Basil Pesto Pasta

5 from 1 vote

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This basil pesto pasta recipe is an easy weeknight meal that’s sure to be a winner. Bright, herbaceous pesto sauce pairs with tender, buttery pasta for a comfort food dinner that’s ready in just 15 minutes! 

Why you’ll love this recipe:

If you and your family members are huge fans of pasta like my family is, there’s no reason not to like this basil pesto pasta recipe! Full of flavor, it tastes like you were in the kitchen all day yet comes together in minutes. 

  • Quick – This pasta dish only requires 5 minutes of prep time and 10 minutes of cooking time meaning you’ll be in and out of the kitchen fast. 
  • Flavorful – It’s full of rich, buttery pasta balanced out with bright herby basil pesto for an explosion of flavors that will have your whole family coming back for more. 
  • Versatile –  This is an easy weeknight meal that you can put together in a hurry, but it can also double as a side dish alongside your favorite main courses. You can even mix in your favorite protein or extra veggies to make it even more filling. 
A bowl of basil pesto pasta with a fork on top.
Photo Credit: Lena Gladstone

Key Ingredient Notes:

Basil Pesto

  • Fresh basil – You definitely want to use the freshest basil you can find for the most flavorful pesto. If you don’t have it growing in your garden, be sure that when you grab it at the grocery store it’s bright green and doesn’t show any signs of wilting.
  • Pine nuts – A traditional ingredient in pesto, I love the flavor and texture that pine nuts add. However, if you’re not a fan or there’s an allergy in your household, you can substitute them with other nuts or seeds such as sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. 
  • Parmesan cheese – No pesto recipe is complete without parmesan! Its savory, nutty flavor makes this homemade pesto sauce irresistible.
  • Extra virgin olive oil – The olive oil helps to loosen up the ingredients, transforming the pesto from a paste into a smooth sauce. It also adds a rich, slightly peppery flavor and a boost of healthy fats! 
  • Garlic cloves – Fresh garlic cloves add extra depth and savoriness to the pesto. Feel free to add more if you’re a garlic lover like I am! 
  • Lemon juice – Citrus helps to balance out the heaviness of the fats, adding a bright, well-rounded flavor. Freshly squeezed is best! 

Pasta

  • Fusilli corti pasta – This spiral-shaped noodle is my go-to for this basil pesto pasta, but you can use any shape you prefer. Another similar option is cavatappi.
  • Kosher salt – Many chefs suggest salting your pasta water “like the ocean,” and I am a firm believer in that! Generously salting the water will help to season the pasta. 
  • Unsalted butter – For the best flavor, it’s crucial to choose a high-quality butter. Don’t substitute it with salted butter. Extra salt will overpower the bold, nutty flavor we’re looking to achieve. 
  • Parmesan cheese – Reserve some grated parmesan so that you can give the final dish a generous sprinkle at the end. In my house, there’s no such thing as too much cheese!
Ingredients to make basil pesto pasta.

How to make this pesto pasta recipe:

  • Add the basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic, lemon juice, and kosher salt to a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are well combined and finely chopped. 
  • Pour the olive oil into the mixture, and pulse a few more times to combine. Be careful not to overprocess! The pesto should be smooth but not watery.
Ingredients for basil pesto in a food processor and the blended pesto in the food processor.
  • Cook the pasta in salted water according to the package instructions. Then, drain the liquid, reserving about ¼ cup of the pasta water. 
  • Transfer the pasta back to the pot, and add the butter and reserved pasta water. Gently toss to combine and coat the noodles. 
  • Add the basil pesto, and mix to combine.
Cooked pasta in a pot with butter on the left and pesto on top of the buttered pasta on the right.
  • Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl. Then, top it with extra parmesan and fresh basil, and enjoy!

for time management

You can make this easy pesto sauce in less time than it takes to cook the pasta. So, start to boil the noodles first. Then, blend the ingredients for the pesto as they cook. That way you’re not standing around waiting for your noodles to finish boiling! 

