We stan a chunky meal, and robust Chicken Pesto Pasta is brimming with favorites by the forkful. Big basil flavor and subtle hints of sun-dried tomato make this unfussy ground chicken pasta recipe a standout. Well, to be fair, it’s the super moist ground chicken meatballs that really make this dish amazeballs.
I like big bowls, and I cannot lie! Give me a dish chock full of incredible edibles and I am ready to take my fork on a spearfishin’ mission.
From pasta-ful faves like Caprese Pasta to veggie delights like Cauliflower Shawarma Buddha Bowl, I am all about the big bites. These one-bowl wonders are super homey, and easy chicken pesto pasta is no exception.
We already know that basil and chicken is a home-run, so I decided to put a spin on that flavor combination for this healthy chicken pesto pasta recipe. Tangy sun-dried tomatoes and double basil – fresh, plus pesto – add tons of color and flavor. We doubled down on the parmesan cheese, too – some in the mini chicken meatballs, and some for garnish.
Chicken Meatballs for Extra Fun!
Chicken pesto pasta is traditionally made with grilled or baked chicken. Also traditionally, my kids will reject it every time.
Enter chicken meatballs.
I don’t know about you, but my kids will at least TRY anything that looks like a meatball. So when I want to get them interested in a new flavor, meatballs it is.
Ground chicken is the perfect blank culinary canvas – and honestly, the kids now prefer them to other options because there are so many opportunities to make chicken meatballs “more fun.”
Big, bold options like chicken shawarma meatballs and Buffalo chicken meatballs have introduced them both to a whole new world of flavors. And when they need it, creamy chicken meatball soup and Swedish meatball soup are the perfect sick day soothers.
If you, too, struggle to get your picky-eaters to indulge in grown-up options, pesto pasta with chicken meatballs might be just the ticket!
How to Make Chicken Pesto Pasta with Meatballs
Mini ground chicken meatballs are definitely the star of the show in this Chicken Pesto Pasta recipe. Bake until browned on all sides while prepping your pasta. Jarred pesto sauce means this weeknight dinner comes together fast using a combination of homemade and store-bought hacks.
- Mix the meatballs. Mix the ground chicken with bread crumbs, egg, parmesan, basil, salt, garlic powder, and pepper until well combined. Try not to over-mix!
- Form the meatballs. Form heaping tablespoon portions into 24 mini meatballs and arrange on a parchment lined baking sheet.
- Bake the meatballs. Bake in a 400°F oven for 20-22 minutes; flip once halfway through.
- Cook the pasta. Cook the pasta in heavily salted water to 2 minutes below al dente (check the package instructions). Reserve one cup of the pasta water, then drain.
- Saute tomatoes and garlic. Using your pasta pot, saute the sun-dried tomatoes until they start to soften, then add garlic.
- Add the pasta and pesto sauce. Add the cooked pasta, pesto sauce, and half a cup of pasta water. Toss until pasta and tomatoes are evenly coated with sauce, adding more pasta water to thin the sauce or a bit of grated parmesan cheese to thicken it.
- Add the meatballs. Gently fold in cooked meatballs.
- Garnish and serve. Garnish with fresh basil and grated parmesan cheese. Serve right away, and enjoy!
- A 1-tablespoon cookie scoop is a great way to portion out evenly sized meatballs. Lightly spray it with cooking spray and reapply every few scoops to prevent sticking.
- When forming meatballs, I first portion out the meatballs directly onto the baking sheet. Then, I rub my hands with olive oil and form the meatballs into round balls. The olive oil adds more flavor and helps the outsides of the meatballs brown.
- Flip the meatballs halfway through baking to ensure even browning around the outside.
- If you don’t have or can’t find oil-packed sun dried tomatoes, saute them in 2 teaspoons of olive oil instead.
- Store bought pesto makes this recipe super quick and easy! We love the DeLallo brand.
- If the pesto sauce is too thick, add more pasta water 1-2 tablespoons at a time. If the sauce is too thin, add 1-2 tablespoons parmesan cheese.
Don’t Forget the Pasta Water!
Pasta water is a work horse! The starch in pasta water will help bind the pesto sauce to the noodle. It will also enhance the flavor of the sauce and, even though you’re adding liquid, will help thicken most sauces. Thanks, starch!
The Right Way to Combine Cooked Pasta with Sauce
The number one rule is to cook the noodles 1-2 minutes below al dente.
Add the pasta along with half a cup of pasta water to the sauce. Cook 1-2 minutes in the pot, stirring frequently, until the pasta is finishes cooking in the sauce and sauce evenly coats each piece of pasta.
Do You Need to Heat The Pesto Beforehand?
Nope! The residual heat from the cooked pasta and pasta water will warm the pesto, so there’s no need to heat the pesto itself.
What Type of Pasta Can I Use for Chicken Pesto Pasta?
Want chicken pesto penne? Go for it! Only have a box of tortiglioni? Use it up! The best noodles for this chicken and pesto pasta recipe are short and ridged – we usually reach for rigatoni.
Though technically, you can use whatever you want, short, ridged pastas have lots of nooks and crannies for sauce (i.e. flavor) to hide out in. Feel free to substitute gluten free pasta as needed.
Storing and Reheating
Leftovers will store in the fridge for up to 4 days in a sealed container.
PRO TIP – Save some of that pasta water! Add a tablespoon of pasta water per serving when reheating to help reconstitute the sauce.
Did you make this pesto pasta with chicken meatballs? I’d love to know how it turned out! Leave a comment and a rating below.
Chicken Meatball Pesto PastaPrint Recipe Rate this Recipe Pin Recipe
- 1 lb ground chicken
- ½ c panko bread crumbs
- 1 large egg
- ⅓ c grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh basil, or 1 tsp dried
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp ground pepper
- 1 tbsp olive oil
For the Pasta
- 1 lb short, ridged pasta, we like rigatoni
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- ⅓ c oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¾ c pesto sauce
- 1 c pasta water
- Fresh basil, for garnish
- Grated parmesan cheese, for garnish
- Heat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Combine the ground chicken, bread crumbs, egg, parmesan cheese, fresh basil, salt, garlic powder, and pepper in a large bowl. Mix gently with your hands until the ingredients are evenly combined, but try not to overmix.
- Rub a bit of olive oil on your hands, then form heaping tablespoon portions of the meatball mix into approximately 24 one-inch mini meatballs. Arrange the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet.
- Transfer to the oven and bake for 20-22 minutes, flipping once halfway through for evening browning.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with salt. Add the pasta and cook to 1 minute below al dente (check the package instructions). Reserve 1 cup pasta water, then drain the pasta and set aside.
- Return the pot to the burner and heat over medium heat. Add the sun dried tomatoes, and cook, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes, until the tomatoes are slightly softened; add the garlic and cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly.
- Add the cooked pasta, pesto, and ½ c pasta water. Toss until the pasta and tomatoes are evenly coated with the pesto sauce. If the pesto coating is too thick, add more pasta water 1-2 tablespoons at a time. If the sauce is too thin, add 1-2 tablespoons parmesan cheese.
- Gently fold in the cooked meatballs.
- Garnish with fresh basil and grated parmesan cheese and serve right away.
- Save extra pasta water! Pasta water is a great hack for perfect leftovers. Add one tablespoon of reserved pasta water per serving when reheating to help the sauce reconstitute.
- Use any short, ridged pasta, which will allow the sauce to cling to every nook and cranny.