Learn how to make pesto pasta with this quick & easy pesto pasta recipe! With bright, bold flavor, it's one of our favorite weeknight dinners.
The first snow came early in Chicago this year. It was barely November and we were driving to an appointment. It was snowing, and then all of a sudden it went from “really charming” to “wow it’s really coming down!” We sat in the cold car way too long, wearing way too-light coats, staring at brake lights and a grey sky. I thought – really – what have we done?? I write a blog about vegetables, I’m shooting a book that’s due before May (when the spring farmers markets open) and we’ve moved so far from the sun!
We got to where we were going – an industrial area in the Pullman neighborhood where, situated on the roof of the Method production facility, is Gotham Greens. I’ve been obsessed with their locally grown greens since the moment I came across their deliciously spicy arugula earlier this year. We got a tour of their rooftop greenhouse, and even though it was cold and miserable outside, it was so warm and sunny up there. There was a sea of the softest butter lettuces, my favorite spicy arugula, and the loveliest scent of fresh basil.
Later that night, with a fridge full of greens and a pantry full of not much else, I made my go-to quick & easy dinner: this five minute vegan pesto pasta. We weren’t about to head out into the snow for any additional groceries, and really, nothing beats pesto pasta in terms of combining bold flavor and easy prep.
How to Make Pesto Pasta
As I said above, making pesto pasta is easy. Here’s all you need to do:
- Blend up a batch of my 6-ingredient basil pesto, or use store-bought pesto in a pinch.
- Cook your pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water according to the package directions.
- Before draining the pasta, reserve some of the starchy pasta water. Then, add 1/4 cup of this pasta water back into the pot with your pesto, and stir to thin the pesto.
- Toss in the cooked pasta, and mix until the pesto thoroughly coats it.
- Add a big handful of arugula and toss until it’s barely wilted.
- Finish everything with a big squeeze of lemon, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and toasted pine nuts.
Pesto Pasta Recipe Tips
Never made pesto pasta before? Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Reserve some pasta water. My #1 pesto pasta tip! The salty, starchy pasta water will loosen the pesto enough to make a light sauce over the pasta. Because of its salty, starchy quality, this water will make a more flavorful, thicker final pesto sauce than regular water would.
- Add the greens at the last minute. I like my greens to be just slightly wilted, not totally limp. Toss them in at the last minute so that the hot pasta can wilt them, and then serve right away, while they still have a little crunch and vibrant color.
- Taste and adjust. Pestos vary in brightness, saltiness, and overall intensity of flavor, so make sure you taste and adjust your final dish before serving. Depending on your pesto, you might need to add an extra squeeze of lemon, a pinch of salt, or a big grind of black pepper to make your pesto pasta sing.
Pesto Pasta Recipe Variations
Like all simple recipes, this one’s fun to play with. Here are a few ideas to change it up:
- No pine nuts on hand? Use walnuts or almonds instead.
- Finish the dish with spinach or kale in place of arugula, or skip the greens altogether.
- Try using kale pesto instead of basil for a cold weather variation.
- Garnish the final dish with a few fresh or roasted cherry tomatoes, roasted cauliflower, or asparagus.
- Stir in some mini mozzarella balls or a sprinkle of capers.
- Swap the spaghetti for your favorite pasta shape, or use spaghetti squash in its place.
What’s your favorite way to eat pesto pasta? Let me know in the comments!
If you love this pesto pasta recipe…
Easy Pesto Pasta
- 6 ounces spaghetti, reserve ½ cup starchy pasta water
- ⅓ to ½ cup pesto
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- Fresh lemon juice, as desired
- 4 cups arugula
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- Pinches of red pepper flakes
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Freshly grated Parmesan or vegan Parmesan (recipe below), optional
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water according to package directions or until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the starchy cooking liquid before draining. Drain the pasta and toss with a tiny bit of olive oil.
- In a large skillet over very low heat, add the pesto, ¼ cup of the reserved pasta water and stir to combine. Add the pasta and toss to coat, and more pasta water as needed to create a loose sauce. The amount of water needed will depend on thickness of your pesto.
- Turn the heat off. Add lemon juice, salt, and pepper, to taste. Then, add the arugula and toss to barely wilt. Garnish with the red pepper flakes and pine nuts and serve.
½ cup hemp seeds
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons raw sunflower seeds
pinch of sea salt
Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until combined.
This post is not sponsored, I just love Gotham Greens so much!