Pesto Spaghetti

Here’s the trick to getting the creamiest pesto spaghetti evenly covered in silky sauce! Make it with homemade or purchased basil pesto for a fast dinner.

Spaghetti pesto

It’s late summer and our basil plant is massive. We’ve got pesto coming out of our ears over here. The best way to make this tasty sauce into a fast and easy dinner? Pesto spaghetti! It’s herby, Parmesan-y, garlicky and always a crowd pleaser. We’ll show you the trick to getting a silky sauce covering all your noodles: no more gummy, dry pesto here! Serve them as is, or top with veggies or shrimp for a fast and easy dinner. Here’s what you need to know to make the best spaghetti pesto around!

Another idea? Try our Easy Pesto Cream Sauce.

How to get the best pesto coverage: pasta water!

Here’s the thing. You can make spaghetti pesto by simply mixing pesto with spaghetti. Ever done this and ended up with dry, gummy pasta? It’s a problem. The nuts and the cheese in the thick pesto sauce cling to the noodles if you don’t give them a little help. Here’s what to do to make the pesto perfectly coat the noodles:

  • Add pasta water! This is a common Italian technique for cooking pasta. You’ll add cheese and then toss it with the pasta water to create a quick sauce. The starchy pasta water makes the perfect thick and creamy sauce. Same goes for pesto! Start with 1/2 cup pasta water, then add more as necessary until the noodles are slick.
  • Toss the noodles and pesto in a bowl: not the pasta pot. The pasta pot is still hot from cooking the pasta. So it can turn the basil brown and stick to the bottom of the pot. So toss the noodles and pesto together in a bowl: it works much better (we picked up that method here).
How to make spaghetti pesto

Spaghetti pesto is best with homemade pesto

It goes without saying that spaghetti pesto tastes the best with homemade pesto. The flavor here is beautifully fresh: and our pesto recipe has lemon for just the right zing! But we get it: basil isn’t always available. If you’re going storebought, go to the next section. But if you do have basil on hand, here are some things to know:

  • Make pesto with any nut you like. Pine nuts, the traditional nut in pesto, can be expensive and hard to find. So you can easily use cashews or walnuts! Here are our best pesto recipes using all three: Basil Pesto, Cashew Pesto, or Walnut Pesto.
  • You can make vegan pesto, too. Nix the Parmesan and you’ve got a dairy-free pesto! Try this Vegan Pesto that uses a secret ingredient.
  • There’s also a nut free option. This Basil Sauce has no nuts or cheese!It’s so oily on its own you don’t need to add pasta water, skip that step if using this one.
Basil pesto

Or, use best quality purchased pesto!

To make this spaghetti pesto an easy weeknight meal, just use storebought pesto! It’s easy to find, but there are a few things to know about purchased pesto:

  • The quality of brands varies greatly: so experiment! All brands vary quite a bit in flavor: some are light and fresh, others can taste stale or dull. Make sure to experiment to find one you like.
  • The salt quantity also varies, so adjust the added salt as needed. After tossing the pesto and spaghetti, add additional salt to taste. With homemade pesto we added 1/4 teaspoon salt, but we change it when we’re using a purchased pesto brand.
Spaghetti pesto

Variations on spaghetti pesto

Once you’ve made your pesto spaghetti, there are lots of tasty adders to make it an even tastier meal. Add other vegetables or proteins to customize your pasta: or different pasta shapes!. Here are a few ideas for how to switch it up:

  • Use different pasta — like bucatini or penne. Bucataini is like hollow spaghetti, and it’s our favorite type of pasta. Or use a short-cut shape like penne, cavatappi or bowties.
  • Sliced cherry tomatoes. Slice them up and they add a beautiful color.
  • Tomatoes & fresh mozzarella chunks. Makes anything better.
  • Raw thin sliced zucchini. It adds a nice crunch!
  • Roasted red peppers. Another easy addition.
  • Shrimp. Try it with Pesto Shrimp to make a full meal.
  • Scallops. Make a fancy meal by adding Pan Seared Scallops.
Spaghetti pesto

Make it a meal: what to serve with pesto pasta

What to serve with spaghetti pesto? This is an especially good question if you’re making this as a vegan or vegetarian dinner idea. It’s important to integrate a source of plant-based protein so that the meal is filling. Here are some options for what to serve as a side dish with pesto pasta:

This spaghetti pesto recipe is…

Vegetarian. For vegan, plant-based, dairy-free, use Vegan Pesto. For gluten-free, try gluten free or legume-based pasta.

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Spaghetti pesto

Spaghetti Pesto


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (6 votes, average: 4.67 out of 5)

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

Description

Here’s the trick to getting the creamiest pesto spaghetti evenly covered in silky sauce! Make it with homemade or purchased basil pesto for a fast dinner.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces spaghetti or bucatini pasta
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup basil pesto*
  • 1/2 cup pasta water, plus more as needed
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 large handful fresh basil leaves, to garnish (optional)
  • Parmesan cheese, to garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. 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). Just before draining, reserve 1 cup pasta water! Then drain the pasta.
  2. Place the pasta in a bowl (not the pasta pot). Stir together the pasta, pesto, and 1/2 cup pasta water, tossing with tongs until the pesto is well distributed and the pasta water forms a creamy sauce. Add more pasta water if desired. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and taste. If the flavor doesn’t pop, add a few more pinches until it does (the salt content in purchased pesto brands varies, as well as the amount of salt you used in the pasta water). Serve immediately.
  3. Store any leftovers refrigerated: note that pesto can get gummy when reheated, so it’s best to eat leftovers cold or room temp.

Notes

*This spaghetti pesto tastes best with homemade pesto! If fresh basil is not available, use your best quality store brand. Brands vary widely especially in salt content, so adjust salt to taste. For vegan, use Vegan Pesto.

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

Keywords: Pesto spaghetti, spaghetti pesto pasta

More recipes with pesto

There are so many great ways to use pesto! Try these pesto recipes:

  • Pesto Pizza Full of big flavor! Top with mozzarella and thin sliced tomatoes and dinner is serve.
  • Pesto Mac and Cheese A swirl of basil pesto brings so much flavor to this classic comfort food! This one features Havarti cheese for ultra creaminess.
  • Pesto Aioli This pesto aioli is full of incredible basil and Parmesan flavor! Use it for dipping French fries or to slather on a burger or sandwich.
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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.

1 Comment

  • Reply
    Karl
    August 8, 2020 at 4:59 pm

    Really tasty recipe here! I love pastas so this one is perfect for me. I made pesto from your recipe once; however, I didn’t have miso so I just didn’t add it. Still it was very nice in taste. I am going to prepare it once again to make this pasta next weekend when my friends are visiting me. I have got a super basil called ‘italian’ from https://gardenseedsmarket.com/bio-basil-italiano-classico-certified-organic-seeds.html. It is much better than the normal one and it really makes the dish more italian! Thanks for this recipe!

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