This easy pasta al pesto recipe combines homemade basil pesto sauce with cooked tagliatelle pasta for a quick, delicious, and satisfying pasta dish the whole family will love!
Each pesto-coated noodle is a masterclass in coaxing maximum impact from few ingredients. The garden-fresh basil stars, but the supporting cast of lemon, garlic, and pine nuts prove essential to create this bright yet well-rounded sauce. Tossed with al dente pasta, a perfect harmony emerges. Pesto pasta needs no complicated technique, just a respect for quality components and their harmonization.
As an experienced food blogger and home cook passionate about making authentic Italian dishes, I'm so excited to share this recipe for classic pasta al pesto! Through extensive research and testing, I've developed what I believe to be an excellent method for making fresh basil pesto sauce at home.
I also experimented with different pasta shapes to find the one that best complements the pesto's texture and flavor. With years of experience developing and writing about recipes on my blog, I can guide you through all the key steps and tips for preparing pesto sauce and tossing it with hot pasta to create a wonderful pesto pasta dish rivaling your favorite Italian restaurant.
This basil pesto pasta is a great main dish for dinner and can be served with so many great side dishes! Try out my Air Fryer Frozen Garlic Bread, Easy Air Fryer Carrots and Potatoes, or some Instant Pot Asparagus!
- 📋 Why You'll Love This Recipe!
- 🍃 What is Pasta al Pesto?
- 🌱 Ingredients for Pasta al Pesto
- ✔️ Ingredient Substitutions
- 📖 How to Make Pasta al Pesto (Pasta with Basil Pesto)
- 🥘 Variations
- 🧂Serving Suggestions
- ⏲ Equipment
- 🍶 Storing Fresh Basil Pesto
- ⏲ Reheating Leftover Pasta al Pesto
- 🙋🏻♂️ FAQs
- 👨🏻🍳 Top tips
- 📒 Recipe Card
- Pasta al Pesto (Basil Pesto Pasta)
- 🍳 More Pasta Recipes!
📋 Why You'll Love This Recipe!
Pasta al pesto brings that big, bold Italian pesto flavor home to your kitchen. Here's why this recipe is a winner:
- Quick: Ready to eat in just 30 minutes start to finish.
- Simple: Uses just a handful of everyday ingredients you likely have on hand.
- Fresh: Packed with bright herbal flavors from the basil, garlic, and lemon.
- Adaptable: Customize with any pasta shape, herbs, nuts you happen to have.
- Satisfying: The comfort of pasta made even better with a flavorful pesto sauce
- Impressive: Looks elegant and tastes incredible with little work!
- Kid Friendly: Mild pesto appeal for young and old palates alike. You can easily adapt the recipe to suit any picky eater!
- Nutritious: Loaded with antioxidants, healthy fats, and fresh flavors.
- Delicious: An iconic and crave-worthy flavor combo in each bite.
With just 10 ingredients and 30 minutes, you can feel like an Italian chef with this easy pasta al pesto recipe any night of the week!
🍃 What is Pasta al Pesto?
Pasta al pesto is a popular Ligurian pasta dish dating back to the 16th century that brings together basil pesto sauce with cooked pasta. This very popular recipe likely originated in Genoa. Traditionally, a flat pasta like trenette pasta or linguine is sauced with pesto alla genovese - a bright basil and pine nut sauce made by blending basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and cheese.
The basil stars and is balanced by the nutty and creamy flavors. Other pasta shapes like spaghetti also work wonderfully. To make trenette al pesto from the movie "Luca" simply add some steamed green beans and cooked potatoes to your dish! However you prepare it, the delicious pasta and vibrant pesto create a deeply satisfying dish that highlights Italian flavors. The perfect easy weeknight dinner!
🌱 Ingredients for Pasta al Pesto
Authentic pasta al pesto is made up of just a few simple ingredients but packs huge flavor. Here's what you'll need to make pasta al pesto with your own pesto sauce:
For the homemade basil pesto sauce:
- Fresh Basil Leaves: 2 cups of fresh basil leaves are the star ingredient that gives pesto its iconic flavor and fragrance. Use freshly picked basil or high-quality store-bought leaves.
