Pesto pasta is a creamy, tasty, and easy-to-make meal for a quick lunch or a healthy dinner.

You can make it with a classic basil pesto or experiment with arugula, zucchini, and roasted peppers. We’ll show you how to make it!

Pesto pasta with potatoes and green beans

Check out our best pasta recipe collection!

The word pesto comes from the Italian “pestare,” which means to beat repeatedly, typically in a mortar with a pestle.

The most popular and traditional pesto is one made with basil. It’s called pesto alla Genovese because it originated in the city of Genova in the northwestern region of Liguria in Italy.

We’ll show you how to make a quick and easy basil pesto pasta as they do it in Italy, and we’ll also show you how to make one without dairy.

Also, basil isn’t the only herb you can turn into a delicious pesto. We’ll show you plenty of variations for making a bright, colorful, and tasty homemade pesto with plenty of fresh herbs and vegetables.

Let’s get cooking!

Basil pesto and hand

Ingredients

Ingredients for pesto pasta

Pasta

You can use any pasta shape for this recipe. The most traditional is homemade trofie, but when we are short on time, we like to make it with farfalle (bow ties), fusilli, rotini, rigatoni, spaghetti, penne, ziti, spaghetti, or linguine.

Pesto

You can make this creamy pesto pasta with any pesto. Italian pasta al pesto is made with homemade basil pesto, but you can also use a store-bought pesto, although the flavor is different.

To make our dairy-free homemade pesto, you’ll need the following:

  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Almonds
  • Pine nuts
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Extra virgin olive oil

To make authentic Italian basil pesto, you’ll need the following:

  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano reggiano or Grana padano)
  • Pecorino Sardo or Romano
  • Garlic
  • Pine nuts
  • Sea salt

You can find both recipes in our guide on how to make the best basil pesto.

However, if you feel like trying something new, you can try our zucchini pesto, kale pesto, parsley pesto, artichoke pesto, arugula pesto, spinach pesto, red pepper pesto, sun-dried tomato pesto, and chestnut pesto.

Yep, we are big homemade pesto fans in our family 🙂

Optional ingredients

Traditional pasta al pesto from Genova in Italy (the home of basil pesto) is with added boiled potatoes and green beans.

We think green beans and potatoes are delicious with pasta, so we’ll show you how to add them.

If you prefer leaving them out, don’t worry because this pesto pasta is delicious, nevertheless.

pesto pasta with fresh basil

Instructions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the salt, then the pasta, and cook it per package instructions, making sure the pasta is “al dente” with a slight bite.

When the pasta is almost ready, reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water.

Add half the water to a bowl, let it cool down for a minute, then add the pesto and stir until it turns into a creamy pesto sauce.

Tip: Basil pesto doesn’t react well to direct heat, so we don’t want to heat it on a pan. Warming it up with warm reserved pasta water is the best way to make it creamy without ruining its color and flavor.

pesto with pasta water and spatula

Drain the pasta and toss it in the bowl with the pesto. Add more reserved pasta water if necessary to reach your desired creaminess. The pasta should be saucy and creamy and not dry.

You can also add more pesto if you want a richer pasta dish.

pesto pasta and a spatula

Serve immediately; garnish with extra virgin olive oil, and fresh basil leaves, and optionally with some grated parmesan or non-dairy parmesan.

pesto pasta with basil leaves

Variations

Homemade trofie al pesto

trofie pasta with vegan pesto

If you want to go all the way, try making homemade trofie. Trofie is a type of pasta traditionally served with pesto. It’s delicious and easy to make during a cozy afternoon with your family.

Here’s our recipe for homemade trofie pasta.

Italian pasta al pesto

pesto pasta with green beans and small potatoes

Add boiled potatoes and green beans to the pesto pasta to turn it into delicious Italian pasta al pesto, just like they make it in Genova.

This has become our favorite pasta pesto recipe, and we always make it. The green beans add a delicious crunch, the potatoes add creaminess, and both meld perfectly with the pesto.

To make it, you can boil the potatoes and the beans in the same water you cook the pasta. Remember that bite-sized potato take about 10 to 15 minutes to cook, and the green beans only need about 8 minutes.

Pesto pasta salad

pesto pasta variation with tomatoes

Have you ever tried a cold pesto pasta salad? Pesto pasta is delicious and served at room temperature, and you can add cherry tomatoes, asparagus, arugula, olives, and pine nuts to make it even more delicious.

Here’s our recipe for a tasty pesto pasta salad.

