Kale Pesto Chicken Penne Pasta Recipe

Overhead of a bowl of pasta with a fork loaded with a bite.
Recipe At-A-Glance
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Weeknight Dinner35 minutes
Your family will love this one-dish meal that comes together quickly in one pan. This Kale Pesto Chicken Penne Pasta recipe has a healthy dose of protein and fiber, and it's packed with flavor!

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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.

Chicken pasta plated on a shallow white bowl with ingredients on a cutting board beside it.

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.

Wholefully Protip

For an even faster dinner, swap out our kale and walnut pesto for a store-bought pesto sauce. Easy peasy!

A hand holding a wooden spoon stirring the pot of pasta, chicken, broccoli, and penne.

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.

Pesto pasta garnished with shaved parmesan on a white plate with a fork.

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!

Close up of chicken penne pasta piled up in a white bowl.

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.

Wholefully Protip

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.

 
Overhead of a bowl of pasta with a fork loaded with a bite.

Kale Pesto Chicken Penne Pasta Recipe

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes

Your family will love this one-dish meal that comes together quickly in one pan. This Kale Pesto Chicken Penne Pasta recipe has a healthy dose of protein and fiber, and it's packed with flavor!

Ingredients

For the Pesto

  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 1 bunch kale, torn, with thick stems removed (roughly 3 cups)
  • 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

For the Penne

  • 1 tablespoon avocado oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 pound penne (will give you roughly 8 cups cooked)
  • 2 heads of broccoli, cut into small florets

Instructions

  1. Prepare the pesto by heating a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add in the walnuts and toast until just fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.
  2. In the basin of a food processor, add in the walnuts, kale, garlic, cheese, and lemon juice. Pulse until everything is well chopped (but not mushy). You may need to stop and scrape the sides several times.
  3. With the food processor running on low, stream in the olive oil until all is mixed in. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  4. In the large saucepan you used to toast the walnuts, heat the avocado oil over medium-high heat. Season the chicken breasts liberally with salt and pepper. Cook in the prepared pan for ten minutes, then flip over, and cook for an additional 5 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Remove the chicken from the pan and let it rest for five minutes before cutting into bite-size chunks. Set the chicken aside.
  5. While the chicken is cooking, bring a large pasta pot of water to boil on the stove and cook the penne according to package directions. With four minutes remaining in cooking, add in the broccoli florets.
  6. Ladle out one cup of the pasta cooking water and set aside. When the pasta is done, drain both the pasta and broccoli. 
  7. Return the cooking pot to low heat. Add in the pesto, chicken, penne, and broccoli. Toss to coat, and then add in the reserved pasta cooking water, ¼ cup at a time, until it forms a sauce that coats the pasta well. Heat until everything is just warmed through.
  8. Dish up and serve topped with additional Parmesan.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 754Total Fat: 43gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 33gCholesterol: 58mgSodium: 467mgCarbohydrates: 63gFiber: 10gSugar: 12gProtein: 35g

At Wholefully, we believe that good nutrition is about much more than just the numbers on the nutrition facts panel. Please use the above information as only a small part of what helps you decide what foods are nourishing for you.

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.

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Hello. My name is Cassie, and I’m a healthy home cooking expert.

I'm a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and I've been developing healthy recipes professionally for over 15 years. Food is my love language, and my kitchen tips and nourishing recipes are my love letter to you!

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