- Pine Nuts: ½ cup of toasted pine nuts lend the pesto sauce its creamy, nutty texture. Pine nuts are traditional but walnuts can be substituted.
- Garlic: 4 minced cloves add a subtle bite and complexity of flavor. Use fresh garlic cloves for the best flavor.
- Grated Parmesan Cheese: ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese gives the pesto sauce a salty, cheesy depth of flavor. Use high-quality parmesan cheese if possible.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: ½ cup extra virgin olive oil makes the pesto sauce smooth and rich. A good quality extra virgin olive oil is best.
- Fresh Lemon Juice: The bright acidity of 2-3 teaspoons lemon juice helps balance the flavors in the pesto. Freshly squeezed lemon juice is ideal.
- Salt and Black Pepper: ¼ teaspoon salt and ⅛ teaspoon pepper season the pesto sauce to taste. Use freshly ground black pepper for the most aroma.
For the pasta:
- Tagliatelle Pasta: 250g of tagliatelle pasta shapes hold the pesto sauce nicely. Other long pastas like linguine or spaghetti also work well.
That's it - just 9 simple ingredients are all you need! The combination of the fresh basil leaves, garlicky pesto sauce, and al dente pasta makes this pasta al pesto dish sing with flavor.
See the recipe card for precise quantities and full instructions.
✔️ Ingredient Substitutions
One of the great things about pesto pasta is that it's highly adaptable to work with whatever ingredients you have on hand:
- Basil: Substitute an equal amount of cilantro, parsley, arugula, baby spinach, or kale for a different flavor profile.
- Pine Nuts: Walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds can be used in place of the pine nuts.
- Parmesan Cheese: Pecorino romano, asiago, manchego, or even nutritional yeast can substitute for the parmesan cheese to make a dairy-free pesto pasta.
- Pasta: Any long shape like spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine, or angel hair works wonderfully with pesto sauce. Try gluten-free pasta options if needed.
- Olive Oil: Avocado oil or a neutral-flavored vegetable oil can be swapped in for the olive oil if preferred.
📖 How to Make Pasta al Pesto (Pasta with Basil Pesto)
Making pesto pasta at home in your own kitchen is easy to do. Just follow these simple step-by-step instructions:
Step 1: Make The Pesto - Start by making the pesto sauce that is the foundation of this pasta dish. Add the fresh basil leaves and pine nuts to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse them together until the leaves and nuts are finely chopped and well combined. You may need to stop the food processor and scrape down the sides with a spatula.
Next add the minced garlic cloves, lemon juice, grated parmesan cheese, salt, and freshly ground black pepper to the food processor bowl. Process everything together until fully incorporated, about 1 minute.
Finally, with the food processor motor running, slowly drizzle in the ½ cup extra virgin olive oil. Continue processing until the pesto sauce is completely smooth and creamy with a spoonable consistency, about 30 seconds more.
Taste the homemade basil pesto sauce and adjust the salt, pepper, or lemon juice if desired to suit your preferences. Transfer the smooth pesto sauce to a bowl or storage container.
Step 2: Cook the Pasta - Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Once the water is boiling rapidly, add the 250g of tagliatelle pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, according to the package directions until the pasta is al dente with a slight bite.
Right before draining the cooked pasta, reserve about ½ cup of pasta water from the large pot. This reserved pasta water will help the pesto sauce cling and coat the cooked pasta later when tossed together.
Drain the al dente tagliatelle pasta well in a colander, making sure it's not too wet.
Step 3: Toss with Pesto - Return the cooked warm pasta to the large pot or a mixing bowl immediately. Immediately add the fresh homemade basil pesto sauce you made and toss using tongs or pasta forks until all the pasta is thoroughly coated in the flavorful green sauce.
Add a splash or two of the reserved pasta cooking water to help create a creamy, clingy sauce that coats each strand of pasta. The starch in the pasta water binds the sauce.
Step 4: Garnish and Serve - That's it - your pasta al pesto is now ready to enjoy! Serve the pesto pasta right away while hot, garnished with extra grated parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and fresh basil leaves for color.
Hint: Scoop out some of the pasta water and reserve when the pasta is almost done boiling. Add a splash of this reserved pasta water when tossing the pasta with the basil pesto. This helps the pesto cover the cooked pasta evenly!
