Pesto Cream Sauce

This 5-minute pesto cream sauce is genius: just simmer pesto and cream until a thick sauce forms! It’s perfect for serving with pasta or fish.

Pesto cream sauce

Here’s a genius kitchen move: 5-minute pesto cream sauce! Did you know you can simmer pesto with cream and it thickens into a sauce? You don’t need to make a roux with butter and flour like a normal cream sauce, watching anxiously to make sure it doesn’t burn. Nope, just throw these two ingredients into a pan and voila! You’ve got a beautiful, bright green sauce that’s full of savory, herby flavor. It’s perfect for pasta, and even better drizzled over salmon or grilled fish. Here’s the quick and easy method: then memorize it and make it on repeat.

Ingredients for pesto cream sauce

Pesto cream sauce is literally two ingredients, plus salt. (If you’re a purist, you’d call that three ingredients. We get it.) In fact, the ingredients are so simple, the name of the recipe tells it tall. Here’s what you need for pesto cream sauce:

  • Basil pesto
  • Heavy cream
  • Salt
Basil pesto

The pesto to use

Homemade pesto is best! This recipe was born out of the mountain of fresh basil we had from our backyard basil plant. Traditional pesto uses pine nuts, but they can be expensive and harder to find at the grocery. We love making pesto with other nuts, like Cashew Pesto and Walnut Pesto.

Otherwise, grab your favorite purchased brand. If you use store-bought pesto, keep in mind that there’s lots of variation in the different brands. Make sure to find a high quality brand with a light, fresh flavor (some can be dull and flat).

How to make pesto cream sauce

How to make pesto cream sauce…in 5 minutes!

Yes, all you need is 5 minutes for this easy recipe! In fact, you barely need to even cook. Here’s what to do:

  • Place the ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat.
  • Stir occasionally and heat until the sauce starts to thicken, about 3 to 4 minutes. Just when it starts to bubble, it will start to become thick and glossy.
  • Here’s the important part: Immediately remove it from the heat once it thickens! Otherwise it can start to brown and become very sticky.

Can you make a healthy cream sauce with milk?

Great question! In fact, our standard Parmesan Cream Sauce recipe is made with milk instead of heavy cream. Heavy cream is high in calories, so we wouldn’t call this a health food. It’s more of a summertime treat made with your favorite pesto.

But, you can lighten it up with milk! Use the same quantity whole milk or 2% milk. The sauce won’t be nearly as rich, but it will still taste great.

Pesto cavatappi
Pesto cream sauce is great with cavatappi

How to serve pesto cream sauce with pasta

This pesto cream sauce recipe makes enough for 1 cup of sauce, enough to cover 8 ounces of pasta. You might find that it can work with more pasta: we just like ours to be good and saucy. You can use any type of pasta noodle, from long noodles like linguine and bucatini to short noodles like penne and cavatappi. Here are a few things to note about serving it with pasta:

  • Toss it together in a bowl. Just like with our pesto spaghetti, we like tossing pesto and pasta in a bowl instead of the hot pasta pot. The pasta can get too sticky and dry in a pasta pot.
  • Don’t add pasta water. With our pesto pasta recipes, we usually add a little pasta water to make a slick sauce to coat the pasta. You don’t have to do that here, because the pesto is already watered down with the cream.
  • After adding pesto cream sauce, add salt to taste. The salt level you need will depend on the pesto you use and how much you salted the pasta water before cooking (we recommend to liberally salt the water). Taste the pasta and then add just enough kosher salt until it pops.

This sauce would also be great with seafood like Baked Salmon or Pan Seared Scallops.

More recipes with pesto

Are you pesto crazed like we are? Good. Here are some of our top recipes that use pesto, most of them inspired by a load of summer basil:

  • Pesto Spaghetti Here’s the trick to getting the creamiest pesto spaghetti evenly covered in silky sauce! A fast and easy dinner.
  • Pesto Shrimp Savory basil pesto is a natural pairing with juicy shrimp; serve with pasta or rice for an easy dinner idea.
  • Pesto Mac and Cheese A swirl of basil pesto brings so much flavor to this classic comfort food!
  • Pesto Pizza Top our famous pizza dough with basil pesto and thinly sliced tomatoes.
Pesto cream sauce

This pesto cream sauce recipe is…

Vegetarian and gluten-free.

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Pesto cream sauce

Easy Pesto Cream Sauce


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (6 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cup (enough for 8 ounces pasta) 1x
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Description

This 5-minute pesto cream sauce is genius: just simmer pesto and cream until a thick sauce forms! It’s perfect for serving with pasta or fish.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup basil pesto
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream*
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  1. Place all ingredients in a saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until it just starts to thicken, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat. Makes 1 cup, enough for 8 ounces of pasta. Mix it into pasta in a bowl, then add additional salt to taste.

Notes

*For a lower calorie version of this sauce, substitute whole or 2% milk.

  • Category: Sauce
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian

Keywords: Pesto cream sauce, Easy pasta sauce

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.

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