Pesto Pasta

published Jun 12, 2024
summer
Pesto Pasta Recipe

It might be the simplest dinner of all time.

Serves4

Cook25 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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overhead shot of pesto pasta in a white bowl with a fork in it.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: James Park

Pesto is one of my favorite sauces. It’s extremely versatile, simple to make, and tastes like summer in a bowl. It’s also the perfect vehicle for an easy weeknight meal when swirled into a pot of pasta. If you’ve got pesto and pasta, you’ve got dinner.

Pesto pasta is the dish that’s always in my back pocket for when I don’t know what to cook. A big batch of homemade pesto frozen in an ice cube tray means I can get a flavorful dinner on the table quickly. Plus, it’s flexible enough to add whatever additional ingredients I have on hand to bulk it up. Chicken thighs? Perfect. Grilled corn? Toss it in. Leftover turkey meatballs? Don’t mind if I do. Add a big green salad and a hunk of garlic bread, and you’re in business.

Why You’ll Love It

  • It’s just two ingredients. Pesto pasta is as simple as it gets. Pesto packs a big hit of flavor that brings simple dried pasta to a new level. Cooking the pesto, pasta water, and pasta together for a few minutes makes the pasta glossy and helps the pesto cling to the pasta.
  • It’s flexible. You can keep this dish very simple or add ingredients to tune it to your tastes. Looking for something creamy? Add a dollop of ricotta cheese. Want to make it more hearty? Add cooked chicken or shrimp.
  • It’s pantry-friendly. This recipe uses dried pasta and either homemade or store-bought pesto. Homemade pesto can be stored in the freezer, ready for a quick meal any time; or opt for a shelf-stable store-bought option. 
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: James Park

Key Ingredients in Pesto Pasta

  • Dried pasta: You can use any dried pasta shape in this recipe. Follow the recommended cook times on pasta packaging. If using fresh pasta, the cook time will be shorter. Fresh pasta can be more delicate than dried, so be sure to toss gently with the sauce.
  • Pesto sauce: Basil pesto, made with fresh herbs, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese, packs a ton of flavor into a single ingredient.

How to Make Pesto Pasta

  1. Cook the pasta. Add 12 ounces of dried pasta to well-salted water and cook until al dente. Set aside some of the pasta water to add to the sauce.
  2. Toss the pasta with the pesto. Drain the cooked pasta and return it to the now-empty pot. Add the pesto and reserved pasta water. 
  3. Emulsify the sauce. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until the sauce is reduced and the pasta is well-coated.

Helpful Swaps

Storage and Make-Ahead Tips 

  • Homemade pesto sauce can be prepared ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to several months. Thaw frozen pesto in the refrigerator before using.
  • Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Rewarm them in the microwave or on the stovetop over medium heat with a splash of water to get a saucy consistency again.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: James Park

What to Serve with Pesto Pasta

This simple pasta is extremely customizable. Add simple stir-ins like cherry tomatoes or ricotta cheese, or add grilled protein for a hearty meal. Serve alongside garlic bread or a big green salad.

Pesto Pasta Recipe

It might be the simplest dinner of all time.

Cook time 25 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • Kosher salt

  • 12 ounes

    dried pasta

  • 1 cup

    store-bought or homemade basil pesto sauce

  • Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

  • Fresh basil leaves, for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add 12 ounces dried pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions until al dente.

  2. Reserve 3/4 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta. Return the pasta to the now-empty pot. Add 1 cup basil pesto and 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce is reduced and the pasta is well-coated and glossy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add more of the pasta water a little at a time if needed.

  3. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed. Serve garnished with grated Parmesan cheese and torn fresh basil leaves if desired.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: Homemade pesto sauce can be prepared and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to several months. Thaw frozen pesto in the refrigerator before using.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Rewarm in the microwave or over medium heat on the stovetop with a splash of water to get a saucy consistency again.