Learn how to make pesto pasta with this quick & easy 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 pesto pasta. We weren’t about to head out into the snow for any additional groceries, and really, nothing beats 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…
Try my lasagna, spaghetti bolognese, penne pasta, pasta pomodoro, or roasted vegetable pasta next!
Easy Pesto Pasta
- 6 ounces spaghetti, reserve 1/2 cup starchy pasta water
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup
- 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
- Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water according to package directions or until al dente. Reserve 1/2 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, 1/4 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.
This post is not sponsored, I just love Gotham Greens so much!
can we substitute spaghetti for another pasta, farfalle?
Any pasta shape will work here!
This is so so good!!!
And this is just as amazing using store-bought pesto and more arugala/spinach in the bowl under the finished pasta – so tasty
I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
I made the pesto pasta for my niece’s family yesterday while she was in the hospital. I doubled the recipe and everyone loved it and it so easy to make.
I’m so glad everyone loved it, I hope your niece is doing well.
I love your website. I made the pesto pasta. It came out wonderful. I love Italian food. I live in India and your website is truly an inspiration and a treasure chest of vegetarian recipes. I love to cook and I am vegtarian. I stumbled upon your website on google and I am so lucky.
Hi Minnie, I’m so glad you’ve been enjoying the recipes!
<3 < 3
But TBH, you could have broken the up the pesto and pasta recipes. Into different sections. My delicate eyes need some extra help pleazeeeee.
Very simple and delicious!
I also added a dash of dried peppermint leaves, chopped green bell pepper, and black olive slices
This looks very good. Never done it. Never had a Mother who tught me how to cook.You can say those mothers are too bussey taken care of babys not what you do. She told me i was her worst child then all the rest she had. Her name is JoAnn. I never knew a Mother say that about 1 of her grils.
Great balance of flavors, thanks! And i always love making use of that pasta water
Yum! My favorite way to eat pesto is one a thick slice of toasted seeded bread, with Vegan mozz, and piled high with tomato basil salad. Best Bruschetta evaahhh!
sounds so delicious!
This looks so amazing! I love Italian food! I’m staying in Indonesia and it is so hard to get these high class Italian ingredients. I just keep looking at your recipes and drool! Thank you for these great recipes 😀
I just recently stumbled on your website.
I wanted to compliment you first on your visually beautiful website and imagery….! Secondly, your recipes are wonderful!!
Thank you for the inspiration and recipes!!
Definitely need to make this! I love pasta and pesto!
might have to break my diet for this (pasta not otherwise allowed!) but I do get a day off each week, so I’ll spend it on this, love pesto pasta, craving it actually, and love pine nuts of course!
Oh my…this may be the most stunning pasta ever!
I am so excited to learn about this. My partner is a teacher in the Pullman neighborhood. There are a lot hidden gems there.
Mmmm… love me some arugula. And some pesto. And some pasta! Perhaps I should give this a try lol…
Can you link up the Gotham Greens Pesto recipe. You talk about “this recipe” in terms of a pesto but the only link is to a Kale pesto. Is that what “this recipe” refers to? Thanks!
sorry that was unclear! Their pesto is a product and not a recipe so I linked my favorite pesto recipe for those that don’t have Gotham Greens available locally.