This easy pasta al pesto, also known as linguini al pesto, is one of our favorite recipes for a quick weeknight dinner. It's a simple Italian pasta dish made with pine nuts (with or without cashews), basil, lemon, garlic and olive oil. Ready in under 15 minutes, it bursts with amazing fresh and summery flavors and is good-for you too. I have also included a few variations to fit many diets!
This pasta al pesto makes for such an amazing quick weeknight dinner recipe. It features a basil pesto sauce that can be done in under 15 minutes, just enough time for the linguini to cook al dente!
And this homemade pesto sauce is so fantastic: it is easy, flavorful and highly versatile, making dinner incredibly delicious and hassle-free. The creamy and nutty basil sauce is so addictive that we always find ourselves wishing we had made more!
While my go-to pesto recipes often use this walnut pesto to enhance our meal with healthy omega-3 fats or this creamy basil pesto sauce for a more saucy pasta dish, this time I craved a more traditional pesto, which was an absolute treat.
And this basil pesto sauce is ultra simple yet so amazing. It simply combines the classic ingredients to make pesto, such as pine nuts, lemon, a whole lot of fresh basil, salt and some olive oil. It is so flavorful on its own that you won't need any cheese to enhance the flavors, making this recipe naturally vegan and dairy-free.
Plus, I paired the pesto sauce with linguini pasta, which is my favorite choice of pasta to pair with pesto sauce. The long and flat shape of these noodles allows the sauce to coat them evenly, making sure every bite is heavy on bright flavors.
This light dish is perfect for the summer and amazing enjoyed at room temperature, making it a great lunch to prepare on a hot scorching day. You can pair it with a side salad, such as a beet salad or a Tuscan bean salad, for a delightful meal that I'm sure your whole family will love.
Let me know if you gave it a try! ❤️
Highlights of this recipe
- Quick and easy to prepare
- Bursting with summery flavors
- Satisfying and filling meal
- Makes for tasty leftovers and great for meal-prep
- A recipe you can feel good about: rich in healthy fats and plant-based protein
- Versatile: allowing many substitutions and booster ingredients
- Perfect for a quick weeknight dinner, but stunning and flavorful enough for serving to guests
- Vegan, dairy-free and the pesto sauce is naturally gluten-free
Ingredients you'll need
- Linguini pasta: or choose any pasta you prefer, but I recommend using linguini if you have some, it pairs especially great with pesto sauce!
- Fresh basil: the star of the recipe! Look for basil that's very fresh, fragrant, vibrant and with healthy bright green leaves. Avoid any basil showing wilted or darkened leaves. This will ensure the pesto is packed with great flavors! You will need a generous amount to make the pesto, so be sure to buy a large bunch.
- Pine nuts: these are the classic nuts to make pesto. They have such a great nutty flavor and become easily creamy when crushed or blended. BUT, if you cannot find pine nuts or they are just too expensive, then simply use 100% cashews!
- Cashews: including cashews when making this pesto makes this recipe more affordable and also, cashews make pesto a little creamier. But, you can omit the cashews and use only pine nuts if desired. Opt for unroasted and unsalted cashews for best results.
- Garlic: also essential for pesto sauce for a nice little kick in flavor. I included 2 cloves, but feel free to adjust the amount to your taste and add more as needed.
- Lemon: use fresh lemon juice and not the bottled lemon juice for optimal flavor.
- Olive oil: helps bring everything together, making the pesto rich in texture and flavorful. If possible, use a high-quality extra virgin olive oil that you already love by tasting it on its own. As a side note, you can make pesto sauces only with water and no oil, which works well if you are trying to reduce your fat consumption or following an WFPB oil-free diet (check out my oil-free walnut pesto!).
How to make pasta al pesto
This quick and delicious recipe can be ready in just 15 minutes!
Cook the linguini
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the linguini until al dente (set a timer!).
Set aside about 1 cup of pasta cooking water and then drain the noodles.
Make the basil pesto
While the pasta is cooking, then make the pesto. Simply add the pine nuts and cashews to a food processor and process until mostly fine. Then, add the crushed garlic, fresh basil, lemon juice and salt and process until puréed.
