This pasta al pesto is the perfect quick weeknight dinner! Made with homemade pesto, it takes just 20 minutes to make this creamy and delicious pesto pasta.
This simple pasta al pesto is so easy to whip up! I've made a homemade pesto recipe without pine nuts to go with it, but you can also use store-bought pesto if that's all you have on hand.
I've paired it with spaghetti (so I guess you can say this is spaghetti al pesto!) but feel free to use another pasta shape!
This pesto pasta is a weeknight-friendly recipe but you can also make it for dinner parties, serving it with some garlic bread and a green salad!
Why you'll love this pasta al pesto!
- This recipe uses simple ingredients, nothing too fancy or over the top here.
- Using homemade pesto makes all of the difference! I've made a cashew pesto to go with it but you can make it with pine nuts if you prefer.
- This is a great weeknight meal since it doesn't take too long to make.
- You can make the pesto ahead of time.
- Cashews: I'm using cashews for this pesto sauce but you can use pine nuts if you prefer.
- Fresh Basil Leaves: Make sure to use fresh basil with super green leaves that aren't wilting or have dark patches on them.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: try to use a high quality olive oil here!
- Garlic: I love a garlicky pesto, but you can decrease it to 1 clove if you aren't as big of a fan!
- Parmesan: I recommend grating your own parmesan for both the pesto and garnishing the finished dish. You can also use pecorino romano cheese if you prefer.
- Fresh Spaghetti: I used fresh spaghetti, but you can also use dried pasta and a different shape.
Substitutions & Variations
- Swap out cashews or pine nuts for walnuts or pistachios.
- Use fettuccine, tagliatelle or linguine instead of spaghetti.
- Add some grilled chicken or shrimp to bump up the protein!
- Garnish with sliced cherry tomatoes.
- Swap out the parmesan for pecorino cheese.
- Feel free to use store bought pesto if you're low on time!
Step by Step Instructions
Step 1: Start by making the pesto. Blend all of the pesto ingredients in a food processor or blender. You can make it chunky or smooth. Place in a jar and cover with a thin layer of olive oil. Keep it in the fridge.
Step 2: In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta according to the package directions.
Step 3: Scoop out 1 cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta.
Step 4: Pour the pasta back into the pot and add the pesto, using a spoon or tongs to toss everything together. If the pesto is too thick you can drizzle in some pasta water.
Serve on plates and garnish with extra fresh basil and parmesan cheese!
Tips & Tricks
- Cook the pasta so it is al dente, about a minute or two less than what the directions say! That way your spaghetti isn't mushy and floppy when you serve it.
- Don't forget to save a bit of pasta water to add to the spaghetti, this will help thin out the pesto and coat the spaghetti with the pesto.
- Make the homemade pesto sauce up to a week ahead! Store in a jar with a thin layer of olive oil on top and keep in the fridge for up to a week.
- High-quality olive oil, cheese and fresh basil will make all the difference!
- I used fresh pasta because that's what I prefer, but you can also use dried pasta. Just note that the cooking times will differ!
- If you want the homemade basil pesto to be more acidic, add a squeeze of lemon juice.
Frequently Asked Questions
No, I recommend once you've drained the pasta and turned the heat off, add the pasta back to the pan (or a new pan if you prefer) and then add the pesto. The warm pasta will naturally heat up the pesto, as will any pasta water that you add.
It will help thin out the sauce if it's too thick!
Yes, you'll have to swap out the parmesan for a vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast since parmesan is not vegetarian.
It definitely does taste like a regular pesto to me! Just make sure you're using fresh basil leaves and a high quality olive oil and parmesan.
Try these recipes next!
Pasta al Pesto
- ½ cup cashews swap out for pine nuts if you prefer
- 2 garlic cloves
- 3 ½ cups fresh basil
- ½ cup parmesan
- ½ cup olive oil
- 12 oz fresh spaghetti
- grated parmesan to garnish
- fresh basil to garnish
- Make your pesto. In a blender or food processor, combine the cashews (or pine nuts if you prefer!), garlic cloves, fresh basil, parmesan, some salt, and olive oil. Blend until smooth. Taste and see if you need to add more salt. If you feel it needs some acidity, add some lemon juice.½ cup cashews, 2 garlic cloves, 3 ½ cups fresh basil, ½ cup parmesan, salt, ½ cup olive oil
- Once smooth, place in a jar and store in the fridge until ready to use.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the spaghetti according to directions, save 1 cup of pasta water.12 oz fresh spaghetti, salt
- Add the spaghetti back to the pot and add in your pesto. Toss and stir everything together. If the sauce seems to thick, you can drizzle in the pasta water until it is your desired consistency.
- Serve with grated parmesan and fresh basil.