There are so many ways to customize this basic pesto pasta recipe by switching up the ingredients:
- Extra Garlic: Add 2-4 roasted garlic cloves or 1-2 tablespoons garlic scapes paste for a deeper roasted garlic flavor. Omit the raw garlic if using roasted.
- Herby Freshness: Include ¼ cup fresh herbs like parsley, cilantro, oregano, thyme, or chives.
- More Greens: Use half fresh basil leaves and half baby spinach or baby kale leaves for a green color and health boost.
- Nutty Flavor: Instead of pine nuts, toast slivered almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, or pistachio pieces for a crunchier nutty texture.
- Savory Sweetness: Mix in ¼ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes drained and chopped for a touch of umami.
- Gluten-Free: Use gluten-free pasta to make this recipe gluten-free and celiac-friendly!
- Extra Veggies: Top each bowl of pesto pasta with sauteed or grilled vegetables like zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, or bell peppers for extra flavor and nutrition.
- More Cheese: Garnish each serving with a few crumbles of feta cheese or ricotta salata instead of just parmesan for tang and creaminess. Stir in 2-3 tablespoons small fresh mozzarella balls or creamy burrata cheese pieces after tossing for creaminess.
The possibilities are endless! Change up the pesto pasta flavors based on preferences, seasonality, and what you have in your fridge or pantry.
While pesto pasta is delicious on its own, here are some easy sides that pair well:
- Steamed, sautéed, or roasted vegetables like Air Fryer Frozen Brussels Sprouts, Air Fryer Frozen Broccoli, Air Fryer Carrots and Potatoes, asparagus, spinach, or zucchini. My Air Fryer Broccoli Parmesan is my favorite side for this pasta al pesto!
- Mixed salad greens simply dressed with balsamic vinaigrette. Sliced cherry tomatoes are also great in this dish!
- Cheesy air fryer garlic bread or toasted focaccia bread.
- Pan-seared chicken breast, shrimp skewers, or scallops. For extra protein, why not make a batch of my Air Fryer Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs? They're super quick and juicy!
- Baked salmon or meatballs.
- Chicken sausage links or turkey meatballs.
- Bruschetta topped with tomatoes and basil.
- Sparkling water with lemon slices or a crisp white wine.
This easy pasta al pesto comes together with just basic kitchen tools. Here is what you will need:
- Large pot with lid: For boiling pasta.
- Colander: To drain cooked pasta.
- Tongs: For tossing pasta with pesto sauce.
- Food processor or mortar and pestle: Food processor: Quickly emulsifies pesto. Mortar and pestle: Allows control over pesto texture.
- Measuring cups and spoons: To measure ingredients out.
- Cutting board and knife.
- Other essentials: Mixing spoons, spatula, storage containers.
You can also make the pesto by hand or use a small blender to whip up some fresh basil pesto quickly.
🍶 Storing Fresh Basil Pesto
When stored properly in the refrigerator or freezer, homemade pesto sauce will keep for 5-7 days refrigerated or 2-3 months frozen:
- Refrigeration: Transfer any leftover pesto sauce to an airtight container or jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
- Freezing: Spoon the pesto sauce into ice cube trays, leaving ½ inch headspace. Freeze the pesto cubes, then transfer them to zip top freezer bags or airtight containers to store. Thaw cubes as needed.
- Storage Tips: To help preserve the bright color and flavor of the pesto, pour a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil on top before sealing the pesto sauce for storage. Always refrigerate the pesto sauce after opening.
⏲ Reheating Leftover Pasta al Pesto
These methods easily reheat leftover pasta al pesto:
- Microwave: Place desired portions of the pesto pasta in a microwave-safe dish. Cover the dish and microwave on high power in short 30-second intervals until heated through, 1-2 minutes. Remember to stir in between intervals.
- Stovetop: Gently reheat leftover pesto pasta in a skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat. Add a splash of water or reserved pasta cooking liquid and stir occasionally until hot, about 5 minutes.
If the pesto pasta seems dry when reheating, add a splash of pasta cooking water, olive oil or a pat of butter to moisten it. Garnish reheated pasta al pesto with extra grated parmesan, pine nuts, or small basil leaves.
