Penne Pesto is a quick and easy pasta recipe perfect any night of the week! Using a homemade basil pesto sauce combined with chewy al dente pasta this creamy dish requires minimal effort yet delivers maximum flavour. Penne with pesto is great on its own or portioned and paired with meaty mains.
🤍 Recipe Highlights
I have summarised everything that you will come to know and love (LOVE ❤) about the recipe in the points below:
- Basic ingredients: we only use 7 ingredients to make the penne pesto. 8 if we count the black pepper used to garnish the finished dish.
- Budget friendly: this is one of those recipes where you might already have a number of the ingredients to make it in the pantry, garden or fridge! You have got to love a recipe where you can whip out to the herb garden, give it a snip or 2 and then use that to make dinner. Homegrown herbs my friend 🥰👏.
- Vegetarian: take a night off grilling and whip up this simple vegetarian pasta saving money on expensive meat products! Penne with pesto is perfect for Meatless Mondays or simply night's that you have decided your family is eating less meat.
- Versatile: whip up the pasta as is, or add some heated leftover chicken and make it a chicken pasta recipe. You can also add shredded leftover rotisserie chicken or cooked shrimp.
- Basic cooking skills: this is a straight forward recipe that takes us back to basics in the kitchen. It is a great recipe to get started on if you are learning the ropes in the kitchen and want to get a few easy recipes under your belt.
The photo below is to show you everything you need to make the creamy penne pesto. Please refer to the printable recipe card for specific ingredient measurements as well as detailed instructions.
As you can see the recipe calls for:
- Garlic: fresh garlic cloves are best for the recipe to get a depth of flavour into the pesto. We only need to peel the skin and cut the dark little end bit off. 2 - 3 cloves will work well.
- Pistachio nuts: a robust nut with fantastic bright colours that work very well bringing a little texture and diversity to our pesto. The type of pistachio nuts we need are raw, unroasted and unsalted.
- Lemon juice: bottled lemon juice is totally fine to use for this recipe. Often you won't have a lemon on hand but you will have bottled lemon juice in the fridge. It makes the recipe too easy. The lemon juice adds lift to the pesto with a lovely citrus zing!
- Olive oil: this ingredient works as the 'glue' to stick all of the rest of the pesto ingredients together. We pour it into the food processor after an initial blitz and it helps to create the paste like texture we create.
- Pecorino romano: this is an excellent cheese to use for pesto. It has a lovely sweet taste, similar yet less subtle than a sharp parmesan cheese. It is made from sheep's milk not cow's milk.
- Basil: we only need to leaves, so you can trim the stems and discard these.
- Penne: is a tubular pasta that is bigger than macaroni yet smaller than cannelloni. It has indents on the surface of the pasta.
Tasty Tip: I like to offer you a number of substitutions and variations giving you an array of 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 making the pesto.
- Add basil leaves to food processor (Photo 1)
- Then add pistachio nuts (Photo 2)
- Add garlic (Photo 3)
- Next add the pecorino romano cheese (Photo 4)
👩🍳 How to Make Penne Pesto
Start the recipe by grabbing the ingredients to make the pesto. Then add the basil leaves, pistachio nuts, garlic and pecorino to the food processor.
Give these a blitz to combine them.
- Add the olive oil (Photo 5)
- Then add the lemon juice (Photo 6)
- Transfer pesto to a bowl (Photo 7)
- Reserve starchy pasta water (Photo 8)
After the initial blitz pour in the olive oil as shown in the photos above.
Next take a teaspoon and taste the pesto. Once done pour in half of the lemon juice, blitz to combine then retaste the pesto. Pour in the remaining lemon juice as required.
Once the pesto has combined, you can use a spatula to transfer it to a small bowl.
Next read and follow the instructions on the packet to cook the pasta. We want it to be al dente (a little bit chewy) so test a piece towards the end of the cook time.
Then use a heatproof jug to scoop out 1 to 2 cups of the pasta water, you can see this being done in the photos above.
- Add the cooked pasta (Photo 9)
- Then add the pesto (Photo 10)
- Pour in the reserved pasta water (Photo 11)
- Toss and garnish (Photo 12)
You can then use a colander over the sink to drain the pasta and discard the rest of the water. Once done add the cooked pasta to a large saute pan (no heat from the stove is needed at this point).
