Having the recipe for a simple, satisfying pasta dish up my sleeve is a magic trick that I didn’t know I needed in my life.
When I have all the leisure time in the world (which is never, honestly), I love building a meal from top to bottom.
Whipping up an elegant sauce layered with aromatics. Tending to every ingredient with love and care. It’s a treat to tangle all the homemade components together.
But sometimes, my partner doesn’t want to wait for me to oven-dry tomatoes or buzz garlic, basil, and parmesan in the food processor to create the most perfect pesto there ever was. And at those times, I reach for some of my favorite shortcuts, follow a few basic rules, and voila!
Dinner is served.
As long as whatever ends up on the plate was swiftly prepped and easily assembled with delicious ingredients, everyone’s happy in the end.
For me, the guidelines for building this type of tasty dish start with giving myself a little bit of a break. Only one or two elements need to be bursting with immense, complex flavor – and the pesto and sun-dried tomatoes take on that role in this recipe.
Velvety basil pesto not only brings brightness to the dish, but the fresh garlic in the fragrant sauce adds a savory factor that’s unmistakable. Whether you snag your favorite premade version from the store (or suddenly remember that you stuck a Tupperware of the homemade herby sauce in the freezer several months back), pesto’s signature flavor gives this pasta some serious pizzazz.
Tomatoes and pesto are a no-brainer as partners, and I like to extract as much flavor from the fruit as possible. A quick excursion under the broiler does wonders, but to save myself a little time (and an extra baking sheet to wash), I turn to my secret weapon – oil-packed jarred sun-dried tomatoes.
Their concentrated richness and chewy texture present far differently on the palate than raw tomatoes.
I suggested using about half a cup below, but feel free to toss in a few more for some extra pop. Go on, your tongue deserves the party.
Especially in the summertime when it’s easy to fire up the grill, I keep quick-cooking proteins like chicken breast on hand in the fridge (or in the freezer, since defrosting poultry is a cinch to master).
Same story with the veg. Tender veggies like asparagus, zucchini, and other types of squash require very little time or babysitting while they do their thing over the grates of a smoky grill.
It’s likely you already know the importance of letting meat rest before you serve it, so there’s no need to school you on that. But while the juices in your chicken are redistributing, make sure the plate is far enough back on your counter that your dog can’t reach it.
That’s the unexpected part of this magic trick known as the disappearing act. And I would suggest skipping it.
And here comes the finale, so listen up:
Re-warming all of the ingredients and allowing them to get to know each other a bit in the pot is a must.
Hot, steaming pasta is pretty darn delicious. Chilled pasta salad? Also a treat. But lukewarm noods live in a land where no one needs to venture.
Make sure to fold in the pesto, however, after the pan is off the stove and just before serving.
It’s uncooked and full of delicate ingredients like fresh, fluffy basil leaves. Too much time spent in the heat, and the glorious green sauce will lose its vibrance.
And there’s nothing enchanting about that.Print
Craving a satisfying pasta dish? Our medley of juicy grilled chicken, tender asparagus, pesto, and sun-dried tomatoes hits the spot.
- 1 12-ounce box farfalle pasta
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 1/2-3 pounds)
- 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt, divided, plus more to taste
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided, plus more to taste
- 1 1/2 pounds asparagus, trimmed
- 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped
- 1 cup basil pesto
- Fresh basil, for garnish (optional)
- Grated parmesan or pecorino Romano, for serving
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- While the water is heating up, preheat a grill or grill pan to a level between medium and medium-high heat, around 400°F.
- Coat both sides of the chicken breasts with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Season both sides with 1 teaspoon of the salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper.
- Place the asparagus in a large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and the remaining salt and pepper. Toss to coat.
- Place the chicken on the grill or grill pan and cook on one side for 5 minutes. Flip and cook for an additional 4-6 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. Using clean tongs, transfer the chicken breasts to a plate and allow them to rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing.
- Place the asparagus in a single layer on the grill or grill pan. Cook, turning occasionally, until tender and lightly charred, about 4-5 minutes depending on their thickness.
- While the chicken is resting and the asparagus is cooking, cook the pasta until al dente, according to package instructions.
- Before draining, reserve 1/4 cup of the starchy cooking water. Drain the noodles, and return them to the pot off the heat. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil to prevent sticking. Set aside.
- Slice the chicken and asparagus on a cutting board into bite-size pieces and add them to the pot with the pasta. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and reserved pasta water.
- Toss to combine. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.
