Father’s Day is right around the corner, and this Pesto Chicken & Bacon Summer Pasta is a meal that dads are sure to love! I mean, it’s got bacon AND you get to fire up the grill…perfection. I’m loving this recipe right now too because it’s the perfect pasta for summer, featuring bright basil pesto, char-grilled corn, and garden-fresh zucchini. And like all my favorite recipes, it’s meal prep friendly too!
Ingredients and Substitutions
Here are the primary ingredients you’ll need to make this Pesto Chicken & Bacon Summer Pasta at home:
Pasta – I used a girelle pasta because I couldn’t resist the fun shape, but any short curly pasta will work! Think rotini, radiatore, fusilli, or even malfada. You really just want something that will hold on to the pesto and tuck away those yummy bits of basil so you get lots of flavor when you take a bite. And don’t forget to reserve some pasta water for the sauce!
Chicken – I used chicken tenderloins in the recipe because they absorb flavor quickly and there’s more surface area to coat with pesto, but chicken breasts or thighs would work well too! If you’re planning to serve this as a side dish, you can definitely just skip the chicken.
Bacon – There isn’t so much bacon in this recipe that you get an overpowering flavor of bacon in the pasta, but there’s enough to add a hint of that amazing salty, slightly sweet and smokey flavor. The little bits of bacon are obviously a delight, but I really love rendering it down to get the bacon fat, which I then use to sauté the zucchini and garlic. It’s an amazing flavor meld! I initially tried this recipe with pancetta, but found that it didn’t lend nearly enough flavor and made the shift over to bacon.
Pesto – This is the glue that brings the whole dish together! And when I say glue, I mean sauce…though there are a few other liquidy ingredients that help make up said yummy sauce. Because this is your star ingredient as the flavors go in this dish, be sure to get a pesto you really like! Most of the time when I’m getting pesto, I just get the fresh made version that Wegmans sells in store. I like it better than the kind you get in the non-refrigerated jars, but as a general rule of thumb, the pesto you find in the refrigerated section of the store will taste fresher than those in the dry goods section. You could also make your own pesto using one of about a million pesto recipes on the internet.
Dry white wine – You should always cook with a wine you like, and I generally prefer Sauvignon Blanc when it comes to whites. Wine brings some much needed acidity to this recipe – don’t skip it!
Lemon zest – You may find that you want even more acidity than the wine brings to the party to match your flavor preferences, in which case I’d recommend adding even more lemon juice and/or lemon zest. I like to finish the dish with a bit of lemon zest in addition to what’s already mixed in.
Zucchini – One of the star ingredients of summer! I cored the seeds out the zucchini to make sure there were no mushy bits and was left only with the bright green, tender-crisp sautéed bits that picked up plenty of flavor from the bacon fat. Other summer squashes may work in this recipe, but I prefer the zucchini for the bright green color and firm texture.
Corn – Char-grilled sweet corn brings another layer of flavor and texture to this pasta.
Garlic – Because most pesto sauces have plenty of their own garlic flavor, I used slices of garlic to help lend flavor to the zucchini as it sautéed in bacon fat, but then discarded those slices before adding the zucchini to the bowl. If you’re a huge garlic lover, you could instead just finely chop or mince the garlic and keep it in there.
Tips for Meal Prepping this Recipe
I really like using a 2-compartment container like this to keep the chicken separate from the pasta until it’s time to eat. You could also opt for a chopping the chicken up into bite size pieces and toss it right in there with the pasta, but I do think that reduces the fridge-fresh life span of this meal.
Now, here’s the thing about meal prepping with pasta – it tends to absorb more liquid from the sauce as it sits in the refrigerator throughout the week. That can make it seem dry and bland. Don’t worry though, I’ve got quick tips for you so you can liven this Pesto Chicken & Bacon Summer Pasta back up when the lunch bell rings!
The sauce method – Save a tablespoon or two of pesto sauce and keep it separated in a little dressing container like this inside your meal prep container. Just heat it up with the pasta and mix it in when you’re ready to eat. I recommend heating this pasta up for at least 30 seconds to 1 minute – add the extra pesto before heating it or heat it separately in the little container (but don’t forget to take off the lid first!).
The ice cube trick – When you grab your pasta salad from the fridge in the morning, add an ice cube right in there with the pasta. Seriously. As the ice cube slowly melts throughout the morning, it helps revive the pasta into a deliciously creamy state. Be sure to remove any remnants of the ice cube before digging in – the ice should disappear after heating up the pasta, but just make sure so you don’t accidentally chomp down on it.
Shop for this Recipe
Here are some items I used to help make this recipe a success. Note: these are Amazon Affiliate links.
- 1 lb short curly pasta like girelle or rotini, (500 grams)
- 6 slices Wegmans Center Cut Uncured Bacon 25% Less Sodium, chopped, (150 grams)
- 2/3 cup Buitoni Reduced Fat Basil Pesto, (166 grams)
- 2/3 cup dry white wine like Sauvignon Blanc, (5.36 fl oz)
- 1/4 cup half and half, (2 fl oz)
- 1/4 cup reserved pasta water, (keep at least one cup just in case you need more)
- 2 small zucchini, trimmed and seeds removed, then chopped, (305 grams)
- 3 small corn on the cob, (203 grams corn yield)
- 3 cloves garlic, sliced, (12 grams)
- 1 lemon, zested
- 1 tsp Oh My Spice! Lemon Pepper Seasoning
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 2 lbs chicken tenderloins
- 1/3 cup pesto
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Mix all chicken marinade ingredients, then massage into chicken until evenly coated. Set aside in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours.
- Pre-heat grill to 400°. Spray grill grates with non-stick grill spray or brush grates with vegetable oil. Allow excess marinade to drip from the chicken before adding to grill. Grill one side for 5 minutes, then flip and grill for an additional 4-5 minutes. The internal temperature should just barely reach 165° as you remove the chicken from from the grill. Rest for 5 minutes before slicing.
- Add corn to the hot grill grates and grill for 5-6 minutes, turning 2-3 times. Set aside to cool, then cut corn from the cob and set aside.
- Heat a large heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat (I used a 7 qt enameled cast iron pot). Once hot, add chopped bacon and cook while stirring for 2-3 minutes or until bacon begins to turn golden brown and is cooked through. Remove bacon to a paper towel lined plate using a slotted spoon.
- Add 1 tsp olive oil to the pot. Add chopped zucchini, sliced garlic, and red pepper flakes, then sauté, stirring frequently. Some of the browned bits left at the bottom of the pot from cooking the bacon should come up and coat the zucchini and garlic. Continue sautéing the zucchini and garlic for 3-4 minutes – the zucchini should turn bright green but still be firm. Remove zucchini to a bowl and set aside, removing garlic slices.
- Add wine to the pot to deglaze. The wine should quickly come to a boil and burn off the alcohol. Scrape up the remaining browned bits and pour wine out into a bowl. Set aside.
- Fill the pot with enough water to cook the pasta (mine was filled about half way to the top). Bring water to a boil, add kosher salt, then add pasta and stir. Cover and boil pasta to very al dente, about 13 minutes.
- Reserve about 1 cup of pasta water and drain the rest. Return pasta to the pot, then add pesto, half and half, cooked wine, zucchini, corn, bacon, seasoning, and 1/4 to 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water. Stir and set aside to cool.
- Serve pasta with chicken on top or mixed in. Top with fresh ricotta cheese, lemon zest, and parmesan before serving, if desired.