Pasta Al Pesto is a quick and easy recipe with bright flavors and cheesy yum. With a simple homemade basil pesto sauce and al dente pasta, dinner will only take 15 minutes! For a quick dish that the whole family will love this basil pesto pasta is the perfect choice any night of the week!
🤍 Recipe Highlights
I have summarised everything that you will come to know and love (LOVE ❤) about the recipe in the points below:
- Grocery store ingredients: that are easy to get your hands on. No need to drive all over town or to a specialty store.
- Vegetarian recipe: not vegan as we use sheep's milk cheese. However, this meatless recipe will work well if you want a night or 2 of vegetarian options throughout the week.
- Family friendly: the whole family will love the cheesy creamy pesto nature of this dish. It has great flavour but none which is spicy or hot as to deter little ones from digging in!
- Cost effective: this is a reasonably budget friendly recipe. There is no meat which significantly cuts the cost and you can purchase home brand pasta which is super cheap. The cheese will be the most expensive ingredient needed for the recipe and if you grow your own basil, then that saves you buying it from the store!
- Versatile: you can add or alternate a number of components of the dish. Bulk it up, add vegetables, change the pasta type, add a protein, there are many options available to you.
The photo below is to show you everything you need to make the recipe. Please refer to the printable recipe card for specific ingredient measurements as well as detailed instructions.
As you can see the recipe calls for:
- Penne pasta: is great for a pesto sauce as the sauce flows into the open tubular pasta. Or you can use your favorite pasta.
- Fresh basil: aromatic and full of flavor this fantastic ingredient sings in the kitchen.
- Pecorino romano: a cheese made from sheeps's milk which has a sweet flavour that parmesan cheese. You can use either but if you haven't tried pecorino before I encourage you to try it!
- Pistachio nuts: robust, vibrant and adding texture to the pesto these nuts are an excellent choice for basil pesto.
- Fresh garlic: cloves if you can or chunky minced garlic. My only 'don't' is using garlic powder in pesto, it just ain't a good fit.
- Olive oil: the glue or binding agent that allows the pesto to stick together.
- Lemon juice: bottled offers convenience and ease or use a fresh lemon and juice it then measure the required amount.
Tasty Tip: I like to offer a number of substitutions and variations to give you options when making the recipe. If in doubt of any of the above ingredients, or wanting alternatives, read this section before diving into the instructions on how to make the recipe below 👍😉.
Here are the step by step instructions to make the recipe. We start by using the food processor to make the homemade basil pesto.
- Add basil leaves (Photo 1)
- Add pistachio nuts (Photo 2)
- Then add garlic (Photo 3)
- Next add cheese (Photo 4)
👩🍳 How to Make Pasta Al Pesto
Start making the recipe by adding the basil leaves to a food processor. Then add the pistachio nuts, garlic and pecorino romano cheese. Pulse these together in the food processor for around 10 to 15 seconds.
- Drizzle in the olive oil (Photo 5)
- Add the lemon juice (Photo 6)
- Transfer pesto to small bowl (Photo 7)
- Reserve pasta water (Photo 8)
Next drizzle the olive oil into the food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Use a spatula to scrape down the insides of the bowl.
Then take a teaspoon and taste the pesto. Pour in half of the lemon juice, blitz, then taste it again. If you want a little more lemon flavour, pour in the remaining lemon juice.
Give it a final blitz, then use the spatula to transfer the combined pesto to a small bowl.
Now you can use this time to cook your pasta.
Read and follow the directions on the packet of pasta to cook it. We want chewy pasta that has a little bite to it, so taste a piece to see if it is at that point.
Moments before it is ready scoop out some of the starchy pasta water.
Then drain the rest using a colander and discard that water.
- Add cooked pasta (Photo 9)
- Then add the pesto (Photo 10)
- Pour in the reserved pasta water (Photo 11)
- Then toss and garnish the dish (Photo 12)
Now we are ready to combine the pesto and pasta. We do not need the pan to be on heat (stove) during these steps.
Add the cooked pasta to a large pan, then dollop in the pesto. Pour in the reserved pasta water then use a wooden spoon and or tongs to toss and combine the pasta, pesto and water.
Once this is done, get ready to garnish the dish for serving.
🍽 Serving Suggestions
Get your garnish on (generously my friend 😉) with a sprinkling of the pecorino romano cheese, freshly cracked black pepper and basil leaves.
👍 How to Guide
How to Store
Store leftovers of the pesto pasta in sealed, airtight containers in the fridge. They can be refrigerated for 3 days and can be consumed hot or cold.
How to Freeze
Allow the dish to fully cool. Then portion into air tight containers or zip lock bags, squeeze the air out then seal. Frozen portions of the dish can be kept in the freezer for 3 months.
How to Reheat
Allow frozen portions to fully thaw in the fridge overnight or on the bench during the day before reheating. Reheat in the microwave (fastest) covered for 2 to 3 minutes. Or you can add the cooked pesto pasta back to a pan on the stove with additional reserved pasta water, turn to medium heat and stir till the pasta is heated through.
😉 Substitutions and Variations
Here are my sub ins and outs that you might be thinking about as you read the post and I will tell you if I think they will work or why they won't:
- Pine nuts, cashews or walnuts are all alternatives you can use in place of the pistachio nuts.
