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Pesto Pasta


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When you’re looking for a simple dinner recipe with impressive results, this Pesto Pasta is sure to be a winner. It’s perfect for serving alfresco on a warm summer evening with a crisp salad and a glass of wine.

Pesto pasta with pine nuts, parmesan and basil served on a plate.

If you asked me for a list of my favorite easy dinner recipes, this pesto pasta would be right up near the top. Is there anything more comforting than a plate of pasta tossed with luscious pesto sauce? I don’t think so. Along with the pesto and noodles, this easy pasta recipe has toasted pine nuts and grated Parmesan cheese, to really enhance the nutty, cheesy flavors of the pesto sauce. I also highly recommend garnishing it with a pinch of red pepper flakes and some fresh basil to really make the flavors pop!

The secret to making the best pesto pasta is to reserve some of the pasta cooking water to help create the sauce. The starch in the water will help the pesto to coat the pasta evenly, so that every bite boasts pesto’s signature nutty, garlicky, cheesy flavor. I also highly recommend making your own homemade pesto. This Pesto Recipe is easy to make in just 10 minutes, and the flavor is so much better than store-bought.

Pesto Pasta Recipe Ingredients

Ingredients for pesto pasta recipe.

The ingredient list for this pasta recipe is short and simple!

  • Spaghetti: Or substitute your favorite pasta. Use either long pasta, such as spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine or bucatini, or short pasta shapes such as penne, rigatoni, rotini, gemelli or cavatappi.
  • Pesto Sauce: Pesto is the star of the show here, so be sure to use a good pesto sauce. Use a classic basil pesto or try Kale Pesto Pasta or Spinach Pesto Pasta.
  • Toasted Pine Nuts: The pine nuts add a rich nutty, buttery flavor to the dish. Toasting them in a skillet on the stove takes just a few minutes and enhances their flavor.
  • Parmesan Cheese: Just about any pasta dish tastes even better with a sprinkle of Parmesan! Since Parmesan is also an ingredient in the pesto sauce, we’re doubling up on its cheesy, salty flavor.
  • Red Pepper Flakes: Crushed red pepper flakes add a bit of heat and really make the flavors pop. If you are sensitive to spice you can omit them.
  • Fresh Basil: Garnishing the pasta with chopped fresh basil accentuates the fresh, herby flavor of the pesto sauce. 

How to Make Pesto Pasta

  1. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water according to the package directions. When the pasta is done, reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and then drain the pasta into a colander. Don’t rinse it! You want the starch to linger on the pasta, as it will help the pesto to cling to the noodles. Transfer the pasta to a clean bowl or pot.
  2. To the pasta, add about 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water along with the pesto sauce, adding a little bit of pesto at a time, stirring after each addition until well combined. Add more of the cooking water as needed if the sauce seems too thick or dry, or isn’t evenly coating the pasta. Stirring pesto into cooked spaghetti in multiple additions.
  3. Serve, topped with toasted pine nuts and grated Parmesan. If desired, add a pinch of red pepper flakes and some chopped fresh basil.

Spaghetti tossed with pesto sauce in pot.

Recipe Tips

  • Be sure to reserve some of the pasta cooking water before draining the pasta. The starchy water will mix with the pesto to create a looser sauce.
  • Drain the pasta but don’t rinse it. Rinsing it would keep the pesto sauce from sticking to the pasta as well.
  • Toss the pasta with the pesto in a bowl or clean pot. Don’t use the pasta cooking pot – since it’s hot it will melt the cheese in the pesto and the pesto will stick to the pot. It’s worth dirtying another dish to not lose any of that precious pesto sauce!
  • Add the pesto in a few parts, stirring after each addition, to evenly distribute it throughout the pasta.
  • To make this recipe come together even faster, you can make the pesto ahead of time. It will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about 5 days. Pour a thin layer of olive oil over the top of the pesto to minimize contact with the air and preserve the bright green color. You can also freeze pesto in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

Close up of pesto pasta twirled around a fork.

What to Serve with Pesto Pasta

Complete your Italian menu with one or two of these easy side dishes:

Recipe Variations

This basic recipe can be dressed up in different ways to fit your tastes. 

  • Add Veggies: Stir in chopped fresh spinach, cherry or grape tomatoes, roasted tomatoes or sun dried tomatoes.
  • Add Protein: Top the pasta with Grilled Chicken, Baked Chicken or Poached Chicken. Or add salmon (try this Grilled Salmon or Air Fryer Salmon).
  • Add Lemon: A squeeze of fresh lemon juice brightens up the flavors.
  • Make it Creamy: Stir a few tablespoons of heavy cream into the pesto before tossing it with the pasta.

More Favorite Pasta Recipes

This pesto pasta is one of my very favorite meals, ranking right up there with Homemade Lasagna. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Serving of pesto pasta on a white plate.

Pesto Pasta

Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword pesto pasta
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time25 mins
Servings 6 servings
Calories 478kcal
This Pesto Pasta is easy to make and so flavorful! Learn how to make the best pesto pasta in less than 30 minutes. Use basil pesto or your favorite pesto; see the recipe variations in the post above to make it creamy or add chicken or salmon.

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces spaghetti (or your favorite pasta)
  • 1 cup basil pesto sauce*
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
  • grated Parmesan cheese (for serving)
  • crushed red pepper flakes (optional, for serving)
  • chopped fresh basil (optional, for garnish)

Instructions 

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Once the pasta is done, reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Then drain the pasta into a colander (do not rinse). Transfer the pasta to a clean bowl or pot (not the hot pasta cooking pot).
  • To the pasta, add about 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water along with the pesto sauce, adding a little bit of the pesto at a time, stirring until well combined after each addition. If the sauce seems too thick or is not coating the pasta well, add more pasta cooking water 1-2 tablespoons at a time, until the pesto evenly coats the pasta without seeming dry.
  • Serve pesto pasta topped with toasted pine nuts and grated Parmesan cheese. If desired, add a pinch of red pepper flakes for heat and a bit of chopped fresh basil. Enjoy!

Notes

  • This Pesto Recipe makes just the right amount of pesto for the pesto pasta.

Nutrition

Calories: 478kcal | Carbohydrates: 60g | Protein: 13g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 3mg | Sodium: 391mg | Potassium: 202mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 835IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 83mg | Iron: 2mg
Nutrition information is an estimate.
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