Get the answers to common questions about making and serving pasta al pesto:
Yes, you can omit the nuts entirely from pesto sauce. The texture may be slightly looser but the pesto will still be very tasty. For nut-free alternatives, try raw pumpkin seeds or toasted sunflower seeds. If you want a substitute for the pine nuts, walnuts and cashews are good alternatives.
Good parmesan cheese substitutes include pecorino romano, asiago, manchego, or even nutritional yeast flakes for a dairy-free and vegan pesto sauce.
Fresh pesto will keep for 5-7 days in the refrigerator when stored in an airtight container. For longer-term storage, freeze the pesto in ice cube trays. Thawed pesto sauce should be refrigerated and used within one week.
Absolutely! Homemade pesto sauce freezes very well for 3-4 months. Spoon pesto into ice cube trays, leaving ½ inch of space for expansion, and freeze individual portions. Transfer frozen cubes to zip top freezer bags or airtight containers. Thaw cubes as needed.
Longer pasta shapes like tagliatelle, fettuccine, linguine, spaghetti, and angel hair are the most ideal pairings for creamy pesto sauce. Short pastas like penne, rigatoni, or shells don't hold as much sauce.
No - you can make pesto sauce in a regular blender or even chop all the ingredients together finely by hand with a sharp knife. However, using a food processor is easier and gives the smoothest texture.
The best basil varieties for making fresh pesto sauce are Genovese, Italian large leaf basil, or any other sweet basil variety. Avoid spicy Thai basil.
👨🏻🍳 Top tips
- Use only fresh, young, and tender basil leaves. Old or wilted basil leaves can taste bitter and affect the flavor of the pesto.
- Add 1-2 tablespoons of the starchy pasta cooking water if the pesto sauce seems too thick once tossed with the pasta. The water loosens and binds the sauce.
- Remember to toss the hot drained pasta with the pesto sauce right after draining so the pasta can absorb the most flavor while still very hot.
- Store leftover pesto sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 1 week or in the freezer up to 3 months.
- Make a batch of homemade basil pesto ahead of time. Spoon into ice cube trays and freeze the pesto cubes for easy use later.
- Stir a spoonful of the prepared pesto sauce into vegetable or bean soups, stews, and grain bowls for a pop of fresh herb flavor.
- Use less olive oil and parmesan cheese in the pesto sauce if you want a lower-fat pesto pasta.
📒 Recipe Card
Pasta al Pesto (Basil Pesto Pasta)
- Large Pot
- Cutting Board
- Sharp Knife
- Food Processor or Mortar and Pestle
For the pesto:
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves packed
- ½ cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese about 2 ounces
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup pine nuts can substitute chopped walnuts
- 4 cloves garlic minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- ¼ teaspoon salt or more to taste
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or more to taste
- 2-3 teaspoon lemon juice
For the pasta:
- 250 g tagliatelle pasta Linguine or spaghetti also work well
- Make the pesto: In a food processor, pulse together the basil leaves and pine nuts until finely chopped. Add the garlic, lemon juice, Romano/Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Process until combined. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and process until smooth and creamy.2 cups fresh basil leaves, ½ cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese, ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup pine nuts, 4 cloves garlic, ¼ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, 2-3 teaspoon lemon juice
- Cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the tagliatelle according to package directions until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water.250 g tagliatelle pasta
- Toss and serve: Drain the pasta and return to the pot. Add the pesto and toss to coat, adding some of the reserved pasta water if needed to thin. Divide pasta between bowls. Garnish with extra pine nuts, Parmesan, and fresh basil. Enjoy!
- Use young, tender basil leaves for best flavor
- Toss pasta with pesto immediately after draining for best flavor absorption
- Add pasta cooking water if needed to thin pesto
- Toast pine nuts in dry pan for 2-3 minutes to intensify flavor
- Refrigerate leftover pesto up to 5 days or freeze for long-term storage
- Reheat leftover pasta in microwave with splash of water to moisten
- Pair with grilled or roasted vegetables, chicken, shrimp for easy meal
- Substitute other herbs like cilantro or arugula for different flavor
- Omit cheese to make dairy-free or use nutritional yeast
- Try different pasta shapes like fettuccine, linguine or gluten-free