Pesto Pasta

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If you’re a fan of pasta and love the bright, fresh flavors of basil pesto, you’re going to be obsessed with this Pesto Pasta! It’s incredibly delicious, and also surprisingly easy to make. With just a few simple ingredients and less than 20 minutes, you can have a restaurant-quality pasta dish on your table!

Whether you’re looking for a quick and easy weeknight meal or an impressive dinner party dish, this vegetarian Pesto Pasta is sure to become a new favorite in your recipe arsenal. So, let’s dive in and see just how easy it is to make!

Overhead image of Pesto Pasta in a bowl

This easy Pesto Pasta is part of our Back-To-School Lifesavers — a series of recipes that are intended to have little (or no) veggie chopping, minimal prep time, around 10 ingredients or less (not including pantry staples), and use kid-friendly ingredients. Click here to see all the recipes in the series!

The Quickest Pasta Dish Ever!

Pesto Pasta is not only delicious but also incredibly quick and easy to make. With just a few simple steps, you can have a restaurant-quality dish that tastes like it took hours to prepare.

Using a good quality pesto, whether packaged or homemade, is the key to achieving a rich, flavorful sauce that tastes like it came straight from an Italian restaurant. The pasta is cooked al dente and tossed in the pesto sauce along with reserved pasta cooking water to create a luscious and creamy consistency.

Plus, this recipe is easily customizable to your preferences. You can add in your favorite veggies or protein, or swap out the penne pasta for any other pasta shape you have on hand. The leftovers can also be easily reheated for a quick and satisfying meal throughout the week.

Ingredient shot-- image of the two ingredients used in this dish

Let’s Talk Pesto

Let’s talk about pesto, the star of this two-ingredient recipe. To ensure your finished dish is bursting with flavor, it’s crucial to use a high-quality pesto.

You can of course make your own pesto, and if you choose that option, you’ve got to try my Pesto Recipe (it’s the best I’ve ever tried!).

BUT– if you’re looking to save some time (this dish is in our series of quick and simple recipes after all!), I recommend picking up a refrigerated, freshly-made basil pesto from your local grocery store. Look for it near the refrigerated fresh pasta and gourmet cheese. Personally, I love Rana’s® Basil Pesto but feel free to use your favorite brand.

Although fresh-made pesto can be pricey, it’s definitely worth it; a little goes a long way to add loads of flavor to many dishes. Plus, it lasts for a good amount of time in the refrigerator, so you can use it for multiple meals.

And don’t limit yourself to using pesto exclusively in pasta dishes! It’s a versatile ingredient that can add a pop of flavor to sandwiches, pizzas, soups, and so much more. Consider adding some leftover pesto to some of our favorite quick-and-easy dishes like: 

Process shots of Pesto Pasta-- images of the pesto being drained and then the pesto being added to a bowl along with the pasta

Now, For The Pasta

As a true Pesto Pasta aficionado, I’ve tried this dish with every pasta shape imaginable, and I can confidently say that nothing beats penne. The tube-shaped pasta perfectly captures the rich, creamy pesto sauce, creating an unbeatable flavor and texture combination that’s hard to resist.

That said, my second favorite is thin spaghetti. Although any pasta will work, using penne will truly up your pesto pasta game. Trust me, it’s worth it!

When it comes to choosing the pasta brand, I do believe that a little splurge is worth it. In my humble opinion, the name-brand pasta is much better than the store brand, and it can make a noticeable difference in the final taste and texture of the dish.

Process shots-- images of the dish being tossed together with pasta water

How To Make Pesto Pasta (Tips)

  • Reserve some pasta water: One of the secrets to making great Italian pasta dishes (including this recipe) is adding in a bit of reserved pasta cooking water. It’s a simple yet essential step that makes all the difference in achieving the perfect texture and consistency of the sauce. By adding a small amount of starchy water to the pasta and pesto, you can create a creamy, silky texture that clings to the pasta, making it more flavorful and less oily. See “quick tip” box below.
  • Toss the pesto and pasta in a separate bowl: It’s important to toss the pesto and pasta in a separate bowl rather than the pot you used to cook the pasta. The residual heat from the pot can brown the pesto and change its flavor, resulting in a bitter taste. Use a separate bowl to ensure the pesto stays fresh and vibrant.
  • Customize the recipe: While this recipe is delicious as is, you can customize it to your tastes. Add some grilled chicken or shrimp for extra protein, or some cherry tomatoes and roasted vegetables for a pop of color and nutrients.
  • Don’t forget to season the water with plenty of salt before adding in the pasta; otherwise, the entire recipe will taste under-seasoned. As a general rule of thumb, I add 1 teaspoon of salt per four cups of water.

QUICK TIP

Do you struggle to remember to save some of the water before draining the pasta? I know I do! Here’s a trick: Place the colander in the sink with a mug or heat-safe measuring cup in the center. When you go to drain the pasta, you’ll see the mug and be reminded to pull out some water first!

