Perfect Meat Pairings for Pesto Pasta: A Flavorful Guide

What meat goes with pesto pasta?

Pesto pasta is a versatile and delicious dish that can be made with a variety of meats. The combination of pesto, a flavorful sauce that originated in Genoa, Italy, and various meats creates a harmonious and satisfying meal. In this article, we will explore some of the best meats that go well with pesto pasta and provide insights on how to prepare them.

1. Chicken

Chicken is an excellent choice of meat for pesto pasta. Its mild flavor allows the vibrant flavors of the pesto sauce to shine without overpowering them. The spiciness and saltiness of the pesto complement the chicken for a delicious combination.
To prepare chicken for pesto pasta, use a ratio of about 1 pound of chicken to ¼ cup of pesto. The chicken can be cooked on the stovetop or in the oven. For a quick and convenient option, shredded rotisserie chicken can be used to reduce cooking time.

2. Shrimp

Shrimp is an excellent choice for those looking for a seafood option with pesto pasta. Its mild and buttery flavor pairs well with the nutty and earthy flavor of the pesto. The sweetness of the shrimp balances the saltiness of the pesto, resulting in a balanced and flavorful pasta dish.
When cooking shrimp for pesto pasta, it is important not to overcook them. Shrimp should be cooked until pink and opaque. Using about ¾ cup of pesto per 1 pound of shrimp will make four servings of pasta.

3. Ground Beef

Ground beef is a versatile meat option that works well in pesto pasta. It is advisable to choose ground beef with a good fat content to prevent it from becoming dry and chewy in the dish. The extra fat in ground beef helps it blend well with the pesto sauce.
If lean ground beef is used, marinating it in a little olive oil before cooking can add moisture to the meat. Ground beef can be browned in a pan on the stovetop, and adding chopped onions can enhance its flavor. When cooked, it can be mixed with the pesto and cooked pasta.

4. Bacon

Bacon is an easy and delicious meat option for pesto pasta. Its full flavor and saltiness complement the bold flavors of the pesto. It is recommended that bacon be cooked until golden brown and crisp, but not overly crisp.
Slices of cooked bacon can be cut into bite-sized pieces and added to the pasta. Alternatively, diced bacon can be cooked and added directly to the pesto sauce. It is important to note that additional salt may not be necessary as bacon is already salty.

5. Pork Chops

Pork chops offer a meatier flavor compared to bacon and can be a great addition to pesto pasta. Seasoning pork chops to your liking with salt, pepper, or garlic powder can further enhance their flavor.
Browning the pork chops in a pan with a little olive oil allows for better control of the cooking process. Adding olive oil to the pan helps keep the pork chops juicy and provides a crispy coating. Once cooked, the pork chops can be cut into bite-sized pieces and tossed with the pesto pasta.

6. Steak

Steak lovers can enjoy a delicious twist by incorporating steak into their pesto pasta. The richness and flavor of steak pairs beautifully with the fresh and salty flavors of pesto. Both the steak and the pesto retain their distinct flavors without overpowering each other.
Browning the steak on the stovetop with a little olive oil gives it a nice crunch on the outside while keeping it juicy on the inside. The steak can be cooked to your personal preference of rare, medium-rare, medium or well-done. Allowing the steak to rest for a few minutes after cooking before slicing or chopping will add tenderness to the dish.

7. Turkey

Turkey offers an alternative poultry option for pesto pasta. Its richer flavor, with earthy and darker notes, pairs well with the aromatic basil and garlic found in pesto. The gamier flavor of turkey adds depth to the overall flavor profile of the pasta.
Cooking turkey breasts on the stovetop and chopping them into bite-sized pieces is an ideal way to prepare turkey for pesto pasta. Alternatively, using ground turkey cooked in olive oil and then mixed with the pesto sauce and pasta can also produce delicious results.

8. Wild Tuna

Tuna offers a convenient and flavorful option for pesto pasta. It is easy to prepare and adds a unique flavor to the dish. Tuna’s meaty texture and slightly salty flavor complement the flavors of pesto for a delicious combination.
Tuna can be seasoned with salt, pepper and any additional spices before cooking. It can be quickly sauteed over high heat or grilled to get a nice char on the outside while keeping the inside tender. Once cooked, the tuna can be flaked and added to the pesto pasta.

9. Italian Sausage

Italian sausage brings a burst of flavor to pesto pasta. The combination of herbs and spices in the sausage, such as fennel, garlic and red pepper flakes, adds complexity to the dish. The savory and slightly spicy notes of the sausage complement the vibrant flavors of the pesto.
To prepare Italian sausage for pesto pasta, remove the sausage casings and crumble the meat. Cook the crumbled sausage in a skillet until browned and cooked through. The cooked sausage can then be mixed with the pesto sauce and pasta for a hearty and satisfying meal.


Pesto pasta provides a versatile canvas for incorporating a variety of meats, each adding its own unique flavors and textures to the dish. From chicken and shrimp to ground beef and bacon, the possibilities are endless. The choice of meat ultimately depends on personal preference and dietary considerations.
When preparing pesto pasta with meat, it is important to consider the flavors and textures of both the meat and the pesto sauce. Achieving a balance between the meat and the pesto allows the different flavors to complement each other, resulting in a harmonious and delicious meal.
Experimenting with different meats can add excitement and variety to your pesto pasta creations. Whether you prefer the mildness of chicken, the seafood sweetness of shrimp, or the rich flavor of steak, there is a meat option that will take your pesto pasta to new heights of deliciousness. So go ahead and explore the world of meat and pesto pasta to create your own culinary masterpieces.


What meats are best for pesto pasta?

Answer: Pesto pasta pairs well with a variety of meats, including chicken, shrimp, ground beef, bacon, pork chops, and more. The choice ultimately comes down to personal preference and desired flavor profiles.

How do I cook chicken for pesto pasta?

Answer: To cook chicken for pesto pasta, you can either grill, bake or sauté it. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs are recommended. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, cook to an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C), then slice or shred before adding to the pasta.

Can I use cooked shrimp in pesto pasta?

Answer: Yes, you can use pre-cooked shrimp in Pesto Pasta for convenience. Simply thaw the shrimp, if frozen, and then add them to the pasta in the last stages of cooking, just to heat them through. Overcooking shrimp can make them tough and rubbery, so be careful not to overcook them.

How do I add bacon to pesto pasta?

Answer: To incorporate bacon into pesto pasta, cook the bacon until it is golden brown and crisp. Once cooked, cut it into bite-sized pieces and mix with the cooked pasta and pesto sauce. The saltiness and smokiness of the bacon adds a delicious flavor to the dish.

Is it necessary to marinate ground beef before using it in pesto pasta?

Answer: Marinating ground beef is not necessary for pesto pasta. However, if you are using lean ground beef, you can add a drizzle of olive oil to the meat before cooking to prevent it from drying out. Sauté the ground beef in a skillet until browned, then toss with the cooked pasta and pesto sauce.

Can I use canned tuna in pesto pasta?

Answer: Yes, canned tuna can be used in pesto pasta. Simply drain the canned tuna and shred it. Add the tuna to the cooked pasta and pesto sauce and toss gently. The meaty texture and slightly salty flavor of tuna adds a unique flavor to the dish.