Pasta with meatballs and pesto sauce
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What Meat Goes With Pesto Pasta?

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Pesto pasta is such an easy (and delicious) meal to make during the week, especially if you are using ready-made pesto.

The great thing about making pesto pasta is that it can be made with different types of meat, so you can choose the type of meat you prefer, or you can use up some extra meat you have in the fridge or freezer.

However, you want to choose a meat that pairs well with pesto.

What meat goes well with pesto pasta? Some of the best meat to include in pesto pasta includes chicken, shrimp, ground beef, bacon, pork chops, and more. Pesto pairs well with many different types of meats, so you can be quite free with the meat you choose to use!

To help you pick out the best meat to use for pesto pasta, keep reading to find out the best options, and how they pair with pesto pasta.

What Is Pesto?


Before choosing which meat to use with pesto, it helps to know what pesto is, and the flavors it has.

Pesto, or the original name Pesto Alla Genovese, is a sauce that originated in Genoa in Italy.

It is traditionally made with pine nuts, coarse salts, Parmigiano-Reggiano (or another hard cheese) basil leaves, and olive oil. These are all crushed and blended together to form a thick, paste-like sauce.

The flavors of pesto are quite complex. The thick, green sauce is bright and herby, but also rich and salty from the cheese, giving it a beautiful depth of flavor that pairs well with many things.

You have the nutty, earthy flavor from the pine nuts, the flavors of garlic, the creamy tanginess from the hard cheese, the fresh, herby flavor from the basil leaves, the saltiness from the coarse salt, and the beautiful flavor of olive oil.

It is not a cooked sauce and can be enjoyed as it is, but it can also be cooked into a pasta dish or used as a marinade and more.

The Best Meat To Have With Pesto Pasta

Read on to find the best meat that goes with pesto pasta, so you can make a delicious, easy meal at home!

1. Chicken

Roast chicken breast isolated on white

Chicken is definitely one of the best types of meat to have with pesto pasta.

It is mild-tasting meat, which means that it will not overpower the flavor of the pesto sauce and will allow the green, bright and rich pesto sauce to shine.

The spice and saltiness that pesto offers help to cut through the chicken, especially when you are using thicker pieces — together, they make a great combination.

When using chicken for pesto pasta, you want to use the right amount so that the pesto isn’t too overpowering, and so that there isn’t too much chicken that you lose the taste of the pesto.

A good ratio to use is about 1 pound of chicken to ¼ cup of pesto. The best way to prepare chicken for pesto pasta is to cook it on the stovetop or to cook it in the oven.

For a super quick dinner, you could even shred a rotisserie chicken — this way you can cut out half of the cooking!

2. Shrimp


Shrimp is a great option to use when you feel like a pesto seafood pasta.

With a mild, buttery flavor, shrimp is ideal to pair with the nutty, earthy flavor of pesto — the two really are a great match.

Other than the butteriness of shrimp matching the nuttiness of pesto, the sweetness of the shrimp balances out the salty notes of the pesto too, creating a really balanced pasta dish.

To cook shrimp to add to pesto pasta, it is best to cook it on the stove, but for a very short time.

The shrimp should turn pink and opaque when done — make sure to remove it from the heat when this happens, so you do not overcook the shrimp and it becomes chewy.

To make shrimp pesto pasta, use around ¾ cup of pesto per 1 pound of shrimp. This will give you four servings of pasta.

3. Ground Beef

Organic Raw Grass Fed Ground Beef on Butcher Paper

Ground beef is such a versatile ingredient to use, so it makes sense that it is a good option for pesto pasta!

Make sure to choose ground beef with good fat content.

This will ensure your ground beef does not become dry, chewy, and grainy in the pesto pasta — the extra fat will allow the ground beef to stay moist and blend in well with the pesto.

If you do use lean ground beef, then you can try to marinade it with some olive oil before cooking it, just to give it a little more moisture when it cooks.

Beef does have a stronger flavor compared to chicken or shrimp, but this isn’t a problem, as the earthy pine nuts, and the rich cheese help to balance out the flavor of the beef without it being too overwhelming in the dish.

You can fry up the ground beef in a pan on the stove, adding in some chopped onion if wanted — once cooked, mix it in with the pesto and the cooked pasta.

4. Bacon

Bacon is a really easy (and tasty) meat option to use to make pesto pasta.

It is a full-flavored meat that is rich and salty, so it offsets the bold flavors of the pesto well too.

To make bacon for pesto pasta, you should cook it on the stovetop in a pan until it is golden brown and crispy, but not too crispy that it is difficult to eat.

You could also grill it in the oven if you do not feel like standing over a pan of bacon waiting for it to cook.

If you are cooking slices of bacon, once cooked, chop it into small, bite-sized pieces to add to the pasta. It is much easier to eat this way, and you will get a mouthful of flavors with each bite.

You could also cook diced bacon to save you from having to chop it up once it is cooked. You can simply add the cooked diced bacon to the pesto sauce and mix it into the cooked pasta!

For pesto pasta, you can use either smoked or unsmoked bacon, depending on the flavors you want, as both taste great with the flavors of the pesto.

One tip for using bacon with pesto pasta is to not add in any more salt, as the bacon will have quite a bit of salt in it already (as well as the pesto), so taste it as you go.

5. Pork Chops

Pork Chop WIth Seasoning

Other than bacon, pork chops are a good pork product to add to pesto pasta, especially if you want more of a meaty flavor than using bacon.

Pork chops can be seasoned to your preference, whether you want to go with a simple salt and pepper mix, or add in some garlic powder and such.

