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Craving a simple and satisfying pasta dish? Dive into this pesto cavatappi recipe, bursting with fresh herby flavor and ready in just minutes. Whether you’re using homemade or store-bought pesto, this dish is sure to become part of your easy dinner ideas playlist.

Pesto cavatappi
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Corkscrew-shaped cavatappi is one of our favorite pasta shapes and goes hand in hand with herby basil pesto. This pesto cavatappi recipe is a tasty way to enjoy them both that everyone around the table will love! You’ll make a quick and easy pesto cream sauce, then drench the curly noodles and add a few handfuls of shredded Parmesan cheese.

Why we love this recipe: It’s simple, but it’s got mighty big flavor! The creamy pesto sauce is savory, salty, and herbaceous: perfect for making these curly al dente noodles absolutely irresistible. It comes together in about 20 minutes, and we’ve got a vegan version too. Here’s how to make it!

How to make pesto cavatappi (step by step)

The main method for this pesto cavatappi stars our pesto cream sauce. It’s just 2 ingredients (plus salt)! As long as you have your pesto ready to go, it’s a breeze to make. Here’s what to know about how to make pesto cavatappi:

Pesto cavatappi Step 1: Make the basil pesto.

Step 1: Make the basil pesto in advance (or try our purchased options noted below).

Pesto cavatappi Step 2: Boil the pasta.

Step 2: Boil the pasta in salted water until it is just al dente. Start tasting a few minutes before the package recommends: you want it to be tender but still a little firm on the inside; usually around 7 to 8 minutes.

Pesto Cream Sauce

Step 3: While the pasta cooks, simmer pesto with heavy cream. All you need is 3 to 4 minutes! The pesto thickens into a beautiful bright green sauce.

Step 4: Once the pasta is done, drain it and combine the two in a bowl. We like doing this instead of the pasta pot, which can make the pasta gummy. Then add a few pinches of salt until the flavor is well seasoned, but not salty. You’ll need a different amount every time, depending on the brand of pesto you’re using (or homemade!), and how much salt you added to the pasta water.

Pesto cavatappi on plate with Parmesan garnish.

Alternative: pesto cavatappi without the cream

Don’t want to cook with heavy cream? To be honest, we don’t often have heavy cream on hand. Here’s a method that works without the cream (or go to Pesto Spaghetti instead).

  • Reserve some pasta water right before draining the pasta. Pasta water is the key to helping the pasta to coat the noodles with a slick sauce! Otherwise, the pesto gets gummy and dry and sticks to the noodles.
  • Combine the same amount of pesto with the pasta and ½ cup pasta water. Toss until it’s fully combined into a sauce that coats all the noodles.
  • Add salt until the flavor pops. You’ll need a little extra salt to make the flavors sing.
Basil pesto in measuring cup.

Vegan variation: use vegan pesto

You can also make this a vegan pesto cavatappi recipe! If you eat a plant-based diet, you’ll know that pesto contains Parmesan. How to make it without that super savory ingredient?

Well, we’ve got a secret for you. You can use…miso paste! Yes, this traditional Japanese ingredient is a great substitute for cheese. Go to our Vegan Pesto recipe.

Homemade vs purchased pesto

Pesto cavatappi tastes and looks best with homemade basil pesto. It’s not always possible to have fresh basil and time to make pesto homemade. So if you’re using purchased pesto, here’s what to keep in mind:

  • Homemade pesto has the best flavor and bright green color. Make a batch of Basil Pesto if you can. Or try Arugula Pesto or Kale Pesto, which have a slightly spicier flavor.
  • Our top choice for store-bought is refrigerated fresh pesto from the produce section. This type of pesto, often sold in tubes, tends to have better flavor than pesto in jars.
  • Jarred pesto brands vary greatly in flavor—and a spritz of lemon juice can help! Each brand is different: some taste very bitter and acidic, which can overwhelm a dish. Experiment to find a brand you love! Adding a spritz of fresh lemon juice can help to improve the flavor, and you can add more to taste depending on your pesto brand.

