Pesto Pasta

July 30, 2022

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Homemade Pesto Pasta that’s overflowing with flavor! It’s made with hearty spaghetti and a generous coating of herbaceous, fresh basil pesto sauce. Then it’s finished with sharp aged parmesan and rich pine nuts for a toasty crunch.

Homemade pesto tossed with spaghetti pasta in a large white serving bowl set over a wooden platter.

A Saucy Pesto Pasta Recipe!

This pasta dish is proof that it doesn’t take much to build up dramatic flavor and create a company-worthy dish.

This is one of my favorite ways to make pasta. It’s so vibrantly flavorful, it tastes unbelievable fresh, and pesto makes a nutritious pasta sauce choice.

And if you are lucky to have any left the next day it makes an excellent lunch, which doesn’t even need to be reheated by the way. Just thin it with a little olive oil and it’s like a pesto pasta salad.

Pesto pasta is also very versatile. This is just the base recipe, then from there there are so many different ways you can transform it (see list of ideas below).

I think this easily deserves a spot on the weekly lunch or dinner menu. Especially if you have access to an abundance of fresh basil during summer – it’s the best way to use it up!

Close up photo of pesto pasta.

Pesto Pasta Recipe Ingredients

  • 12 oz. dry spaghetti
  • Salt
  • 3 cups (slightly packed, 65g) fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup grated (35g) parmesan
  • 1/4 cup (36g) pine nuts (toasted or raw)
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup pasta water, divided

Equipment Needed

  • For this recipe you’ll need a food processor.
  • I use this 7-cup food processor.
  • If you don’t have a food processor you can try mincing by hand like this method here.

Photo of ingredients used to make homemade pesto pasta.

How to Make Pesto Pasta

  • Cook spaghetti in salted water to al dente according to package directions. Before draining be sure to reserve the 1/2 cup pasta water.
  • Make pesto sauce: To a 7-cup food processor add basil leaves, parmesan, pine nuts and garlic. Cover with lid and pulse in short bursts until finely minced.
  • Scrape down food processor. Cover, then with food processor running pour olive oil in through the feed tube of the lid. Don’t over-process, just blend.
  • Season with salt to taste.
  • Drain pasta, reserving some pasta water: Drain pasta once al dente then add to a large serving bowl. Pour in 1/4 cup pasta water and toss. Let it cool 1 – 2 minutes.
  • Toss pasta and pesto: Add all of the pesto and toss. Thin with up to 1/4 cup more pasta water as desired and garnish with more parmesan and pine nuts if desired.

Collage of two photos showing pesto ingredients in a food processor before and after blending.

Photos of pasta being boiled in a pot then being tossed with fresh homemade pesto in a bowl.

Possible Recipe Variations

Other great ways to make this include:

  • Add grilled chicken or rotisserie chicken, or cooked shrimp for protein.
  • Include some roasted vegetables (tossing right into the pasta).
  • Add fresh or roasted grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes (halved).
  • Toss in fresh mozzarella pearls.
  • Substitute other nuts such as walnuts or slivered almonds.
  • Try it with various pastas. Such as different cuts (penne, farfelle, rotini, campanelle, orzo, etc.), fresh pasta (you’ll need a greater weight), or pasta with a different grain base such as whole wheat, rice, lentil or chick pea pasta.
  • Or substitute tortellini, ravioli or gnocchi.

Helpful Tips

  • Use the best quality ingredients. Good really fresh basil is key, go for a real parmesan, and don’t use cheap olive oil.
  • Don’t over-process the pesto. Just finely mince the basil. You don’t want a paste.
  • Season the boiling water with salt to build up it’s flavor (right when it reaches boiling point). Otherwise the pasta can taste bland.
  • Using pasta water in the dish is key. It helps thin the sauce and also acts as a good binder with it’s starchiness.
  • SO, don’t forget to save that pasta water. One thing that got me in the habit of remembering to do this was to place a liquid measuring cup in the colander in the sink when I started the recipe. Then I’d remove the measuring cup before I’d drain the pasta and in doing so would remember I needed some pasta water saved.

Overhead photo of pesto pasta garnished with basil leaves and toasted pine nuts.

More Enjoyable Pesto Recipes to Try

Pesto Pasta

It's made with hearty spaghetti and a generous coating of herbaceous, fresh basil pesto sauce. Then it's finished with sharp, aged parmesan and rich pine nuts for a toasty crunch.
Servings: 6
Prep15 minutes
Cook10 minutes
Ready in: 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 12 oz. dry spaghetti
  • Salt, to taste
  • 3 cups (slightly packed, 65g) fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup finely shredded (35g) parmesan, plus more for serving if desired
  • 1/4 cup (36g) pine nuts (toasted or raw), plus more for serving if desired
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup pasta water, divided

Instructions

  • Cook spaghetti in salted water to al dente according to package directions. Before draining be sure to reserve the 1/2 cup pasta water.
  • To a 7-cup food processor add basil leaves, parmesan, pine nuts and garlic. Cover with lid and pulse in short bursts until finely minced.
  • Scrape down food processor. Cover, then with food processor running pour olive oil in through the feed tube of the lid. Don't over-process, just blend.
  • Season with salt to taste.
  • Drain pasta once al dente then add to a large serving bowl. Pour in 1/4 cup pasta water and toss. Let it cool 1 - 2 minutes.
  • Add all of the pesto and toss. Thin with up to 1/4 cup more pasta water as desired and garnish with more parmesan and pine nuts if desired.
Nutrition Facts
Pesto Pasta
Amount Per Serving
Calories 437 Calories from Fat 225
% Daily Value*
Fat 25g38%
Saturated Fat 4g25%
Polyunsaturated Fat 4g
Monounsaturated Fat 15g
Cholesterol 4mg1%
Sodium 99mg4%
Potassium 204mg6%
Carbohydrates 44g15%
Fiber 2g8%
Sugar 2g2%
Protein 11g22%
Vitamin A 619IU12%
Vitamin C 2mg2%
Calcium 104mg10%
Iron 2mg11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Nutrition values are estimates only. See full disclaimer here.
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