Serving suggestions

Serve this pasta pesto next to a side dish of fresh greens, such as:

  • Tomato salad (red onion, heirloom tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, basil, olive oil, etc.)
  • Carrot salad (carrots, parsley, mustard, maple syrup, olive oil, etc.)
  • Zucchini salad (cherry tomatoes, zucchini, lemon juice, mint, basil, garlic, etc.)
  • Avocado salad (cherry tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, parsley, red onion, etc.)
  • Arugula salad (parmesan cheese or dairy-free cheese, arugula, lemon)

Add your choice of vegetables with one of these pasta topping ideas:

Confit tomatoes with garlic in a round tray

Tips

Pesto and heat

Basil pesto doesn’t do well with heat; it will turn dark and lose flavor if you cook it. So it’s best to warm it up with a bit of pasta cooking water in a bowl rather than heat it in a pan.

How to cook pasta?

You’ll need a large pot of salted water as follows:

  • 8 ounces of pasta (230 grams): cook pasta in 2 quarts of boiling water (8 cups or 2 Liters) with 1 tablespoon of salt (15 grams). Serves 2 – 3 people.
  • 12 ounces of pasta (340 grams): cook pasta in 3 quarts of boiling water (12 cups or 3 Liters) with 1 ½ tablespoons of salt (21 grams). Serves 4 people.
  • 1 pound of pasta (450 grams): cook pasta in 1 gallon of boiling water (16 cups or 4 Liters) with 2 tablespoons of salt (30 grams). Serves 5-6 people.

How much pasta per person?

Guidelines recommend 2.1 to 3.5 ounces or 60 to 100 grams of pasta per person, depending on your calorie needs.

Pasta portion sizes vary if you have pasta as a main and only meal or if it’s part of a 2 – 3 course menu.

Also, remember that a simple pasta with tomato and basil will have substantially different calories and macros than baked ziti with cheese and meat.

Here’s a simple summary:

  • 3.5 ounces (100 grams) per person if the main meal;
  • 2.8/3 ounces (80/90 grams) per person if part of a 2 – 3 course meal;
  • 2/2.5 ounces (60/70 grams) per person if part of a 3+ course meal.

How much pesto per person?

You can add 2 to 4 tablespoons of pesto per portion of pasta (2.1 to 3.5 ounces or 60 to 100 grams), depending on your taste and diet.

Questions

Do you add pesto to hot or cold pasta?

Depending on the recipe, you can add pesto to both hot and cold pasta. However, we advise you not to apply direct heat to basil pesto because the pesto will turn dark and lose some flavor if you do so.

Instead, stir the pesto in a bowl with a ladleful of warm reserved pasta water to turn it into a pesto sauce, then mix it with the pasta.

What goes well with pesto pasta?

While most people would add shrimp or chicken to pesto pasta, the traditional Italian recipe call for boiled green beans and potatoes cut into bite-size pieces and tossed with the pasta.

What do Italians eat with pesto pasta?

Pesto pasta is the first course in Italy. It can be preceded by a small starter, like crunchy tomato bruschetta, and a second course of choice.

If eaten for lunch, pasta al pesto is often served as a main course.

Do you eat pesto pasta warm or cold?

Pesto pasta is a warm dish; however, you can turn it into a delicious cold pesto pasta salad.

How do you use pesto from a jar?

Add the pesto to a large mixing bowl able to fit the pasta, then add one ladleful (about 1/2 cup) of warm reserved pasta water and stir it till you get a creamy pesto sauce.

Make Ahead and Storage

Make ahead: you can make the pesto ahead of time and store it in the fridge or freezer, in a jar covered with oil; however, mix it with the pasta shortly before eating as it turns dark quickly once it’s mixed with the pasta.

Refrigerator: store leftovers in the fridge for a day. You can reheat it in the microwave, however it’ll turn dark if you do so. You can also enjoy the leftover cold or at room temperature.

Freezer: pesto pasta is not suitable for freezing.

More Pesto Recipes

Get more sauce ideas from these easy and veggie-packed pesto recipes:

  • Artichoke pesto (garlic, almonds, pine nuts, jarred artichokes, fresh basil, salt, etc.)
  • Sun-dried tomato pesto (sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts, olive oil, nutritional yeast, etc.)
  • Red pepper pesto (jarred bell pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, garlic, etc.)
  • Spinach pesto (tofu, almonds, nutritional yeast, garlic, spinach, olive oil, etc.)

