Your new go-to summer dinner: Pesto Pasta! Vibrant pesto tangled with whole wheat noodles, a handful of Parmesan, and whatever additions you please (tomatoes! spinach! chicken!) this is a fresh, fuss-free dinner to eat and repeat.
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Why You’ll Love This Summer Pasta Recipe
- Pesto Pasta Is Summertime Bliss. From Pesto Salmon to Grilled Pesto Chicken Skewers, we enjoy delicious pesto recipes all summer long. When it comes to a batch of Basil Pesto’s highest calling, however, a fresh batch of pasta (or this Chicken Pesto Pasta) is darn near impossible to beat.
- It’s Easy Yet Impressive. This is the best pesto pasta recipe for an easy weeknight meal or an elegant dinner party. It’s simple to make and ready in under 30 minutes, but it delivers majorly crowd-pleasing flavor.
- Versatile. Enjoy it as is, or top it with Air Fryer Chicken Breast, Grilled Shrimp Seasoning, or Baked Salmon in Foil.
- Pesto Pasta Is Good for You. By adding fresh vegetables like cherry tomatoes and spinach, as well as using whole wheat noodles, eating pesto pasta can be healthy and is an absolute pleasure. My homemade Basil Pesto is healthy, so it will help keep this recipe on the lighter side too.
How to Make Pesto Pasta
- Whole Wheat Pasta. Using whole wheat pasta is an easy, healthy swap. I recommend using long pasta noodles like spaghetti or fettuccini (or even penne pasta), as they hold the pesto nicely.
- Tomatoes. Pesto pasta with tomatoes is absolutely scrumptious! The sweetness of the tomatoes pairs wonderfully with the nutty, creamy pesto sauce.
- Pesto. Deliciously clings to every noodle, ensuring each bite is packed with exuberance.
- Lemon Juice. For brightness, balance, and acidity.
- Red Pepper Flakes. Adds a touch of heat. If you prefer less spice, you can omit them.
- Greens. Sneak extra greens into your pasta by adding some arugula or spinach. Both greens are rich in vitamins and minerals.
- Pine Nuts. A finishing sprinkle of toasted pine nuts adds texture and makes this dish complete.
- Parmesan. Because you can never have too much parmesan!
- Cook the Pasta. Reserve some pasta water.
- Cook the Tomatoes. Cook until they’re beginning to burst.
- Drain the Pasta. Add it to the tomatoes.
- Stir in the Pesto. Toss with the juice, salt, and red pepper flakes until coated. Add reserved pasta water as desired.
- Add the Arugula. Stir until it wilts.
- Add Pine Nuts and Parmesan. Enjoy!
- Creamy Pesto Pasta. To make pesto pasta creamy, add avocado like this Avocado Pesto or Greek yogurt like the basil pesto from The Well Plated Cookbook.
- Vegan Pesto Pasta. To make this recipe vegan, swap the Parmesan for nutritional yeast.
- Seafood Pesto Pasta. Seafood goes well with pesto pasta. Grilled Cod, Pan Seared Salmon, or Air Fryer Shrimp would all be tasty additions.
- Meaty Pesto Pasta. For pesto pasta with chicken, toss in my Baked Bone In Chicken Breast or Grilled Chicken Tenders. Other options I love are Air Fryer Steak and Stuffed Pork Tenderloin.
- Veggie Pesto Pasta. Mix Sautéed Mushrooms, Roasted Red Peppers, or Grilled Eggplant into your pasta, or serve them on the side.
- Pesto Pasta with Bacon. To elevate pesto pasta, top your finished pasta with Oven Baked Bacon or Air Fryer Bacon.
- To Store. Refrigerate pasta in an airtight storage container for up to 4 days.
- To Reheat. Pesto pasta can be reheated. Rewarm leftovers in a skillet on the stovetop over medium-low heat or in the microwave.
- To Freeze. Freeze pasta in an airtight, freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Meal Prep Tip
Up to 1 day in advance, prepare the pesto (if making homemade). You can also cut the tomatoes, wash the spinach or arugula, and grate the parmesan cheese. Refrigerate each ingredient until you’re ready to finish the recipe.
Turn leftovers into a scrumptious pesto pasta salad (yes, pesto pasta can be eaten cold). Toss in additional greens or enjoy it as is.
What to Serve with Pesto Pasta
- Salad. Another summery salad like Spinach Strawberry Salad and Arugula Salad would both be tasty with this recipe.
- Bread. A slice of bread goes with pesto pasta. Pair this pasta with Rosemary Olive Oil Bread or No Knead Focaccia.
- Veggies. Sauteed Zucchini Recipe, Roasted Mushrooms, or Roasted Broccoli and Carrots would be scrumptious paired with this pasta.
- Meatballs. Turkey Meatballs or Chicken Meatballs would be ideal for a protein addition.
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Sauté Pan. Perfect for making this pasta on the stove.
- Citrus Juicer. The only way I’ll juice lemons and limes.
- Cheese Grater. Grating your own cheese is worth the extra step!
Recipe Tips and Tricks
- Pasta Water Is Your Friend. When trying to create the perfect texture for our sauce, using pasta water is key. Not only does it help thin the sauce, but the starches in the water also help it cling to the noodles.
- Don’t Burn the Pine Nuts! If you decide to add the optional pine nuts, it is imperative that you watch them constantly. It only takes a minute for them to go from delightfully toasted to scorched.
- Grate Your Own Cheese. I can’t overstress the importance of grating your own cheese for homemade pesto and for this pasta recipe. Please skip the lackluster green can and pick up some real-deal Parmesan cheese!
- 8 ounces whole wheat spaghetti pasta or fettuccini or another long pasta, which works well for pesto
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
- 1/2 to 2/3 cup Basil Pesto or prepared pesto of choice
- 1 to 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus additional to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes optional
- 2 cups arugula or spinach
- 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts* optional for serving
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving
- Cook the pasta to al dente according to package instructions. RESERVE 3/4 CUP OF THE PASTA WATER.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the cherry tomatoes and cook until beginning to burst, about 4 minutes.
- As soon as the pasta is finished cooking (don’t forget to reserve 3/4 cup of the water), drain it, then immediately add the pasta to the skillet with the tomatoes.
- Add the pesto, lemon juice, salt, and red pepper flakes. Toss to coat the noodles with the pesto, adding additional pasta water as needed to loosen the sauce.
- Add the arugula, stirring until it wilts.
- Sprinkle with pine nuts and Parmesan. Taste and adjust salt as desired. Serve immediately, with additional Parmesan.
- *TO TOAST THE PINE NUTS: Place the nuts in a small, dry skillet. Toast over low heat, shaking the pan often, until fragrant and toasted, about 4 minutes. Immediately remove from the skillet.
- TO STORE: Refrigerate pesto pasta in an airtight storage container for up to 4 days.
- TO REHEAT: Rewarm leftovers in a skillet on the stovetop over medium-low heat or in the microwave.
- TO FREEZE: Freeze pasta in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
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Frequently Asked Questions
The best pasta shapes for pesto are long noodles, such as spaghetti, bucatini, capellini, or fettuccine. Short shapes like fusilli and rotini are also great, as they will catch the sauce in their ridges.
Yes, you can make pesto with other herbs, nuts, and/or cheeses. Check out the pesto variations listed in my Basil Pesto (pesto made with fresh basil leaves) post for ideas.
Swap the whole wheat noodles for your favorite long, gluten-free noodle.
While Parmesan is what kind of cheese is best for pesto (and pesto pasta), if you need to swap it for another cheese, you could try asiago or pecorino romano. Note that pecorino is saltier, so you should add less.