Pesto Pasta

The best recipes are the simplest. Pesto pasta with homemade basil pesto, al dente noodles and a sprinkle of Parmesan? Perfection.

Pesto pasta

The best recipes are the simplest, in our minds. Don’t get us wrong, Alex and I love to master things like the best margherita pizza and artisan sourdough bread. But the simplicity of pesto pasta with homemade basil pesto, ripe juicy tomatoes, and a splash of cream can’t be beat. With seasonal ingredients, it will always, always taste beautiful and fresh. And that’s something we can’t get tired of! So excuse us if this recipe is simple. We promise it will blow your mind every time. Ready for some basil pesto pasta? Let’s get cooking.

Start with homemade basil pesto!

For the very best pesto pasta you can make at home, you’ve got to start with homemade basil pesto sauce! Of course, you can use your favorite purchased brand of pesto too. But making your own at home takes the flavor to new heights. To make basil pesto, you’ll need a food processor or mortal and pestle. You also can use a small blender.

For the homemade basil pesto, you’ll need 1 cup of fresh basil leaves. It’s best if you’re growing it at home, but if you’ve got to purchase it, that’s ok too! (By the way: if you’re looking to grow basil at home, here’s all you need to know about How to Grow Basil. It is well worth your time!) For the recipe, we’ve got several different pesto recipe options for you:

Pesto sauce pasta

How to make pesto pasta

Once you’ve got your pesto ingredients, this recipe is a breeze to make! Here’s how to make basil pesto pasta:

  • Make homemade basil pesto: In a food processor, blend the fresh basil leaves, nuts (pine nuts or cashews), Parmesan cheese, garlic, fresh lemon juice, salt, and olive oil. Blend until a creamy sauce forms.
  • Boil the pasta: Start a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente (tender but still a bit firm), then reserve a bit of the pasta water and drain.
  • Add pesto and pasta water: Add the pasta back to the pot. Stir in the pesto sauce, a bit of the pasta water, and some sliced cherry tomatoes. Season with kosher salt to taste.

Love pesto? Try our Best Recipes with Pesto!

Basil pesto pasta

Vegan variation for pesto pasta!

How to make this recipe vegan? If you eat a plant based diet, we’ve got your back! Here’s what to do to make this into a vegan pesto pasta: make our Easy Vegan Pesto instead! This recipe uses a secret ingredient that you might not expect to substitute for the Parmesan cheese. Head over to that recipe to see the tips to making seriously good plant-based pesto.

More variations: use any type of noodle!

You can use any type of pasta for this pesto pasta: because pesto goes with anything! Here are some of our favorite pasta noodles to try.

  • Bucatini: It’s like a hollow spaghetti! It’s our favorite long noodle
  • Linguine: Another nice long noodle to try, that’s a little thicker
  • Cavatappi: These corkscrew shaped noodles are perfect for trapping pesto sauce
  • Penne: Penne is always a winner!
  • Gemelli: Another fun shape that’s like twisted twin tubes
Pesto cavatappi
Try pesto on cavatppi!

How to cook pasta to al dente

When Alex and I visited Italy on our honeymoon, we tasted pasta that was truly al dente for the first time. And it was mind blowing! This wasn’t the limp, gooey stuff we were used to tasting in the US. The pasta was firm enough that you had to really bite through each piece: making it infinitely more satisfying. When we returned home, we knew we had to figure out how to do this for ourselves.

Interestingly, we’ve found that many of the package directions on pasta call for cooking it much too long! To cook pasta to al dente, follow these tips:

  • Start taste testing a few minutes before the package instructions indicate to. The pasta should be tender, but still firm on the inside so that it has a little bite.
  • Some chefs say that you should see a tiny bit of white on the inside of the pasta, others say it should have just disappeared. Either way, you’ll want to catch it just in that moment.
  • Stay vigilant: pasta can go from al dente to overcooked in minutes!

PS If you’re ever in the mood for a killer pasta sauce that’s long simmered but mostly hands off: try our vodka sauce! It’s creamy and full of amazing flavor.

This pesto pasta recipe is…

Vegetarian. For vegan, plant-based, and dairy-free, follow the notes in the recipe. For gluten-free, use gluten-free pasta.

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Spaghetti pesto

Pesto Pasta


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (10 votes, average: 4.60 out of 5)

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 3 to 4 servings 1x

Description

The best recipes are the simplest. Pesto pasta with homemade basil pesto, al dente noodles and a sprinkle of Parmesan? Perfection.


Scale

Ingredients


Instructions

  1. Make the pesto: Best Basil PestoVegan Cashew PestoCashew Pesto, or Walnut Pesto.
  2. Heat a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, checking for doneness a few minutes before the package instructions indicate (the pasta should be tender but still slightly firm).
  3. When the pasta is done, reserve about 1 cup pasta water. Then drain it and add it to a large bowl. Toss the pasta with the pesto, pasta water, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and stir until evenly coated. Taste and add additional salt or pasta water if needed (the exact amount depends on the pesto and your pasta water, so it will vary — salt until the flavor pops!). Stir in tomatoes if using. Serve immediately.

Notes

*This quantity makes 3 to 4 modest servings, so you may need to double based on your eaters hunger level.

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

Keywords: Pesto pasta, Best pesto pasta, Basil pesto pasta, Pesto sauce pasta

Looking for more pasta recipes?

This basil pesto pasta is super classico and one of our favorite pasta dinner ideas ever. But, we’ve got lots more that have become fan favorites! Here are some of our best pasta recipes:

Last updated: August 2020

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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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