How to Make Pesto Pasta in Just 15 Minutes
Have pesto sitting in the fridge? Put it to use in pesto pasta for a quick and easy dinner.
Did you know that pesto technically lasts for just 5 days in the refrigerator? Admittedly, I’ve used the fragrant, flavorful and sometimes expensive green sauce much past its prime simply because I hate to see any go to waste.
However, if whatever recipes using pesto you make leave you with leftovers—whether it’s an entire container or a few servings worth—there are plenty of delicious and easy ways to use it up. When you’re looking for last-minute dinner ideas, pesto pasta is one that is surprisingly elegant and always satisfying.
Key Ingredients for Pesto Pasta
- Pesto: Our recipe calls for classic homemade pesto, made with basil, pine nuts, Parmesan and olive oil. However, you can use your favorite variation of pesto, whether it’s arugula pesto, spinach pesto or even sweet pea pesto. You can also use prepared pesto if you want to save time. Check out our favorite store-bought pesto brands for guidance.
- Noodles: While we use spaghetti, you can really use any kind of pasta shape you like. Long, thin noodles like fettuccine, bucatini and pappardelle are often best for pesto, although you can also go for short, textured noodles if that’s what you have on hand.
- Parmesan: Pre-packaged Parmesan will save you a little time, but grating the cheese yourself from a block means the cheese will melt more nicely on top of your pile of pasta.
Pesto Pasta Recipe
This recipe from the Taste of Home Test Kitchen serves 8 people and takes just 15 minutes total to make. Talk about easy!
- 1 package (16 oz.) spaghetti
- 1 cup homemade pesto
- 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- Crushed red pepper flakes, optional
Step 1: Cook the pasta
Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.
Editor’s Tip: Don’t forget the salt! Here’s how to salt pasta water the right way so your noodles are flavored just enough.
Step 2: Make the pesto pasta sauce
In a large bowl, whisk the pesto and 1/3 cup pasta water. Add the cooked spaghetti, and toss to coat.
Editor’s Tip: Adding the starchy pasta water to the pesto loosens up the sauce a bit, and makes it go further in your dish.
Step 3: Adjust the sauce, if necessary
Add more pasta water to reach your desired consistency. If you want a more concentrated sauce for the noodles, stick with less water.
Step 4: Sprinkle with cheese and serve
Sprinkle with Parmesan, and, if desired, red pepper flakes for a little kick. Once you master pesto, there are so many things you can do with it, like make this pesto penne pasta.
Tips for Making Pesto Pasta
What’s the best pasta shape for pesto?
Pesto is a pretty versatile sauce. It’s typically paired with long noodles like spaghetti, linguine, bucatini, cappellini and fettuccine, but short, textured noodles such as orecchiete and gemelli will work too.
What else can you add to pesto pasta?
If you want to elevate pesto pasta, there are many ingredients that will serve your purpose. If you’d prefer a softer, more decadent cheese than Parm, go for little mozzarella pearls or roughly chopped burrata. Add some color with blistered cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced roasted red peppers or roasted cauliflower. Fresh basil, a sprinkle of pine nuts, and a touch of freshly cracked pepper would also add so much flavor. If you want to add protein, try grilled chicken or crispy prosciutto.
What can you serve with pesto pasta?
Your favorite garlic bread recipe would complement pesto pasta nicely, as would a simple side salad.
How should you store leftover pesto pasta?
Keep any remaining pasta in an airtight container in the fridge. When you’re hungry again, be very careful reheating your leftovers, because pesto can easily turn black with high heat. During my brief time studying the history of Italian food in Tuscany, a passionate professor had said that you should never reheat pesto, but rather repurpose it in foods that don’t require heat—or very little heat. If you like, you can also eat this pesto pasta cold, like you would a pasta salad.