Up-close overhead image of the Pesto Pasta ready to be enjoyed

Is Pesto a Healthy Sauce?

Pesto can be a nutritious sauce option when made with fresh ingredients like basil, pine nuts, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. It contains heart-healthy fats, antioxidants, and vitamins.

Do You Add Pesto To Hot Or Cold Pasta?

For this recipe, we add pesto to the hot pasta right after it’s cooked. The heat from the pasta helps the pesto sauce loosen up and coat the pasta evenly. 

You can also add it to cold pasta for a pesto pasta salad!

How Do You Use Pesto From A Jar?

To use pesto from a container, simply scoop out the desired amount of pesto and add it to a large bowl. No other preparation required! Easy peasy! 

Overhead image of the dish in a bowl ready to be enjoyed

What Goes With Pesto Pasta

There are many options for what to serve alongside Pesto Pasta. Here are a few ideas:

QUICK TIP

Are you confused about whether to use antipasto, antipasti, or antipasta when referring to Italian foods? Antipasto is singular and relates to one portion; antipasti is plural and relates to multiple portions. And antipasta is an incorrect word that really has no meaning.

More Quick Pasta Recipes:

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Pesto Pasta

5 from 2 votes
If you're a fan of pasta and love the bright, fresh flavors of basil pesto, you're going to be obsessed with this Pesto Pasta! It's incredibly delicious and surprisingly easy to make. With just a few simple ingredients and less than 20 minutes, you can have a restaurant-quality pasta dish on your table!
Print Recipe

Pesto Pasta

5 from 2 votes
If you're a fan of pasta and love the bright, fresh flavors of basil pesto, you're going to be obsessed with this Pesto Pasta! It's incredibly delicious and surprisingly easy to make. With just a few simple ingredients and less than 20 minutes, you can have a restaurant-quality pasta dish on your table!
Course Dinner, lunch, Main Course
Cuisine Healthy, Italian, Vegetarian
Keyword pesto pasta
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Chelsea Lords
Calories 661kcal
Cost $6.12

Ingredients

  • 1 cup basil pesto (packaged or homemade--Note 1)
  • 1 pound (16 oz) penne pasta plus pasta cooking water
  • Fine sea salt & pepper
  • Optional, but recommended: lots of fresh lemon, Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  • PASTA: Bring a large pot of water to boil. Once boiling, add 1 tbsp fine sea salt. Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente. Before draining, scoop out and reserve about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain pasta, shake off excess water, but do not rinse under cold water.
  • PESTO: Meanwhile, prepare pesto if making homemade. Measure out one full cup and add to a large ceramic/glass bowl (do not return to the hot pot--the pesto could brown). Once the pasta is cooked and drained, dump it on top of the pesto in the bowl. Drizzle on 1/2 cup pasta cooking water and use tongs to toss the pasta in the pesto. Continue to toss until the pasta is evenly coated. Add more pasta water if needed to make it cohesive and creamy.
  • ENJOY: Season to taste with salt and pepper; serve immediately topped with Parmesan cheese. We like to get a block of Parmesan and grate it finely with a microplane. Lots of lemon on top is also delicious if you're into that sort of thing! Enjoy!

Video

Recipe Notes

Note 1: Pesto: To make sure your pesto pasta is bursting with flavor,  use a high-quality pesto. You can of course make your own pesto, and if you choose that option, you've got to try my pesto recipe (it's the best I've ever tried!).
  • BUT-- if you’re looking to save some time (this dish is in our series of quick recipes, after all), I recommend picking up a refrigerated, freshly-made basil pesto from your local grocery store. Look for it near the refrigerated fresh pasta and gourmet cheese. Rana's® Basil Pesto is hands-down our fave.
Note 2: Storage: To store leftover Pesto Pasta, transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate it for up to five days. When reheating, warm the pasta on low heat in a skillet and gradually add water to the sauce until the desired consistency is reached. Alternatively, reheat the pasta in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds. Add more salt if needed, and consider squeezing fresh lemon juice for extra flavor. Keep in mind that every day it's stored, the pasta will become slightly drier and less saucy.

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 661kcal | Carbohydrates: 90g | Protein: 18g | Fat: 25g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 5mg | Sodium: 587mg | Potassium: 253mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 1250IU | Calcium: 124mg | Iron: 2mg

We do our best to provide accurate nutritional analysis for our recipes. Our nutritional data is calculated using a third-party algorithm and may vary, based on individual cooking styles, measurements, and ingredient sizes. Please use this information for comparison purposes and consult a health professional for nutrition guidance as needed.

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2 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Cant wait to make this and your pesto recipe soon for me i love pesto and pasta sooooooooo much i never had pesto pasta before perfect for my after office meals love your recipes as always brightens up my day everyday after work

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