Pesto Mac and Cheese with Chicken – elbow macaroni and bites of chicken in a creamy, cheese sauce flavored with garden-fresh basil pesto. This simple dish cooks completely in ONE pot!I love mac and cheese – from the stuff in the blue box to creamy homemade and anything in between.
Besides the layers of flavor in this recipe – of which there is plenty – another thing I love is that everything (including the pasta!) cooks in one pot.
Translation: no extra pots to wash. Just cheesy adult mac and cheese with the bright herb flavors of basil pesto. Who’s in?
The inspiration for this recipe comes from a dish I had at Taste LINK a restaurant in South Haven, Michigan. Their unique spin on classic dishes kept us going there several times over just a few days!
If you’re growing basil this summer and haven’t turned it into pesto yet, it’s time – here’s my favorite recipe -> LINK. I like to freeze some as well to enjoy long after the summer season.
- Feel free to use your favorite pesto from the grocery instead of homemade.
- Use rotisserie chicken or leftover chicken instead of cooking from raw.
- You can keep the dish meat-free or even sub in bacon or shrimp for seafood lovers.
- I recommend shredding the cheese yourself for a creamier consistency. Prepackaged cheese contain ingredients that keep them from clumping in their bags and don’t melt as easily.
what’s in pesto mac and cheese?
- olive oil
- chicken breast cut in bite size pieces
- milk (full fat)
- chicken stock
- uncooked elbow macaroni
- mozzarella cheese shredded
- sharp cheddar cheese shredded
- salt and pepper
- dry mustard
- pesto (homemade or store-bought)
How to make CHICKEN PESTO MAC AND CHEESE:
NOTE: if you’re using rotisserie or leftover chicken skip this section and move on to the cheese sauce.
Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a deep skillet or pot over medium heat. Transfer the bite size pieces of chicken to the skillet then season with salt and pepper to taste.
Searing on both sides, cook completely through then remove the chicken from the skillet and set aside.
The cheese sauce:
In the same skillet or pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat then whisk in the flour and cook for 3 minutes. Don’t short-change the cooking time. You want to get rid of the floury taste which is just there to thicken the sauce.
Slowly pour in the milk, whisking over medium heat and scraping up any brown bits remaining from the chicken.
When it’s completely combined and bubbly add the water, chicken stock, dry mustard and salt and pepper (about 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of pepper or to taste).
Add the uncooked macaroni to the cheese sauce, reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for 8-10 minutes or until the pasta is al dente, stirring occasionally.
Remove the skillet from the heat and fold in the cheese a little at a time stirring gently. Once the cheese is blended in, add the pesto and chicken. Taste and adjust for salt then enjoy right away.
Looking for more easy pasta recipes?
Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese – creamy, spicy Buffalo Mac and Cheese with chicken. Cooks completely in one pot.
Skillet Lasagna – the answer to “what’s for dinner?” the whole family will LOVE! 30 minute lasagna that cooks in one skillet including the noodles! Ground beef, rich tomato sauce and three kinds of cheese. All the flavors of the classic recipe without the work!
20 Minute Sausage Tortellini – another ONE POT easy meal that cooks in just 20 minutes! Italian sausage, tortellini, tomatoes, spinach and parmesan cheese in a delicious creamy-tomato sauce.
Cheesy Chicken Pasta with Brussels Sprouts – tender pasta, bites of caramelized chicken and sliced brussels sprouts in a creamy smoked gruyere-white cheddar cheese sauce.
If you tried this Chicken Pesto Mac and Cheese recipe or any other on the blog, I’d love to hear from you with a comment or a bunch of stars!
Chicken Pesto Mac and Cheese
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 boneless chicken breast cut in bite size pieces
- 1/4 cup butter
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk full fat
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 1 1/4 cups chicken stock
- 2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese shredded
- 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese shredded
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1/2 cup pesto homemade or store-bought + OPTIONAL extra pesto for garnish/serving
- Add the olive oil to a deep skillet over medium-high heat and once it’s hot, add the bite-size pieces of chicken. Season with salt and pepper and allow the chicken to sear, cooking completely through then remove from the skillet.
- In the same skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat then whisk in the flour and cook for 3 minutes.
- Slowly add the milk, whisking over medium heat and scraping up any brown bits remaining from the chicken.
- When it’s completely combined and bubbly, add the water, stock, dry mustard and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper.
- Pour in the UNCOOKED macaroni to the sauce, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and allow the pasta to gently cook stirring occasionally for 8-10 minutes or until the pasta is al dente.
- Remove the skillet from the heat source and slowly add the cheeses a little at a time, combining thoroughly then fold in the pesto and chicken. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.