- Turn the heat on medium-low and stir occasionally until everything is warm, about 5 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the pesto. Transfer to a serving bowl or platter, garnish with basil if using, and serve immediately with grated parmesan.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 20 minutes
- Category: Pasta
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: chicken, pesto, pasta, grilled, basil, asparagus, sun-dried tomato
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Gather, Measure, and Prep Ingredients
You may see farfalle labeled as “bowtie” pasta and you’ll likely find it in a 12-ounce box, which is what’s called for in this recipe. Otherwise, measure out what you need using a kitchen scale.
Measure the olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Rinse and trim the asparagus. Line up a handful of the spears in a row on your cutting board and slice off the woody fibrous ends about 2 inches from the bottom. For some of the spears, the part you’ll be slicing is right where the stalk turns from white to green. You can also give them a snap at their natural breaking point. Repeat with the remaining asparagus.
Drain the sun-dried tomatoes and roughly chop them. Reserve the oil for use in vinaigrettes, sauces, or drizzling on top of the pasta just before serving.
Feel free to use good-quality store-bought pesto or make your own homemade pesto. Set aside some small sprigs of basil if you have any fresh herbs on hand for garnish.
Get your chicken out of the fridge. And try not to drop it!
Step 2 – Boil the Water and Prep the Chicken and Asparagus
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While you’re waiting, preheat a grill or grill pan between medium and medium-high heat so it’s around 400°F.
Drizzle both sides of the chicken with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and season both sides with 1 teaspoon of the salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper. There’s going to be plenty of flavor in the pesto, but you could add some additional herbs or spices as well if you like, such as chopped rosemary, or paprika.
Place the asparagus in a large bowl and drizzle in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Toss until well-coated.
Step 3 – Grill the Chicken and Asparagus and Cook the Pasta
Place the chicken on the grill or grill pan and cook until it’s golden-brown and lightly charred for, about 5 minutes. If your grill is big enough, you can cook the asparagus at the same time. Otherwise, grill the asparagus while the cooked chicken is resting.
Using tongs, flip the chicken and cook until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers an internal temperature of 165°F. This will take about 4 to 6 minutes, depending on the thickness of the breasts.
Using clean tongs, remove the chicken breasts from the grill and transfer them to a plate. Allow the chicken to rest for at least 5 minutes to seal in the moisture – you don’t want to lose all the juices by slicing it too soon!
Place the asparagus in a single layer on the grill or grill pan. Grill, turning occasionally, until the spears are lightly charred and can be pierced easily with a paring knife, for about 4 to 5 minutes. Especially thick asparagus may take a few minutes longer to cook.
Remove the cooked asparagus spears from the grill and set them on a plate, or place them back in the bowl where you tossed them with the olive oil.
While the chicken is resting and the asparagus is cooking, cook the pasta until it’s al dente, according to package instructions.
Step 4 – Drain the Pasta and Slice the Chicken and Asparagus
Before draining the pasta, reserve 1/4 cup of the starchy cooking water. This will help the pesto cling to the noodles.
Once you’ve drained the noodles, return them to the pot but remove it from the heat. Drizzle them with the remaining olive oil to prevent them from sticking together, and then set the pot aside.
Place the chicken and asparagus on a cutting board and slice into bite-size pieces. Add them along with any juices that have collected on the plate to the pot with the pasta. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and the reserved pasta water to the pot.
Toss until everything is well-combined and season to taste with additional salt and pepper if necessary.
Step 5 – Reheat, Add the Pesto, Garnish, and Serve
Place the pot back on the heat over medium-low to heat everything back through. This will take about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally, until the pasta is nice and warm.
Remove the pot from the heat, and stir in the pesto. You want it to thoroughly coat the other ingredients but don’t want to cook it because it will lose its vibrancy.
Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl or platter, garnish with fresh basil if you like, and serve with sharp grated cheese like parmesan or Pecorino Romano.
Boosting the Bird’s Flavor
A little olive oil, salt, and pepper is all the chicken breast really needs when it’s getting that lovely charred treatment from the grill.
But if you have some extra time to marinate your chicken, even an hour goes a long way. I’m a sucker for the classic combo of fresh garlic, rosemary, and lemon.
Also, adding a little dairy to your marinating liquid will produce the juiciest, most melt-in-your-mouth chicken you’ve ever tasted, since milk’s lactic acid aids in breaking down the muscle fibers in the meat.
I reach for Greek yogurt or buttermilk, since fermented milk products increase the tenderness even more.
Will you boost the flavor of your bird or keep things on the simple side? Share your marinating secrets in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
If those sun-dried tomatoes tempted your taste buds, try these recipes that feature the chewy flavor nuggets next:
- Spaghetti Squash with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Feta
- Caramelized Onion and Sun-Dried Tomato Grilled Cheese Pita
- Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published February 13, 2014. Last updated on July 22, 2022.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”