More Pasta Ideas

If you like easy and quick pasta meals, get fresh inspiration from these 20-minute pasta ideas:

  • Hummus pasta (homemade or store-bought hummus, sauteed mushrooms, spaghetti, etc.)
  • Pasta Puttanesca (canned tomatoes, olives, garlic, capers, parsley, olive oil, etc.)
  • Broccoli pasta (orecchiette pasta, red pepper flakes, broccoli, parmesan, etc.)
  • Pasta Pomodoro (canned tomatoes, onion, garlic, parsley, spaghetti, etc.)
  • Spaghetti aglio e olio (parsley, spaghetti, red pepper flakes, garlic, etc.)

For many more pasta ideas, check out our pasta category page.

fork with pesto pasta and potatoes

Pesto Pasta

By: Nico Pallotta
5 from 2 votes
Pesto pasta is a creamy, tasty, and easy-to-make meal for a quick lunch or a healthy dinner.
You can make it with a classic basil pesto or experiment with arugula, zucchini, and roasted peppers. We'll show you how to make it!
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Servings: 4 people
Course: First Course, Main Course
Cuisine: Italian

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of basil pesto
  • 12 ounces of pasta of choice we love it with fusilli, linguine, and trofie
  • 3 quarts of water to boil the pasta
  • tablespoons of salt to season the pasta water
  • 1 cup of pasta cooking water add 1/2 cup first and add more only if necessary

Optional Ingredients

  • 2 medium potatoes cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 cup of green beans cut in half

Instructions 

  • Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, add 1½ tablespoons of salt, then 12 ounces of pasta of choice, and cook it per package instructions.
    Make sure the pasta is "al dente" with a slight bite.
    When the pasta is almost ready, reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water
    Add ½ cup of pasta water to a bowl, let it cool down for a minute, then add 1 cup of basil pesto and stir until it turns into a creamy pesto sauce.
    pesto with pasta water and spatula
  • Drain the pasta and toss it in the bowl with the pesto.
    Add more reserved pasta water if necessary to reach your desired creaminess. The pasta should be saucy and creamy and not dry.
    pesto pasta and a spatula
  • Serve immediately; optionally you can garnish with extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil leaves, and grated parmesan or non-dairy parmesan.
    pesto pasta with fresh basil
  • Optionally, add 2 medium potatoes and 1 cup of green beans to the pesto pasta (cut into bite-size pieces and boiled).
    You can boil the potatoes and the beans in the same water you cook the pasta. Remember that bite-sized potato take about 10 to 15 minutes to cook, and the green beans only need about 8 minutes.
    pesto pasta with green beans and small potatoes

Notes

Nutrition information is an estimate for 1 portion of pesto pasta out of 4, without potatoes and green beans.
HOW MUCH PASTA PER PERSON?
3.5 ounces (100 grams) per person if the main meal;
2.8/3 ounces (80/90 grams) per person if part of a 2 – 3 course meal;
2/2.5 ounces (60/70 grams) per person if part of a 3+ course meal.
HOW MUCH PESTO PER PERSON?
You can add 2 to 4 tablespoons of pesto per portion of pasta (2.1 to 3.5 ounces or 60 to 100 grams), depending on your taste and diet.
PESTO AND HEAT
Basil pesto doesn’t do well with heat; it will turn dark and lose flavor if you cook it. So it’s best to warm it up with a bit of pasta cooking water in a bowl rather than heat it in a pan.
MAKE AHEAD AND STORAGE
Make ahead: you can make the pesto ahead of time and store it in the fridge or freezer, in a jar covered with oil; however, mix it with the pasta shortly before eating as it turns dark quickly once it’s mixed with the pasta.
Refrigerator: store leftovers in the fridge for a day. You can reheat it in the microwave, however it’ll turn dark if you do so. You can also enjoy the leftover cold or at room temperature.
Freezer: pesto pasta is not suitable for freezing.

Nutrition

Calories: 555kcal, Carbohydrates: 68g, Protein: 14g, Fat: 24g, Saturated Fat: 4g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.5g, Monounsaturated Fat: 0.1g, Trans Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 5mg, Potassium: 190mg, Dietary Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 4g, Vitamin A: 1250IU, Vitamin B6: 0.1mg, Vitamin E: 0.1mg, Vitamin K: 0.1µg, Calcium: 119mg, Folate: 15µg, Iron: 1mg, Manganese: 1mg, Magnesium: 45mg, Zinc: 1mg
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Nico and Louise in the kitchen

Hi! We are Nico & Louise

Welcome to The Plant-Based School, a food blog with easy, tasty, and wholesome recipes.

Our aim is to help you and your family eat more veggies through delicious recipes with simple ingredients.

Easy right?

5 from 2 votes (2 ratings without comment)

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