Then dollop in the pesto, measure ½ cup (125ml) of the pasta water and add this in too.
Now you can use a pair of tongs and spoon to toss and combine the pesto, pasta and starchy pasta water.
Once done, get ready to get your garnish on. I like to use a trio of black pepper, more freshly grated cheese and some basil leaves. It is a combination that works, adds texture, pops of colour and makes the dish look good enough to eat 😂👍 (you would hope so, right!).
🍽 Serving Suggestions
If you are feeding a crowd, having and a feast and want this that and everything else, try the Ciabatta Pizza and or Bruschetta Pizza. These work with the Sticky Pork Ribs, Lamb Ribs or the Dutch Oven Pulled Pork.
Otherwise, you can get your garnish on, give everyone a bowl of their own pesto penne pasta and thank yourself for making dinner easy breezy, ironically with a lemon squeeze 😉😂!
👍 How to Guide
How to Store
Store leftovers of the penne 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 3 to 4 minutes. Or you can add the cooked penne 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:
- You can use freshly grated parmesan cheese in place of the pecorino if you wish too.
- Other nuts you can use to make the pesto are pine nuts, cashews or walnuts (equivalent amount).
- You can garnish the dish with parsley in place of the basil if you want to.
- Add some leftover cooked shredded chicken for extra protein if you wish to.
- If you want easy extras in the pasta you can add some sliced cherry tomatoes and bocconcini balls (like we used in the Pesto Pasta Bake).
- If you want a garnish with an additional texture you can toast some of the pistachio nuts and crush them then sprinkle them over the top of the dish.
💡 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:
- A food processor is one of the fastest and easiest ways to make homemade pesto.
- A spatula will come in handy to transfer the combined pesto out of the food processor and into a small bowl.
- The jug you use to scoop the pasta water out needs to be heatproof.
- Scoop out more than you need so that you can then measure from what you have taken out. This is easier that trying to measure the water whilst the saucepan is splashing and bubbling away.
- Stir and toss vigorously when you have combined the pesto, pasta and water. You will notice that the warm pasta and heat from the pasta water will melt the pesto making it smooth and creamy, then it is super easy to combine consistency.
🤓 Frequently Asked Questions
What does pesto penne taste like?
Pesto penne takes like fresh lemon herb basil pesto with robust pistachio nut texture rounded out with chewy al dente pasta. It tastes creamy, cheesy and garlicky.
What makes pesto taste better?
Pesto will taste the best if it is homemade. Use fresh garlic cloves, lots of basil leaves, lemon for a citrus tang and a strong cheese like parmesan cheese or pecorino romano.
What goes with pesto pasta?
Pesto pasta is perfect on its own or portioned into smaller amounts and paired with mains like steak, chicken, fish or lamb.
😍 More Easy Dinner Recipes
Dinner can be something you look forward to everyday when you have heaps of variety up your sleeve through a number of different proteins, cook times and textures. Here are some ideas to keep your dinners interesting:
- Meatball Pesto Pasta
- Salmon Linguine
- Pork Meatballs In Tomato Sauce
- Linguine Alfredo
- Meatball Bolognese
- Spaghetti with Alfredo Sauce
- Penne Bolognese
- Crumbed Lamb Cutlets
- Thai Minced Pork
- Meatballs Alfredo
It is time to get our pesto pasta on my friend. You can also find all of my pasta recipes in the one spot.
- 3 cups basil leaves only, stems trimmed and discarded
- ⅓ cup pistachio nuts
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- ½ cup pecorino romano cheese finely grated using a microplane zester
- ⅓ cup/80 ml olive oil
- 2 tbs lemon juice
- 500 grams/16 oz penne pasta
- ½ cup/125 ml reserved pasta water
- black pepper
- pecorino romano
- 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.
- Penne: 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 pasta and discard the rest of the water.
- Pesto and penne 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 penne, pesto and pasta water.
- Garnish: generously garnish the penne by sprinkling over some black pepper, grating some additional pecorino romano cheese and by adding a few fresh basil leaves. Provide forks and spoons for serving.
- Note 1 Pecorino romano cheese: 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 like to take out 1 to 2 cups but for the recipe we only need to add ½ cup (125ml). 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 -8 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.