The flavor is milder than bacon, but you will still get that meaty taste and texture to go with the bold pesto.

The best way to prepare pork chops to use for pesto pasta is to fry them on the stove with some olive oil. This way, you can keep a check on them as they cook, and stop cooking them as soon as they are cooked through and juicy. 

Adding some olive oil to the pan can help keep the pork chops juicy, and give them a nice crispy coating too.

Alternatively, you can cook the pork chops in the oven, and they will still turn out juicy and moist.

Once the pork chops are cooked, you can chop them up into bite-sized pieces and add them to the pesto pasta!

The milder flavor of pork chops allows the bold, rich, and fresh flavors of the pesto to shine.

6. Steak

Medium rare Ribeye steak with herbs and a piece of butter on the wooden tray.

Who doesn’t love a good piece of steak? If you are looking for a new way to enjoy steak, then you definitely need to try steak pesto pasta.

The beefiness of steak pairs beautifully with the fresh, salty flavors of the pesto.

Steak is a rich and flavorful meat, but pesto has a rich taste too, so neither will overpower the other, and they will both hold onto their flavors well.

It is best to fry the steak on a stovetop with some olive oil. Make sure to add the steak to the pan when the oil is hot, so you get a good crisp on the outside, and the inside stays juicy and tender.

You can cook the steak to your preference, whether you like it rare, medium-rare, medium, or well-done. Once the steak is cooked, let it rest for up to 10 minutes, and then slice or chop it up to add to the pesto pasta.

A good ratio to work on is adding about ½ cup of pesto to 1 pound of steak, but this can be altered depending on whether you want more pesto or more steak in your pasta.

7. Turkey

If you want to use poultry for your pesto pasta, but are tired of using chicken, then turkey is the next best option, and it goes so well with pesto pasta.

Turkey has a richer flavor than chicken, with earthy, darker notes, but this works well with the aromatic basil and garlic found in pesto, as well as the creaminess from the cheese and olive oil.

The gamier flavor of turkey will also add a different taste to the pesto pasta, and give it a richer taste overall. 

The best way to prepare turkey for pesto pasta is to cook turkey breasts, preferably on the stove, and then chop the breast up into bite-sized pieces to add to the pasta.

You could also use turkey mince too, and cook this up with some olive oil before adding it to the pesto sauce and mixing it in with the pasta.

8. Tuna

Bowl with canned Tuna (detailed close-up shot)

Tuna is possibly the easiest meat option you could choose to add to pesto pasta, as there really is no preparation or cooking involved!

You simply have to open a can of tuna, drain the liquid, and then stir it in with the pesto sauce.

If you wanted to warm the tuna up first, you could place it in a pan with a small amount of the liquid and heat it up on the stove.

You don’t want to heat it up too much so that it becomes dry, so adding some of the liquid from the can does help to keep it moist.

Tuna has a tender texture and a slightly fishy flavor, which is great when paired with the fresh, aromatic flavors of the pesto.

It is not an overwhelming flavor, so it works in balance with the pesto, and it breaks down well to be easy to mix in with the pasta, which makes it easy to eat too.

9. Veal

Veal chop

If you wanted to go with a fancier option for dinner, then veal is definitely worth a try.

Veal is so wonderfully tender, and its rich flavor makes it a great addition to many meals, especially pesto pasta.

The flavor profile of veal pairs really well with the earthy, nutty, and slightly sweet flavor of the pesto — the tenderness of the veal helps bring a good texture to the pesto pasta too.

Cook veal steaks on the stovetop until just done and still tender, let them rest, and slice the steaks up to add to the pesto pasta.

10. Lobster

Lobster is similar to shrimp when added to pesto pasta, with a similar taste and texture, however, lobster is sweeter and meatier than shrimp.

The sweetness of lobster is a great addition to the salty, aromatic flavor of pesto, and the two ingredients balance each other out so well.

When cooking fresh lobster, make sure to cook it till done, but not to overcook it where it becomes chewy and dry. 

There are quite a few options to choose from when using lobster meat. You could cook fresh tails, use frozen lobster, or even buy canned lobster to make it easy.

One thing to remember is that some frozen or canned lobster may have salt added in already, so make sure to account for this when seasoning your pasta.

Chop the lobster up into bite-sized pieces so that you can enjoy the sweet, meaty flavor in each mouthful with your pesto pasta.

Vegetable Options For Pesto Pasta

Preparing fresh roasted mixed vegetables for dinner.

If you want to take a break from meat and choose to enjoy a meat-free pesto pasta, you can use a blend of vegetables to make a delicious dish!

A great option to use for pesto pasta is to make a mix of zucchini, tomatoes, summer squash, and bell peppers.

This makes a tasty and light pasta dish that can be ready in under an hour!

Final Thoughts

There are so many different meat options you could choose to pair with pesto pasta.

Pesto has a great blend of flavors, from the rich, creaminess of the cheese, the fresh, herby flavor of basil, the nutty, earthiness of pine nuts, and the added olive oil.

This blend of flavors makes it an ideal sauce for many different types of meat — whether poultry, seafood, beef, or pork, you can use whichever meat you enjoy, or simply the meat you have ready to use!

Related Questions

Now that we know all about pesto pasta, as well as which meats and vegetables go well with it, here are some additional questions we thought you might have.

Do you eat pesto pasta hot or cold?

Pesto pasta can be enjoyed either hot or cold — it really is up to how you prefer to eat it. It is great served cold on a hot day, but we think it’s best served warm on a chilly evening!

Can you eat pesto straight from the jar?

You can eat pesto straight from the jar, as it does not need to be cooked to be safe to eat.

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