Using a spatula, scrape down the sides of the food processor and process again. Slowly pour the olive oil through the "feed tube" while it processes, this should take about 30 seconds.
Check the consistency and taste the pesto. You might want to add more salt/lemon/olive oil. To achieve a smoother texture without ending up with a super oily mixture, then simply add a few tablespoons of water. You are looking for a smooth-ish yet textured consistency that still has some small pieces of herbs visible.
Combine and serve
Allow the pot you used to cook the pasta to cool down and then, return the cooked pasta to it. Pour the whole batch of pesto sauce over, starting with less pasta and adding more later as needed.
Then, stir well and add some pasta cooking water (start with about ¼ cup) to help coat the pasta evenly with the pesto.
Taste and adjust the saltiness, then serve right away garnished with more basil and a side of lemon wedge.
- Different type of fresh basil can vary in flavor, so you may need to add more basil if you find your pesto lacking in taste.
- Adding salt to your pasta cooking water will help enhance the flavor of your dish, especially since you will also incorporate some pasta water into the sauce.
- I highly recommend to crush the garlic before adding it to the food processor to avoid larger chunks of raw garlic left in the pesto.
- I used about 12 ounces of pasta for this batch of pesto sauce, but feel free to adjust the quantity based on how saucy you want it to be.
- Do not heat up the pesto sauce before combining it with the noodles. If you time the preparation of the pesto with boiling your pasta correctly, then the noodles should still be hot enough to warm up the sauce when combined.
- If you usually add some olive oil to prevent pasta from sticking together, skip it this time to allow the pesto sauce to stick better to the noodles.
What goes well with pesto pasta
You can serve this pasta dish as is for a filling and delicious full meal, but linguini al pesto pairs well with an array of ingredients. Try these ideas:
- Roasted vegetables: You can bake some vegetables while the noodles are cooking and serve alongside your meal. Try baking some colorful veggies, such as cherry tomatoes, zucchini, butternut squash, mushrooms, bell peppers and broccoli to boost your meal with more nutrients, flavor and extra layers of texture.
- Leafy greens: Stir in some fresh baby spinach or arugula to the linguini and pesto mixture. The warm pesto pasta will help wilt the greens just a little bit, which will add such a vibrant touch to the dish.
- Crunch: If you have extra pine nuts, then use them to garnish your dish when serving! Some other ideas includes walnuts or slivered almonds, which would add more healthy fats and plant-based protein to your meat-free pasta meal.
- Protein: you can boost your pasta with more healthy plant-based protein and make your dinner more filling, such as roasted tofu cubes (especially this marinated balsamic tofu or this blackenedd tofu), pan-fry marinated tempeh or even simply some chickpeas.
- Flavoring garnishes: make sure to serve the pasta with some extra lemon wedges to add a nice zesty kick to your plate or simply drizzle a high-quality balsamic glaze over your pasta at serving. Or, garnish with one of my favorite kitchen pantry staple: vegan almond parmesan cheese! If in a pinch, then simply sprinkle some nutritional yeast over for a nice cheesy flavor.
- Bread: we love a side of Italian style vegan focaccia or simply crusty French baguette with pesto pasta.
Variations to the recipe
There are many ways you can adapt this basil pesto recipe to your diet or your taste, so feel-free to experiment with the recipe! Here are a few ideas:
- Nuts: you can change the nuts as you wish, such as using 100% pine nuts or 100% cashews. Other nuts you can use are pistachios, walnuts or even blanched almonds. For a nut-free pesto, then try making it with sunflower seeds!
- Lemon: you can make this pesto as lemony as you want! Simply add more lemon juice to the food processor or try adding some lemon zest to get a stronger zesty taste.
- Tomato: I love making red pesto sauce! Simply add a small handful of sun-dried tomatoes (pat dry if oil-preserved or rehydrate and drain if not kept in oil) to your food processor.
- Cheesy: I didn't include any nutritional yeast in this basic recipe, but feel free to include 1-3 tablespoons to the food processor if you want. Or, add some vegan parmesan cheese!
