Creamy Arugula Pesto Pasta with Chicken


This recipe is full of nostalgia for me because pesto chicken pasta is what I lived off of when I had to cook for myself in college. Trader Joe’s pesto tossed with chicken and pasta was on the menu at least twice a week. I’m kicking nutrition up a notch by adding in broccoli and making a pesto from peppery spring arugula, lots of herbs, and subbing in cottage cheese for a creamier, higher protein pesto. 

This recipe has a few components, so it helps it come together a lot faster if you make that pesto and/or cook the chicken ahead (or use rotisserie)!

Ingredient highlight

Arugula! These peppery leafy greens (also known as “rocket”) are actually a member of the cruciferous family and have similar benefits to other members like broccoli, kale and brussels sprouts. They pack in tons of vitamin K, vitamin C, folate, iron, calcium, and magnesium.

Servings 4
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes


For the pesto:

  • 4 cups loosely packed arugula, divided
  • 2 cups loosely packed parsley and/or basil
  • ½ cup toasted almonds
  • ½ cup whole milk cottage cheese (or use ricotta)
  • 2 oz wedge parmesan cheese (or ½ cup grated)
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper

For the pasta and chicken:

  • 8 oz pasta
  • 4 cups (12-14 oz) frozen broccoli florets (or use fresh)
  • 1-1.25 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs*
  • 1 tsp black pepper*
  • ½ tsp kosher salt*
  • 1 tbsp olive oil*
  • Grated parmesan, for topping
  • Black pepper, for topping
  • *Adding chicken is optional and you can cook it any way you want or use rotisserie. You could also sub with some chopped up cooked sausage or any other cooked protein. You could even cook some ground meat in salt and pepper, which is easier and faster.


For the pesto:

  • In a high-speed blender or food processor, add 2 cups arugula, herbs, almonds, cheeses, lemon, oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Blend until mostly smooth, starting at a low speed and using a tamper tool to encourage blending. If it’s too thick to blend, you can add a splash of water or more lemon juice.

For the pasta and chicken:

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt it generously, then stir in the pasta and cook according to the package instructions. During the last 2 minutes of cook time, add the broccoli. Reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain and transfer back to the pot.
  • Add the chicken to a bowl. Season all over with pepper and salt, drizzle with a touch of olive oil, then use your hands and toss to coat.
  • In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm 1 tablespoon oil. Once hot, add the chicken and cook until nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium-low, flip the chicken and cook for 5-10 more minutes or until the chicken is cooked through (covering with a lid can speed this along). Transfer to a cutting board and chop it into bite-sized pieces.
  • To the pot with the pasta/broccoli, add the chicken, pesto, and about ¼ cup of pasta water. Stir until everything is combined and coated in the sauce. You can thin it out with more pasta water (or just hot water), if needed. Stir in the remaining 2 cups of arugula.
  • Serve right away topped with plenty of parmesan and black pepper.

Items you can prep ahead (optional)

  • Toast ½ cup almonds
  • Cook the chicken
  • Make the pesto
  • Chop 4 cups broccoli florets if using fresh broccoli


  • To make vegetarian, skip the chicken and use your favorite cooked protein (canned beans, vegetarian sausage, etc…)
  • To make vegan, substitute ½ cup nutritional yeast for the parmesan and skip the cottage cheese. Taste and add more lemon, oil, or salt, if needed.
  • To make gluten-free, use a GF pasta alternative or make this a rice or quinoa bowl (grain + chicken + broccoli + top with pesto). You can thin out the pesto with a bit of water and/or lemon.
  • Use any quick cooking veggie in place of broccoli, like asparagus.
  • Any cooked and chopped protein can be used in place of chicken. 


  • Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Leftovers + Repurposing:

  • Warm up leftovers in the microwave until warmed through, stirring in 30 second increments. Top with a squeeze of lemon, parm, and pep.
  • If you have more arugula, you can toss it in with the reheated pasta to add more greens and stretch it a bit. You may want to add an extra drizzle of olive oil.
  • Put an egg on it!
  • Top with a dollop of ricotta or cottage cheese.

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