We don’t have a favorite pesto brand to recommend, though we’ve tried many. Share your favorite brand in the comments below if you have one!

Pesto cavatappi recipe.

What to serve with pesto cavatappi

This pesto cavatappi is a little rich, so it begs a fresh and light counterpart! It’s especially nice for a meal if you have a few other filing sides so you can cut down on the portion of pasta you eat. Here are a few ideas for side dishes to make it into a healthy dinner:

Dietary notes

This pesto cavatappi recipe is vegetarian. For vegan, see the notes above. For gluten-free, use gluten-free or legume pasta.

Frequently asked questions

What is cavatappi pasta?

Cavatappi is a spiral-shaped pasta that’s perfect for holding onto thick, flavorful sauces like pesto. Its fun shape is also a hit with kids!

Can I use store-bought pesto?

You can, though the flavor varies based on brand. Our top choice for store-bought is refrigerated fresh pesto from the produce section. 

Can I use a different type of pasta?

Yes! If you don’t have cavatappi on hand, feel free to use other pasta shapes like rigatoni, fusilli, rotini, or even penne.

Is this dish vegetarian?

Yes, the basic pesto cavatappi recipe is vegetarian. If you’re using store-bought pesto, double-check the ingredients to ensure it doesn’t contain any animal products.

Can I add other vegetables to this dish?

Roasted, grilled, or sauteed vegetables like zucchini, cherry tomatoes, or asparagus would pair well with the pesto and cavatappi.

What cheese should I use for this dish?

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese is a classic choice for pesto pasta. You can also try Pecorino Romano for a sharper flavor.

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Pesto cavatappi

Pesto Cavatappi


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  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 3 to 4 small servings 1x

Description

Pesto cavatappi is a fast and easy dinner recipe that’s full of big flavor! The pesto cream sauce comes together in minutes.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 8 ounces cavatappi pasta*
  • ½ cup basil pesto
  • ¾ cup heavy cream**
  • Kosher salt
  • Shredded Parmesan cheese, for serving

Instructions

  1. Make the pasta: Start a pot of well-salted water to a boil. Boil the pasta until it is just al dente. Start tasting a few minutes before the package recommends: you want it to be tender but still a little firm on the inside; usually around 7 to 8 minutes. Drain and place the pasta in a bowl.
  2. Meanwhile, make the pesto cream sauce: Place the pesto, heavy cream, and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt in a saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until it just starts to thicken, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  3. Serve: When the pasta is done, add it with the sauce. Taste and add a few pinches more salt until the flavor pops. (Refrigerate any leftovers; they can become gummy when reheated, so eat at room temperature.)

Notes

*This makes modest portions; if you’ve got hungry eaters, you may want to double the recipe.

*If you prefer not using cream, use the instructions in Pesto Spaghetti. For a vegan option, use Vegan Pesto and follow the the instructions in Pesto Spaghetti.

  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Diet: Vegetarian

More pesto pasta recipes

Want more recipes with pesto and pasta? Try these variations:

  • Pesto Mac and Cheese A swirl of basil pesto brings so much flavor to this classic comfort food! Also features Havarti cheese for ultra creaminess.
  • Shrimp Pesto Pasta An impressively fast and easy dinner recipe! Cover the noodles in glistening green basil pesto for a meal that pleases everyone.
  • Vegan Pesto Pasta This killer vegan pesto pasta gets big flavor from emerald green basil pesto, ripe cherry tomatoes, and a drizzle of olive oil.
  • Pesto Pasta The best recipes are the simplest. Pesto pasta with homemade basil pesto, al dente noodles and a sprinkle of Parmesan? Perfection.
  • Spaghetti Squash with Pesto This easy spaghetti squash recipe dresses up the squash “noodles” with pesto and Parmesan!

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes for memorable kitchen moments! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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