This creamy, nutritious ricotta-pesto chicken pasta is a tasty weeknight pasta dish ready in just 20 minutes. With pre-cooked chicken, and a creamy no-cook ricotta pasta sauce, it's easy to make and packed with protein and vegetables. A delicious healthy pasta dinner!
I’m all about tasty and low-fuss weeknight meals, with this ricotta-pesto pasta totally nailing the brief.
With a no-cook ricotta pasta sauce and a few ready-to-eat ingredients, the entire dish comes together in 20 minutes. Best yet, it’s packed with vegetables and protein-rich chook, making it a nutritious and balanced meal idea (the woes of being a nutritionist in the kitchen…I just can’t help myself💃).
Ricotta. A cheese with a distinctively creamy, yet light, flavour. Ricotta consistency can vary – you’re after a soft ricotta.
Pesto. Use homemade or store-bought. You can find pesto in the pasta sauce or chiller section of the supermarket.
Pasta. I like penne here, which are cylinder-shaped with their ends cut at an angle. Substitute for gluten-free, if that’s your dietary preference.
Pre-cooked smoked chicken. I’m all about using precooked ingredients to save time, with smoked chicken breast bringing incredible flavour to this dish. Find it in your supermarkets meat chiller or deli section.
Brown onion. My go-to cooking onion and one of the easiest ways to add deep, rich flavour to dishes.
Baby spinach. This recipe calls for a 120g bag, which will seem like a Mount Everest amount, but I promise it cooks down to a seemingly piddly pile.
Courgettes aka zuchini, cut into thick matchsticks (about half the size of a penne pasta piece).
Salt + pepper. To season, to taste.
Don’t have smoked chicken handy? Feel free to in substitute in precooked shredded deli chicken.
Here are tips to help your kitchen flow:
Pasta weights can vary by types and brands. For this dish, opt for around 320g dry penne pasta. Your packet will state on the Nutrition Information Panel how many grams of pasta a serving is. As a good rule of thumb, pasta approximately doubles in size when cooked.
Reserve your pasta’s cooking water. You’d be forgiven for thinking to pour this down the drain, but it’s rich in starches that help bind and emulsify ingredients into a glorious sauce.
This dish is best eaten fresh. After a day or more in the fridge it starts to get a bit dry. If reheating to eat, reinvigorate with extra pesto and a splash of olive oil!
Nutrition & Culinary Q&A
What are the health benefits of ricotta cheese? Like other cheeses, ricotta is an epic source of calcium, vital for healthy bones and teeth. It’s lighter on salt and fat than other cheeses, and its protein is mainly whey, an easily absorbed milk protein that contains all the essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) that our bodies need.
Can you make this dish vegetarian? Absolutely. As with many recipes on this website, there’s often wriggle room to tweak recipes to suit dietary preferences. Simply substitute the chicken for two cans of rinsed precooked cannellini beans to make this vegetarian. When the chicken is removed, the protein content decreases per serving, which is why it’s important to add beans into the mix.
400gsmoked chicken or cooked shredded deli chicken
250gsoft ricotta cheese
Small handfuloffresh basil leaves,finely chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
320gdry pasta(regular or gluten-free)
½cuppasta water,or more to reach a saucy consistency
Peel and finely slice onion into half moons. Cut top and bottom of courgette and discard, slice courgette into three chunks, then slice each chunk into thick matchsticks. Dice smoked chicken into small chunks.
Bring a medium-size pot of water to boil to cook the pasta. Add pasta to boiling water and cook until al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, sauté onion for a few minutes. Add courgette and sauté until soft and slightly browned. Add spinach and smoked chicken. Sauté for a few minutes, reduce heat to a low, then cover with the lid.
Mix together ricotta and pesto in a small bowl until smooth.
Remove ½ cup of the pasta water (carefully! it will be hot) and keep aside. Drain the rest of the water and pasta through a sieve.
Once the spinach has wilted turn off heat. Add pasta, ricotta-pesto mix, fresh basil and a few turns of the salt and pepper shaker. Mix well. Add and mix in enough pasta water to create a thick sauce.
Taste test and adjust salt and pepper until it tastes well seasoned to you.