Spaghetti Al Pesto is super quick and easy. Using homemade basil pesto tossed through al dente spaghetti in less than 15 minutes! Spaghetti with pesto (or Italian spaghetti al pesto genovese 😉) is a week night friendly, family friendly and bulk it up or add protein to it friendly recipe!
🤍 Recipe Highlights
I have summarised everything that you will come to know and love (LOVE ❤) about the recipe in the points below:
- Homemade pesto: is so fresh and full of flavour! It can be hard to walk pasta (ha! 😂) fresh bunch of basil leaves in the fruit and veg section and if you grow your own basil, heck you can use it for everything!
- Simple ingredients: there is nothing needed for the recipe that will see you driving all over town to get! Your local supermarket will sell each of the ingredients and my substitutions and variations has options to switch it up (well worth a read 😉👍).
- Back to basics: spaghetti bolognese is great, spaghetti with meatballs is super satisfying but sometimes you want a light pasta that comes together quickly without too much effort. This is that solution.
- Vegetarian pasta: if you are trying to do Meatless Monday or simply nights with no meat, then this is a great go to. With the cheesy, herby texture of the dish, you won't feel like you are missing anything.
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:
- Spaghetti: you will find it in the pasta aisle. I prefer a regular size to angel hair as I think the pesto clings a little more easily to the spaghetti. We want to cook this to al dente so it has a little bite to it still.
- Basil: fresh, leaves trimmed from stems.
- Pecorino romano cheese: made from sheep's milk, not cow's. It is a little bit sweeter a cheese than parmesan, yet both can be used interchangeably.
- Pistachio nuts: not the most traditional nut used when making fresh pesto, but a great option as it brings both colour and texture to the recipe.
- Olive oil: helps to bind the pesto together and give it the juicy wetness.
- Lemon juice: this helps lift the flavour of the pesto. Yes, you can use bottled lemon juice or a fresh lemon juiced. Both will be fine.
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 making the pesto. You will need a food processor for this step and a spatula.
- Add basil leaves to food processor (Photo 1)
- Then add pistachio nuts (Photo 2)
- Next add garlic (Photo 3)
- Add pecorino romano cheese (Photo 4)
👩🍳 How to Make Spaghetti Al Pesto
Making the pesto is the starting point of the recipe. Add the basil leaves, pistachio nuts, garlic and cheese to a food processor and blitz for around 10 seconds to combine.
Then use a spatula to scrap down the inner sides of the bowl, drizzle the olive oil in and blitz again for around 10 seconds.
The next step is to use a teaspoon to taste the pesto. This ensures that you know how much lemon juice you want to add. You can start with 1 tablespoon, blitz again, taste again and then add the other.
Once the pesto is done, use the spatula to transfer it to a small bowl.
- Add the olive oil (Photo 5)
- Then add the lemon juice (Photo 6)
- Transfer the combined pesto to a small bowl (Photo 7)
- Reserve some of the pasta water (Photo 8)
Read and follow the instructions on the spaghetti packet to cook the spaghetti in a medium sauce pan of boiling salted water.
Before draining, use a heatproof jug to reserve 1 to 2 cups of the water. We only need ½ cup for the recipe, however, it can be handy to take a little more out as this will also help us juice up leftovers to ensure moist pesto pasta which is not dry.
Once you have kept some of the pasta water, you can drain the spaghetti into a colander.
Then transfer the cooked spaghetti into a large sauté pan.
- Drain spaghetti (Photo 9)
- Add pasta and pesto (Photo 10)
- Pour in reserved pasta water (Photo 11)
- Toss to combine (Photo 12)
Dollop the pesto into the pan with the pasta, then take a ½ cup measuring spoon and pour in this amount of pasta water.
Use a pair of tongs in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other, tossing the spaghetti with the pesto and pasta water till it gets to the point where it is consistently combined.
Once done you can either garnish the full pan and serve as is with the eaters portioning for themselves on the table or portion into bowls on the bench then garnish for serving.
🍽 Serving Suggestions
Be liberal when garnishing the dish and try an ample combination of cracked black pepper, freshly grated pecorino romano and bright basil leaves.
👍 How to Guide
How to Store
Store leftovers of the spaghetti in sealed, air tight 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 pesto spaghetti 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:
- There are plenty of nuts that you can use in the pesto. Try macadamias, cashews, walnuts or pine nuts. You can use the equivalent amount to the pistachios but use different options to work out your favourite combination.
- You can use fettuccine, linguine or tagliatelle as alternatives to the spaghetti.
- For additional protein add Creamy Garlic Prawns or leftover grilled chicken heated through.
- Add some cherry tomatoes if you want another bright colour in the dish.
- Some sliced bocconcini balls would be a nice addition also.
- You can use store bought pesto (go the dip in the fridge section, not the jars in the pasta section) for a super quick mid week dinner.
- Toasted crushed pistachios or pine nuts are also a great garnish adding some texture to the top of the dish.
- You can garnish with parsley in place of the basil leaves.
