When pesto Genovese is used as pasta sauce, it’s the best! This basil pesto pasta recipe showcases yummy pasta cooked al dente, tender potatoes, and crispy green beans tossed in homemade pesto sauce. But not just any pesto – pesto alla Genovese! Frankly, it’s as authentic Italian as it gets!
This easy recipe, made with simple ingredients, is a staple in Italian cooking.
Using pesto as pasta sauce is one of the many ways to put this herbaceous, nutty, and garlicky classic condiment to good use.
These easy-to-follow instructions will show you how to turn basil pesto into homemade basil pasta sauce without sacrificing the gorgeous green color or the vibrant fresh flavors!
This creamy pesto pasta recipe draws inspiration from the Genoa tradition. Whatever type of pasta your heart desires is boiled with green beans and potatoes and then tossed in pesto.
A splash of the pasta cooking liquid loosens up the pesto, creating a rich and creamy sauce – just like the classic!
Making quick and easy pesto pasta is perfect for meatless Mondays. You’ll need a few good quality ingredients, and you’ll have a delicious dinner ready in no time.
Ingredients you’ll need
- Homemade basil pesto: In my opinion, this is the best way to preserve fresh basil leaves, so I always have a jar on hand. Making it from scratch is SUPER simple and well worth the extra step. Just follow my foolproof recipe here. But you can use a good-quality jar of basil pesto as a shortcut.
- Salt: Adds flavor to the water, which seasons the pasta, potatoes, and green beans.
- Pasta of your choice: To stick with tradition, you’ll want to use trofie pasta, but you can use a wide variety of good-quality pasta shapes here. See below for a few of the many delicious possibilities.
- Pasta cooking water: Don’t forget to save some pasta water. The pasta and the potatoes release starches into the water as they boil. Adding some starchy pasta water helps bind the pesto to the pasta and transform the pesto into a creamy and silky sauce.
- Potatoes & green beans: The original pesto alla Genovese pasta from Liguria is served with green beans and potatoes. Green beans are high in protein and fiber, making this dish filling and satisfying. The potatoes make the pasta water extra starchy, which makes the pesto pasta even creamier.
- Toppings: Garnishing each luxurious bowl of basil pesto pasta with lots of Parmesan cheese. Toasted pine nuts are optional but highly recommended!
Best pasta for pesto
Trofie is the traditional pasta used with pesto in the Liguria region of Italy. The sauce clings to the nooks and crannies within the short spirals, so every inch is coated in creamy pesto sauce.
However, any other type of pasta will work! I love maccheroni, fusilli, farfalle, penne pasta, and bucatini. I’m also a big fan of pesto with potato gnocchi!
If you prefer the twirl, use long, thin pasta shapes like linguine, fettuccine, angel hair, spaghetti, and even zucchini noodles.
To make gluten-free pesto pasta, use your favorite gluten-free pasta shape.
How to make basil pesto pasta
- Make fresh basil pesto: If you are making basil pesto from scratch, prepare it according to the instructions in this homemade pesto recipe.
- Boil the pasta and veggies: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. You’ll want to add the potatoes and green beans to the boiling water so they cook at the same time as the pasta. The vegetables will take about 10 minutes. So if your pasta takes longer than 10 minutes, add it to the boiling water before the vegetables. If your pasta takes less than 10 minutes, add it to the pot after the vegetables.
- Drain the pasta and vegetables: When the pasta is cooked, and the potatoes and green beans are fork-tender, scoop out 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta water and set it aside. Drain the al dente pasta and vegetables well.
- Combine pasta and pesto: Transfer the hot pasta and vegetables to a large bowl with your homemade pesto and half of the reserved pasta water. Mix until the pasta and vegetables are fully coated in pesto. If you need a bit more water to make the pesto silky and creamy, now it’s time to add it.
- Serve: Serve hot topped with additional freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano and pine nuts. So good!
How can I store leftover pesto pasta?
Storing extra homemade pesto: If you have leftover pesto, keep it in the fridge in an airtight glass container for 1-2 days. Fresh basil leaves oxidize once cut, so drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the top to keep it from turning brown quickly.
Storing pesto pasta: You’re better off eating pesto pasta immediately. Any leftover will brown pretty quickly, making it look less tasty (although it’ll still be delicious to eat). If you have any leftovers, you can keep them in the fridge for 1-2 days. I don’t advise reheating the pasta. Enjoy it chilled or at room temperature.
Freezing: I advise against freezing the whole dish. However, you can freeze extra basil pesto in a freezer-safe airtight container or an ice cube tray for up to 6 months. Then, thaw in the fridge overnight before using.
Tips to make the best pesto pasta
- Do not skip out on the veggies. They’re true to the original recipe, boost the nutritional profile, and the potatoes play a role in turning pesto into creamy pesto pasta sauce.
- Don’t forget to set aside some pasta water. Setting aside a little pasta water helps turn basil pesto into a velvety, creamy sauce.
- Do not heat or reheat. Heating speeds up oxidation, making the pesto brown. You want to mix the pasta in a bowl, not in the hot pot where you cooked your pasta. Remember to add the pesto at the end and off the heat.
Use this basic pesto pasta recipe as a canvas to customize it precisely to your preference.
- Nut-free: The pine nuts aren’t necessary and can be omitted entirely or substituted for sunflower seeds.
- Dairy-free/vegan: The pair of cheeses in the pesto (Parmesan and Pecorino Romano) are neither vegetarian nor vegan. However, you can use a dairy-free parmesan alternative, add nutritional yeast, or bulk the sauce up with veggies like asparagus, baby spinach, kale, and arugula.
- Add more veggies: You can add other veggies like cherry tomatoes, zucchini, or eggplant.
- Make it meaty: Cook your choice of meat separately to serve on top of your pasta and pesto. For example, you can make chicken pesto pasta or switch things up with salmon or shrimp.
Why I love this basil pesto pasta
- The best pesto pasta recipe, inspired by the Genovese tradition.
- It’s the perfect easy dinner for busy weeknights.
- The whole family will love it!
- This delicious dish is made with a shortlist of ingredients in 15 minutes.
More pasta recipes
- Zucchini Pesto Pasta
- Hummus Pasta
- Red Pepper Pasta
- Tuscan Kale Pesto Pasta
- Butternut Squash Pasta with Sage
- No Cook Creamy Tomato Pasta
- Asparagus Pesto Pasta
- Creamy Vegan Mushroom Pasta
- Vegan Creamy Tomato Pasta with Herbs
If you try this basil pesto pasta recipe, please leave a comment and a rating, and let me know how much you liked it!
Basil Pesto Pasta
- 1 cup Homemade Pesto
- 12 oz Pasta (trofie, fusilli, ziti, penne, bucatini)
- ½ cup Pasta cooking water - note 2
- 2 medium Potatoes or 4 small Potatoes cut into cubes - note 3
- 5 oz Green Beans washed cut into half - note 3
- Parmesan - optional
- Pine nuts - optional
- If making your own pesto, prepare the homemade pesto according to the instructions. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt.
- Add the potatoes and green beans to the pasta. They will take around 10 minutes to cook. if your pasta takes longer, add it before the vegetables. If it takes less than 10 minutes to cook, add it later. You'll want both vegetables and pasta to be ready simultaneously.
- When the pasta is done, and the potatoes and green beans are tender, remove ½ cup of pasta cooking water, set it aside, and drain.
- Transfer the pasta to a bowl, add pesto, and ¼ cup of pasta water. Mix well to coat the pasta and vegetables with pesto. If needed, add more pasta water.
- Serve hot with some extra grated parmesan and pine nuts.
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