- Spicy: this basil pesto sauce is great served garnished with red pepper flakes for a little heat!
- Nutty: feel-free to roast the pine nuts in a pan on the stove before adding them to the food processor. I don't usually do it to save some time, but this would enhance the nutty flavors of the pesto sauce even more.
- Creamy: instead of adding pasta cooking water to the pot when combining with the pesto, you can also include some vegan cream to make your dish more rich and creamier. I love the plain creamer from the brand Nut Pods.
Homemade pesto can be stored in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
To prevent it from turning dark (this can occur when it comes in contact with ambient air), then you can add a thin film of olive oil right over its surface before closing the container. And remember to give it a good stir before serving so all the flavors are well distributed!
Freezing pesto is also a great option! Feel-free to make a larger batch and freeze the rest for up to 3 months. You can also freeze in an ice-cube tray so you have individual servings ready to go whenever you need them.
Pesto is not usually warmed up before serving. The heat coming from the freshly cooked pasta is usually enough to warm up the pesto sauce. Note that you can eat pesto cold or hot or somewhere in between! Overheating pesto can cause the flavors of the basil and other ingredients to diminish.
Trofie (a short and twisted noodle) is the traditional pasta used to serve pesto, which originates from the same region in Italy. The shape of trofie helps it hold the sauce better. However, pesto can be enjoyed with any kind of pasta you prefer, including popular choices like linguini, spaghetti, fusilli, and penne.
Yes you can, although the texture will be smoother and you might need a small blender container to make it.
Yes! The basil pesto sauce is naturally gluten-free, so simply use a GF pasta! I love the GF noodles from the brand Jovial.
More Italian dinner recipes you might like
- Pesto flatbread bruschetta
- Mushroom barley risotto
- Green pasta sauce
- Vegan pesto couscous salad
- Mushroom aglio olio
- Bucatini pomodoro
- Vegan eggplant rollatini
- Creamy gnocchi soup
- Vegan sun-dried tomato pasta
- Vegan cashew basil pesto
- Red pepper pesto sauce
I hope you enjoy this pasta al pesto as much as we do! If you try it, please leave a comment below and rate the recipe to let me know how it was. Your feedback is so helpful!
Easy Pasta al Pesto (Linguini with Basil Pesto Sauce)
- Food processor
- 12 oz pasta of choice - I used linguini
- ¾ cup pine nuts or raw cashews or a mix - I used ½ cup pine nuts + ¼ cup cashews
- 2 packed cups fresh basil (about 40-50g.)
- 2 cloves of garlic - crushed
- 2 tbsp lemon juice - or to taste
- 2 tbsp olive oil - or more to taste, see notes for an oil-free recipe
- salt - to taste
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the linguini (or pasta of choice). Cook until al dente (set a timer!). Once done, set aside about 1 cup of pasta cooking water and then drain the pasta.
- Meanwhile, make the basil pesto sauce: in a food processor, add the pine nuts and cashews and process until fine. Then, add the crushed garlic, lemon juice, salt and fresh basil. Process until smooth.
- Then, use a spatula to scrape down the walls and process again while pouring the olive oil slowly through the "tube feed". Keep processing until desired consistency and taste to see if needs more lemon/salt/olive oil.
- Allow the pot you used to cook the pasta to cool down and then add the noodles back to it. Then, pour all the pesto sauce over the noodles and add about ¼ cup of pasta cooking water. Stir well until combined and add more pasta cooking water as needed. Taste to adjust the flavors and serve right away with a side of lemon wedge and some vegan parmesan cheese. Enjoy!
- Store in an air-tight container for up to 5 days. Can also be frozen.
- For a cheesy recipe, feel-free to add some nutritional yeast to the food processor (about 1-3 tablespoons).
- Serve with some roasted vegetables (such as cherry tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, spinach, butternut squash, etc) and add some extra plant-based protein for a more filling meal. This balsamic marinated tofu and this pan-roasted tempeh would be great matches for this recipe. Make sure to check out the blog post for more ideas!