💡 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:
- Add a pinch of salt to the water before cooking the spaghetti.
- Take a bit more than ½ cup of pasta water out when reserving this. Then store some in the fridge in a sealed jar. Sprinkle a little on some leftovers in a sauce pan to juice it up a little.
- Pecorino romano is lesser known and used than parmesan cheese, but it is well worth trying. If you haven't given it a go yet, I encourage you to sub this in when using parmesan cheese.
- When tossing the pesto through the spaghetti with the pasta water, you will find it easiest if you have a pair of tongs in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other hand.
🤓 Frequently Asked Questions
What does pesto spaghetti taste like?
Pesto spaghetti has a cheesy herby fresh taste with hints of garlic and lemon.
Do you warm up pesto before you put it over spaghetti?
No, it is not advisable to heat up pesto before adding it to spaghetti. The heat from the freshly cooked pasta, combined with the warmth of the reserved pasta water will be enough to allow the pesto to melt down and flow through the spaghetti.
Why add pasta water to pesto?
The purpose of the starchy pasta water is to help bind the pesto to the spaghetti. Without it, you will have a drier paste like pesto with no juiciness.
😍 More Easy Pasta Recipes
Variety is the spice of life and essential when making dinner to offer diversity, through taste, texture and ingredients. Here are some more recipes I hope will help you get dinner sorted asap!
- Tagliatelle Alla Bolognese
- Fusilli Alfredo
- Tagliatelle Pesto
- Macaroni Bolognese
- Meatball Bolognese
- Beef Pesto Pasta
- Pork Bolognese Recipe
- Chicken Spaghetti Bolognese
- Turkey Mince Bolognese
- Easy Lamb Bolognese Recipe
Enjoy the pesto party my friend and if you want to check out all of my dinner recipes they are in the one spot!
Spaghetti Al Pesto
- 1 Food processor
- 1 Spatula
- 1 Teaspoon to test the pesto when adding the lemon juice
- 1 Medium sized sauce pan
- 1 Colander
- 1 Large saute pan
- 1 Kitchen Tongs
- 1 Wooden spoon
- 3 cup basil leaves loosely packed, stems removed
- ½ cup pistachio nuts
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- ½ cup pecorino romano cheese
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 500 grams/1 pound spaghetti
- ½ cup reserved pasta water
- cracked black pepper
- pecorino romano cheese
- basil leaves
- Make the pesto: add the fresh basil leaves, garlic, pistachio nuts and pecorino romano cheese to the food processor bowl and blitz for about 15 seconds. Then scrap the edges down with a spatula to keep all of the ingredients low in the bowl.
- Oil: drizzle in the olive oil and blitz for around 5 seconds to combine. Then take a teaspoon and test a little bit of the pesto.
- Lemon juice: pour in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and blitz to combine. Use the spatula again to scrape down the sides of the pesto. Take the teaspoon and test another small amount of pesto. Add remaining tablespoon of lemon juice as needed to balance the flavours. Transfer combined pesto to a small bowl and set aside.
- Spaghetti: read and follow the packet instructions to cook the spaghetti in a medium saucepan of boiling salted water. Before draining, use a heatproof jug to scoop out 1 to 2 cups of pasta water. Then use a colander to drain the spaghetti and discard the water.
- Combine pesto and pasta: add the cooked spaghetti to a large sauté pan. Turn the heat to low. Dollop in the pesto. Pour in ½ cup of the reserved pasta water and use a wooden spoon and pair of kitchen tongs to toss and combine. Keep stirring till the pasta, water and pesto is consistently combined.
- Serve and enjoy: portion the pesto spaghetti into serving bowls, garnish with freshly grated pecorino romano cheese, cracked black pepper and fresh basil leaves. Provide forks and spoons for the eating.
- Note 1 - Pistachio nuts: you can also toast some roughly chopped leftovers of these to garnish the top of the dish if you want to. Substitute the equivalent amount of pine nuts, cashews or walnuts.
- Note 2 - Garlic cloves: if using fresh cloves, use a knife and chopping board to cut the small end bit of the base, before adding to the food processor. You can use ½ to 1 tablespoon of minced garlic if you don't have garlic cloves.
- Note 3 - Lemon juice: this lifts the flavour of the pesto, but can also quickly over power it if too much juice is used. So taste the pesto before adding any lemon juice, then add 1 tablespoon and combine, then taste again before deciding if you want to add the other tablespoon. You will know quickly from the taste if it is spot on or needs the extra amount. (I do use the 2 tablespoons, but also taste it repeatedly to ensure that specific batch of pesto needs the 2).
- Note 4 - Reserved pasta water: we only need ½ cup of this for the recipe. It is added once the cooked spaghetti and pesto have been added to the sauté pan together. Pour it in slowly and then use a wooden spoon and tongs to toss and combine. I refer in the post to taking out 1 to 2 cups. This is because you can leave this in the fridge in a sealed, jar with lid and then use a little to juice up the leftovers before heating (simply drizzle it in and then stir).