Penne with Tomatoes and Tahini Pesto

published Jul 11, 2022
Mediterranean Monday
Pasta with Tomatoes and Tahini Pesto Recipe

Tahini lends nutty richness and supreme creaminess to this naturally vegan pesto pasta.


Prep15 minutes

Cook18 minutes

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pesto pasta in a bowl on a red orange surface
Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Styling: Greg Lofts

A simple pasta tossed with pesto and tomatoes is one of my favorite easy summer dinners. This year, I’m mixing things up a bit by replacing my usual Italian basil pesto with this version that adds nutty tahini to the equation.

It’s a marriage of pesto and tahini sauce that creates the creamiest blanket for al dente pasta, which also happens to be naturally dairy-free and vegan. Broiled and blistered cherry tomatoes lend color and juicy sweetness to each forkful for a seasonal dinner that’s sure to become a new favorite.

Tahini Pesto Is the Best of Both Worlds

While tahini isn’t a traditional ingredient in pesto, it’s a natural match. The sesame seed paste lends buttery, nutty flavor to the sauce that balances the herbaceous fresh basil just like the usual pine nuts or walnuts do. It also provides enough richness to the sauce that you can skip the Parm, giving you a dairy-free sauce. While totally optional, I like to garnish with a generous pinch or two of urfa chile flakes. The mild chile flakes originate from southern Turkey and are more smoky and nuanced rather than simply spicy.

Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Styling: Greg Lofts

Welcome to Mediterranean MondaySheela Prakash‘s monthly column of Mediterranean recipes. Here, Sheela will teach you all about the Mediterranean diet’s feel-good way of cooking and eating, and share vibrant, easygoing recipes. Cook with us using #mediterraneanmonday, and for even more great recipes, order a copy of Sheela’s cookbook Mediterranean Every Day.

Pasta with Tomatoes and Tahini Pesto Recipe

Tahini lends nutty richness and supreme creaminess to this naturally vegan pesto pasta.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 18 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info


  • 2 cloves


  • 1/4 cup

    well-stirred tahini

  • 1/2

    medium lemon

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt, divided

  • 1

    large bunch fresh basil

  • 1

    ice cube

  • 1/4 cup

    plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided

  • 12 ounces

    dried short pasta, such as penne or fusilli

  • 2 pints

    grape or cherry tomatoes (about 4 cups or 22 ounces)

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • Urfa chile flakes, for serving (optional)


  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Arrange an oven rack 6 to 8 inches from the broiler element and heat the oven to broil.

  2. Meanwhile, smash and peel 2 garlic cloves and place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Add 1/4 cup well-stirred tahini. Squeeze the juice from 1/2 medium lemon into the food processor (about 1 1/2 tablespoons). Add 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt and pulse until the garlic is coarsely chopped, about 10 (1-second) pulses.

  3. Pick the leaves from 1 large bunch fresh basil until you have 2 packed cups. Add the basil leaves and 1 ice cube to the food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped, 6 to 8 (1-second) pulses. Add 1/4 cup of the olive oil and process, stopping to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed, until creamy and mostly smooth, 20 to 25 seconds.

  4. Add 12 ounces dried short pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package instructions until al dente, about 10 minutes.

  5. Meanwhile, place 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Shake the baking sheet gently to coat the tomatoes and arrange them in a single layer.

  6. Broil, shaking the pan gently halfway through, until the tomatoes blister and burst, about 8 minutes total. Remove from the oven.

  7. When the pasta is ready, reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta. Return the pasta to the pot off the heat. Add the tahini pesto and toss to coat, adding the pasta water 1 tablespoon at a time, until the pesto has thinned enough to coat the pasta evenly in a creamy sauce. (You probably will not use all of the pasta water). Add the tomatoes and toss to combine. Serve garnished with a generous sprinkling of urfa chile flakes, if desired.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.