- Spinach is an alternative to the basil leaves, however, you will loose the zingy fresh basil flavour.
- Parmesan cheese can be used in place of the pecorino romano cheese.
- Cherry tomatoes and or bocconcini can be added to the dish if you want a little more oomph and diversity.
- Sliced grilled chicken is a great addition and adds extra protein to the dish.
- Or try spicy grilled shrimp as a topping to the pasta.
💡 Tasty Tips
Here are my top tips and tricks that I want to share with you so that you master the recipe from the get go:
- I recommend using kitchen scissors to prep the basil. Simply trim the stems and discard them, adding the leaves to a measuring jug.
- A microplane zester is great for the pecorino and easier to use for this type of cheese than a hand held grater.
- A spatula is very handy to use when making the pesto as you can use it to push the pesto down low near the bowl.
- No heat (stove top) is needed when combining the pesto and pasta. But if you find the dish too cold once combined, you can use medium heat on the stove to warm it through.
- You can use 2 hands when combining the pesto and pasta. A wooden spoon in one hand and a pair of tongs in the other. No need to stir vigorously. It will come together after a couple of good consistent stirs.
🤓 Frequently Asked Questions
What goes with pesto pasta?
Pesto pasta goes well with grilled chicken, shrimp, alongside a juicy steak or with some cherry tomatoes and bocconcini for a pasta salad.
Can you reheat pesto pasta in microwave?
Yes, you can reheat pesto pasta easily in the microwave. If you reserve a little extra pasta water and store this in a sealed jar in the fridge, you can drizzle some into the bowl before microwaving. It will only take 2 to 3 minutes for the leftover pasta to heat up.
Do you heat pesto in a pan?
You do not need heat when adding pesto to a pan. The heat from the cooked pasta and pasta water will be enough to allow the pesto to melt into a sauce combined with the starchy pasta water.
How long is leftover pesto pasta good?
The leftover pesto pasta is best stored only for 2 to 3 days in the fridge. Any longer and it looses the fresh juicy texture.
😍 More Easy Dinner Recipes
Options you say, I hear you! I know you need variety in taste, texture and most importantly time. Weeknight's don't offer the luxury of a 2 to 3 hour slow cooked oven baked meal. Here is an array of options that provide diversity amongst your priorities:
- Meatball Bolognese
- Grilled Chicken Alfredo
- Greek Lamb Shanks
- Crumbed Lamb Cutlets
- Tagliatelle Alla Bolognese
- Tagliatelle Pesto
- Spaghetti Alla Bolognese
- Spaghetti Gorgonzola
- Greek Lamb Chops
- Penne Bolognese
Pasta Al Pesto
- 1 Food processor
- 1 Spatula
- 1 Teaspoon to taste the pesto
- 1 Medium Saucepan to cook the pasta
- 1 Heatproof jug to scoop out the pasta water
- 1 Colander
- 1 Sauté pan or large skillet
- 1 Wooden spoon to toss the pesto and pasta
- 1 Kitchen Tongs
- 3 cups basil leaves leaves only, stems trimmed
- ⅓ cup pistachio nuts
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- ½ cup pecorino romano cheese Note 1
- ⅓ cup/80ml olive oil
- 2 tbs lemon juice Note 2
- ½ cup/125ml reserved pasta water Note 3
- 500 grams/16 oz penne pasta
- pecorino romano cheese
- black pepper
- basil leaves
- Basil pesto: add the basil leaves, pistachio nuts, garlic and pecorino romano cheese to the bowl of the food processor. Pulse a couple of times to combine, then drizzle in the olive oil. Blitz again then use a spatula to scrap down the insides of the bowl, keeping the pesto low, near the blade level. Next take a teaspoon and taste the pesto. Then add half of the lemon juice. Blitz to combine then add the remaining lemon juice if desired.
- Pasta: read and follow the instructions on the pasta to cook it in a large pot of boiling salted water. Moments before it is ready, use a heatproof jug to scoop out 1 to 2 cups of the water. Then use a colander and drain the rest of the pasta water.
- Pesto and pasta: add the cooked pasta to a large pan (no heat required) then dollop in the pesto, pour in ½ cup of the reserved pasta water then use a wooden spoon and kitchen tongs (one in each hand) to toss and combine the pasta.
- Garnish: freshly grate some additional pecorino romano cheese over the top of the dish, sprinkle in some cracked black pepper and add some fresh basil leaves for colour. Provide forks and spoons for serving.
- Note 1 Pecorino romano: this is a sweet cheese made from sheep's milk. You can substitute parmesan cheese to the equivalent amount if you wish.
- Note 2 Lemon juice: freshly squeezed from a lemon or bottled is fine for this recipe, don't sweat the difference.
- Note 3 Reserved pasta water: I usually take out 1 to 2 cups but for the recipe we only need to add ½ cup. If you keep the leftovers in a sealed, jar with lid these can be used to juice up leftovers. Hence the difference that we take out compared to what we pour in to the recipe.
- Serving size: 4 main dish sizes or 6 plus if you are wanting to serve this as a side with a main dish. Scoop some pasta onto the plate and a bit of everything else to make it a complete feast.