Chicken penne pasta is a staple in so many of our recipe repertoires. It’s a quick, easy, and healthy meal you can whip up with only a few ingredients for a great weeknight dinner! Our favorite chicken penne recipe features the addition of kale and broccoli that gives your penne a boost of healthy nutrients and vitamins, while the pesto adds a smooth, rich twist your family is bound to enjoy.
The best part is, it’s super simple and can be whipped up in just over a half an hour. No fancy ingredients or hours spent slaving over a hot stove needed. Just a comforting, warm bowl of chicken penne that you know is chock full of healthy walnuts, kale, and broccoli—without tasting like it’s full of kale and broccoli.
Wait, I thought pesto was made with pine nuts and basil?
You’re right, most pesto involves both pine nuts and basil—but this is no ordinary pesto! Have you seen the price of pine nuts in the grocery store? Yikes! Walnuts make a rich, creamy pesto without forcing you to mortgage your home in order to buy a handful.
While basil adds a traditional pesto flavor, I find that this recipe is a refreshing change on the traditional. If you’re missing the flavor and you have access to fresh basil, feel free to toss some in.
For an even faster dinner, swap out our kale and walnut pesto for a store-bought pesto sauce. Easy peasy!
What if I’m allergic to nuts?
If you’re allergic to nuts, you don’t have to use walnuts in this recipe. Instead, you could try swapping out the walnuts for some avocado. The avocado will change the flavor of the pesto slightly, but you’ll find it does a great job of mimicking the smooth, creamy texture. You would need anywhere from a few tablespoons to a ¼ cup of mashed avocado, depending on the consistency you’re looking for.
Can I use rotisserie chicken here?
This chicken penne pasta is already great as a weeknight meal, but if you want to get it on the table even faster, feel free to use rotisserie chicken or leftover cooked chicken. It’s a great use of leftovers, because a little chicken goes a long way in a pasta dish like this one.
What kind of pasta should I use in this chicken pasta recipe?
You can use any kind of pasta you want in this dish and it’ll still turn out delicious. We love using grain-free penne like Banza, but regular wheat noodles works as well. You don’t even need to use pasta. You could instead use spiralized zucchini noodles—zoodles—or spaghetti squash if you’re looking to add more veggies to your diet.
While we’re on the topic of noodles, you don’t have to use penne shaped noodles in this dish either. If you have a box of spiral noodles or spaghetti noodles in your pantry, then by all means, use them instead!
Can this chicken penne pasta be frozen?
If you have leftovers of this chicken and broccoli pasta, go ahead and toss some in the freezer for later! If you know ahead of time that you want to freeze some leftovers, it’s best if you make sure your pasta is cooked al-dente. This way when you go to reheat your pasta it doesn’t turn soft and mushy. You can safely store this chicken penne pasta in the freezer for two to three months.
While traditional wheat pasta freezes well, it can be hit or miss with many of the grain-free, gluten-free, or legume-based pastas. We don’t recommend freezing those.
If you’re meal planning, another option would be to make the pesto and chicken ahead of time and save the pasta and broccoli—steps five through seven—for when you’re ready to cook and serve your chicken penne.