The creamy pesto pasta recipe includes the only creamy pesto sauce recipe you will ever need in a quick and easy dinner recipe. Key ingredients such as fresh herbs, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese combine to make the perfect creamy sauce for pasta, sandwiches, pizzas, and everything in between.
Turn that overgrown basil plant into the most delicious fresh pesto with this simple recipe that is packed with fresh flavor. Believe me, your taste buds will thank you.
You’ll be shocked by how far one batch of this simple sauce goes. This fresh basil pesto is perfect for those busy weeknights – simply use it for the best pesto pasta one night then pizza the next.
This homemade pesto sauce recipe is made from just a handful of simple ingredients and is just as convenient as using store-bought pesto.
In a matter of minutes, you can have this classic pesto pasta done and ready for an easy weeknight meal – one that the whole family will love to eat. Who doesn’t always need a new family favorite that takes less time than one TV show??
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Large batch – just a fourth of this recipe can coat a pound of pasta, which means you’ll have plenty left over to use or save for other meals. A little bit really does go a long way with this homemade basil pesto.
- Fresh ingredients – made from fresh basil, garlic, parmesan cheese, olive oil, and pine nuts this delicious sauce is full of things that you want to put in your body.
- Versatile - pesto is great with any type of pasta there are also a ton of other things you can put it on like toast, pizza, sandwiches, wraps, grilled chicken breasts, and so on. This is a pesto pasta recipe, but it also works great on other things!
- Basil – you can use half-baby spinach and half basil leaves if you want, but it will change the flavor. I recommend using all fresh basil leaves (no dried) for the best flavor. You can typically find fresh basil at many grocery stores or even better if it’s from our own garden!
- Garlic – fresh garlic is best but you can use pre-minced if you have it on hand. I do not recommend using garlic powder, it’ll be totally different than fresh garlic!
- Parmesan cheese – you can also use pecorino romano, parmigiano reggiano, or asiago as well if you prefer something else.
- Olive Oil – I like the taste of extra-virgin olive oil in mine but if you want a lighter taste you can use extra virgin or avocado oil.
- Pine Nuts – swap these out for pistachios, walnuts, or sunflower seeds. The texture should remain the same but again the taste will reflect whatever nut you choose to use. Also, toasted pine nuts make the flavor so much better so if you want to toast them quickly on the stove, go for it!
- Pasta – you can choose whatever pasta you want, you just need some cooked pasta to add the pesto to. I personally like it on thicker pastas like rotini, tortellini, bowtie pasta, penne, or my favorite is orecchiette! But if you don’t have any of those, the pasta of your choice will work well too!
How to make pesto pasta
This pesto pasta recipe is one of my favorites because it’s an easy recipe that you can make in minutes for a busy weeknight during the school year! It’s as simple as cooking pasta (and who can’t do that), making the pesto, and combing the two together.
The best part about the recipe is once all the ingredients are gathered this recipe lets the food processor do all the work for you. Just throw it all in and blend. Keep reading for full instructions below and a recipe card at the bottom.
1 – Cook the Pasta
Start by making a pound of your favorite pasta, cooking it according to the package directions for al dente pasta in a large pot on salted water. Different pastas call for different cooking times so make sure to follow the box or optimal cooking times!
2 – Make the Pesto
While the pasta is cooking, make the creamy pesto sauce.
If you’re planning on toasting the pine nuts, toast those first by cooking them in a pan on medium-high heat on the stovetop for a few minutes, until they start to get fragrant and toasted. Remove from the pan immediately so they don’t burn.
If you’re not toasting the pine nuts, begin making the pesto by putting the fresh basil, garlic, parmesan cheese, nuts, a little salt, and pepper into a food processor.
Then process until the ingredients are mixed together and smooth.
To make the pesto even smoother, add the oil to the pesto mix in the food processor a little at a time until it gets to a desired consistency. Process the pesto as you add the extra virgin olive oil. You don’t have to add all of the oil – just until you get the consistency of the pesto that you want.
I personally prefer my pesto be a little thicker, but it does mean you’ll end up with less pesto that way. But I like it thicker to use on in easy pasta recipes, on chicken, on sandwiches, and more. The more oil you add, the thinner the pasta will be, but it will go further. If you want this to be a creamy pasta dish, I recommend a thicker pesto.
3 – Make the Creamy Pesto Pasta
Combine the cooked pasta with 1/4th of the creamy pesto sauce in a large pan or a large bowl. Put the rest of the pesto into an airtight container and store in the fridge until you’re ready to use the rest of it.
Then top the pasta with additional grated parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts if desired.
Add some cooked chicken pieces to the pasta to make this a creamy pesto chicken pasta. The flavors of the pesto work great with chicken, and it’s a simple way to add even more protein to this delicious meal!
A great way to give it extra flavor is to roast the pine nuts in a large skillet until fragrant before adding them to the food processor.
A fourth of the recipe will coat a pound of pasta, and store the remaining pesto for other uses.
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week and use it on everything from chicken tenders to pizza. Or if your family is really pasta lovers, you could always toss it with some more pasta, grape tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes), and olives for a different tasting pasta recipe using the same base pesto recipe!
Store the creamy pesto pasta sauce in a freezer-safe container for up to three months, allowing it to thaw completely before use.
Add some unsalted butter or a drizzle of olive oil to the hot strained pasta if it gets done before the pesto is ready. This will help keep it from sticking while you make the pesto.
This creamy pesto pasta sauce works best with a short and thick pasta shape so it can spread evenly. I recommend it with rotini, orecchiette, or even tortellini. If you don’t have any of those, a longer noodle like spaghetti or fettuccini works as well. You can also use gluten-free pasta if you choose – just make sure to follow the package directions for cooking times.
Using mozzarella instead of parmesan cheese is the best way to ruin this pesto. Substituting mozzarella for parmesan cheese could alter the texture. For best results, I recommend replacing the parmesan with a harder cheese such as pecorino romano cheese instead.
Pesto can pair well with any meat, though the most common are chicken, fish, and sausage. Any of those meats would make a good addition to this creamy pasta recipe.
More Easy Dinner Recipes
This creamy pesto pasta recipe is one of our favorites but these would also be a great addition to your weeknight dinner menu!
- Instant Pot fettuccine Alfredo – a quick and easy pasta dish you can make right in the Instant Pot!
- Easy baked ziti – this one-pot baked ziti dish takes just a few minutes to throw together, perfect for a busy night!
- Teriyaki chicken stir fry – a simple Asian dish that’s even better than takeout!
- Ground turkey pasta – a delicious pasta dish with ground turkey, veggies, and an amazing sauce!
- Taco meat – use this for taco Tuesday or with any of your family favorites, it’s super easy and delicious!
Creamy Pesto Pasta
- 4 cups fresh basil loosley packed
- 8 cloves garlic
- ½ cup parmesan cheese
- ½ cup pine nuts
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp black pepper
- ¾ cup olive oil
- 1 pound pasta for serving
- Put the fresh basil, garlic, parmesan cheese, nuts, salt, and pepper into a food processor and process until the ingredients are mixed together and smooth.4 cups fresh basil, 8 cloves garlic, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup pine nuts, 2 tsp salt, 2 tsp black pepper
- Add the oil to the pesto mix in the food processor a little at a time until it gets to a desired consistency. Process the pesto as you add the oil.3/4 cup olive oil
- Cook the pasta according to package directions until the pasta reaches al dente. Then mix the pesto sauce in with the pasta.1 pound pasta
- Serve warm topped with toasted pines nuts and fresh parmesan if desired.