Tips for Success:

  • Be sure to save that pasta water. It’s like liquid gold! The starches in the sauce help to thicken the pesto and allow it to cling to the pasta. 
  • Use freshly grated parmesan from a block for the best results. Pre-grated parmesan from the store contains anti-caking agents that prevent it from melting as well as freshly grated varieties. 
  • Be careful to cook your pasta just to al dente to prevent it from becoming soggy. You want it to be tender but still firm enough to hold up to the weight of the sauce. 
A bowl of basil pesto pasta with two forks sticking out.
Photo Credit: Lena Gladstone

Make-Ahead Tips:

This basil pesto pasta recipe is best eaten while it’s warm and fresh. However, you can make the basil pesto in advance. You can even prepare extra pesto to have on hand for pesto mozzarella chicken meatballs and 5-ingredient pesto artichoke dip

To make the pesto ahead of time: 

  • Prepare the pesto as directed in the recipe. 
  • Transfer the pesto to a glass airtight container with a lid that seals. It will stay fresh in the fridge for up to 1 week or in the freezer for 2-3 months
  • When you’re ready to make your pasta, cook the noodles as usual. Then, allow the pesto to come to room temperature, give it a good stir, and combine it with the rest of the ingredients. 

Storing Tips:

As mentioned, this basil pesto pasta recipe is best enjoyed right away while it’s still warm. However, on the rare chance you have leftovers, you can easily store them to enjoy later. 

  • Allow your pasta to cool completely. Then, transfer it to an airtight container. It’ll stay fresh in the refrigerator for 3-4 days
  • Reheat leftover basil pesto pasta in a skillet on the stovetop over medium-low heat. If you have leftover pesto, you can add a little to the pasta to freshen it back up and add more flavor.
A bowl of basil pesto pasta with a fork and a second bowl of pasta to the side.
Photo Credit: Lena Gladstone

Basil Pesto Pasta FAQs: 

What goes well with pesto pasta? 

Serve this basil pesto pasta recipe with simple appetizers and side dishes such as garlic breadsticks, Caesar salad, or steamed vegetables. Or, enjoy it as a side with protein sources like grilled steak or a roasted rack of lamb.

What pasta is best for pesto? 

You can use any pasta you like best for this recipe. However, I recommend choosing medium-sized varieties with ridges or spirals to help hold all the sauce. 

Do you heat pesto before adding it to pasta? 

There’s no need to warm pesto before adding it to the pasta. It will heat up in the pot! 

Basil pesto pasta topped with parmesan and fresh basil.
5 from 1 vote

Basil Pesto Pasta

Prepare this basil pesto pasta recipe with less than 10 ingredients and just 15 minutes for a family-friendly main course or side dish!
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Total: 15 minutes
Servings: 6 servings
Yields: 6 servings

Ingredients

Basil Pesto

  • 3 cups fresh basil packed
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese freshly grated
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt or more to taste
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Pasta

  • 1 pound fusilli corti pasta or your favorite pasta, Note 1
  • Kosher salt to taste for water
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese for topping

Equipment

  • 1 food processor

Instructions 

Make the basil pesto

  • While the pasta cooks, make the pesto. Add the basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic, lemon juice, and kosher salt to a food processor. Pulse until all the ingredients are finely chopped. Add in olive oil and pulse a few more times to combine.
    3 cups fresh basil, ¼ cup pine nuts, ½ cup parmesan cheese, ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 cloves garlic, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Cook the pasta

  • Cook the pasta according to the package instructions in salted water. Drain. Save ¼ cup of pasta water.
    1 pound fusilli corti pasta, Kosher salt
  • Put the pasta back in the pot and add the butter and pasta water, gently toss to combine.
    2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Add the basil pesto. Mix to combine.
  • Add to a serving bowl. Top with Parmesan cheese and extra basil leaves and enjoy.
    ¼ cup parmesan cheese

Tips & Notes

Note 1: Any pasta can be used for this recipe, but medium-sized pasta with spirals or ridges works best to hold the pesto sauce. If needed, opt for gluten-free varieties. 
Storing Tips:
– Allow leftovers to cool to room temperature.
– Transfer them to an airtight container, and store them in the fridge for up to 3-4 days.
– Reheat in a skillet over medium heat. 

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving, Calories: 565kcal, Carbohydrates: 58g, Protein: 16g, Fat: 30g, Saturated Fat: 7g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g, Monounsaturated Fat: 16g, Trans Fat: 0.2g, Cholesterol: 19mg, Sodium: 594mg, Potassium: 257mg, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 2g, Vitamin A: 849IU, Vitamin C: 3mg, Calcium: 190mg, Iron: 2mg
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: American, Italian

Hi, I’m Shinee!

Welcome! I’m so happy you’re here! I believe anyone can cook restaurant-quality food at home! And my goal is to help you to become a confident cook with my easy-to-follow recipes with lots of tips and step-by-step photos.

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