pesto, stirring to combine. Taste for seasoning and add kosher salt and pepper to taste if desired. Add the bucatini to the sauce to coat. Serve in a bowl and top with the sliced chicken. If using toasted breadcrumbs, sprinkle them on top at the end with fresh grated parmesan and fresh basil leaves for garnish.
- Cook to a minimum temperature of 160 °F (71 °C) but let the chicken rest before serving (see notes above).
- Do not use the same utensils on cooked food that previously touched raw meat.
- Wash hands after touching raw meat
- Always use separate cutting boards for raw meat or thoroughly clean and sanitize the cutting board before using again
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Use oils with high smoking point to avoid harmful compounds
Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove