Spaghetti Pasta al Pesto showcases simple, fresh, and speedy cooking. But this is no ordinary pesto pasta! We’re taking it up a notch by adding nutritious spinach to a classic basil pesto and swapping regular white spaghetti with wholesome whole wheat goodness, packing in extra fiber for a truly satisfying meal.
- What is Pasta al Pesto?
- Why You’ll Love This Spaghetti Pasta al Pesto Recipe
- Recipe Ingredients
- Ingredient Notes
- How to Make Easy Pasta al Pesto: Step-By-Step Instructions
- Recipe Substitutions and Variations
- Recipe Tips
- Storage Instructions
- More Delicious Pasta Dishes
- Printable Recipe Card
- 📖 Recipe
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Pin Recipe for Later!
What is Pasta al Pesto?
Pasta al Pesto is an Italian dish that combines pasta with a super-flavorful pesto sauce. The name “Pasta al pesto” literally translates to “pasta with pesto” in English.
In the traditional method, fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, Parmigiano Reggiano, and olive oil are pounded together in a pestle and mortar to create a thick, herby, green sauce that adds incredible flavor to plain pasta and various other dishes.
My modern twist on the classic Pasta al Pesto involves two key elements:
- Using a food processor ~ a convenient shortcut that makes preparing pesto a breeze.
- Introducing some healthier variations ~ such as adding spinach for its wealth of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Opting for whole wheat pasta, abundant in protein and fiber, to support better blood sugar control and reduce unhelpful cravings. And being mindful of the amount of cheese, olive oil, and pine nuts we are using to cut down on the overall fat intake.
Why You’ll Love This Spaghetti Pasta al Pesto Recipe
- Quick and Easy: It only takes 15 minutes to make pesto pasta from scratch, making it a perfect choice for a quick weeknight dinner after a long, busy day!
- Simple: You only need a few basic ingredients to make a fantastic meal the whole family will love.
- Make Ahead: If you know you’ll be rushed off your feet this week, make the pesto sauce ahead of time. Then all you need to do when you get home is boil the pasta.
Here are the nine simple ingredients you’ll need to make spaghetti al pesto:
- Whole Wheat Spaghetti: Whole wheat spaghetti is more nutrient-dense than regular pasta providing more fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
- Fresh Basil Leaves: A traditional ingredient in pesto known for its distinct aroma and flavor.
- Fresh Baby Spinach: Adds even more nutrition without overpowering the basil.
- Toasted Pine Nuts: For that characteristic nutty flavor you’d expect from pesto.
- Garlic: Another classic ingredient in pesto, used for its pungent, savory flavor.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Transforms pesto into a smooth, rich sauce.
- Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan Cheese): Contributes salty, savory balance.
- Sea Salt Flakes: For perfectly seasoned spaghetti and pesto.
- Freshly Ground Black Pepper: Adds a gentle heat.
How to Make Easy Pasta al Pesto: Step-By-Step Instructions
You’re going to love how easy this made-from-scratch recipe actually is. Here’s how in seven illustrated steps:
- Cook the Pasta
Cook the pasta according to package instructions for al dente. Drain, reserving half a cup of the cooking water.
- Prepare the Basil Pesto Sauce
Add the pesto ingredients to a food processor/blender and blitz.
- Add Olive Oil
Gradually add the olive oil while the machine is running.
- Add Seasoning
Pour the pesto into a bowl, stir in the Parmesan cheese, and season with black pepper.
- Combine the Pesto and Pasta
Pour the drained warm pasta into the bowl with the pesto and toss to melt the cheese.
- Add Pasta Water
Add the reserved pasta water, a little at a time, until the pesto evenly coats the pasta.
- Serve and Enjoy!
Find the recipe card with exact ingredients and full instructions at the bottom of this page. ⇩Jump to Recipe
Recipe Substitutions and Variations
I love experimenting in the kitchen, and I know some of you do too. Here are some delicious and nutritious ways to mix things up to suit your own personal tastes:
- Spaghetti: Similar types of pasta to sub for spaghetti include linguine, fettuccine, pappardelle, or trenette pasta. Or go for a pasta shape like penne or farfalle. Honestly, whatever you have in the pantry is fine.
- Parmesan Cheese: Pecorino Romano or Grana Padano are great alternatives to Parmigiano Reggiano.
- Garlic: Instead of raw garlic, use roasted garlic for its sweeter, more caramelized garlicky flavor.
- Pesto: Use a batch of my delicious kale-loaded Super Green Pesto instead of spinach basil pesto.
- Nut-Free Option: For a nut-free pesto, replace pine nuts with sunflower or pumpkin seeds.
- Vegan Option: To make this recipe vegan, omit the Parmesan cheese or replace it with your favorite dairy-free parmesan. Cashew parmesan, or nutritional yeast, work well.
- Gluten-Free Option: Use gluten-free pasta like buckwheat, lentil, or pea pasta.
- Pasta al Pesto e Pomodorini (Pesto Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes): Add grilled cherry tomatoes for a tangy sweet twist.
- Pasta al Pesto a Pollo (Chicken Pesto Pasta): Include grilled chicken for extra protein.
- Pasta al Pesto a Tonno (Tuna Pesto Pasta): Add some grilled or canned tuna for those essential heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Shopping for Ingredients
- Buy Quality Ingredients: For incredible flavor, use high-quality, fresh ingredients.
- Buying Fresh Basil: In the store, look for vibrant, fresh leaves without any signs of wilting or discoloration. Take a leaf and gently rub it between your fingers – it should be fragrant.
Preparing Your Ingredients
- Making Basil Go Further: Encourage the growth of new leaves and enjoy an abundant supply of fresh basil by gently pinching off the top part of the basil plant just above a set of leaves.
- How to Wash Basil Leaves:
- Gently separate the basil leaves from the stems, discarding any damaged or wilted leaves.
- Place the basil leaves in a colander.
- Rinse the basil leaves thoroughly under cool, running water. If needed, use your hands to gently rub the leaves to remove any dirt.
- Gently pat the leaves dry (a salad spinner is great for drying basil leaves)
- Salt the Pasta Water: Don’t forget to add salt to the water before cooking the spaghetti – it will add so much flavor to the pasta.
Cooking Your Ingredients
- Cook al Dente! Spaghetti should be cooked al dente for the best flavor and texture. The slightly rougher surface also allows it to hold onto the sauce.
- Reserve Pasta Water: The starchy pasta water will loosen a thick sauce and help it cling to the pasta.
- Don’t Heat the Pesto: Instead, let the pasta’s residual heat warm the pesto so the basil remains fresh and flavorful.
NUTRITION TIP: Not only is basil a flavorful herb it also offers incredible health benefits. Studies have shown that basil may support heart health by reducing blood pressure in people with hypertension and by lowering cholesterol levels [Source].
Refrigeration: Got some pasta left? No problem. Let it cool to room temperature, and store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. Homemade pesto sauce can be safely refrigerated for 3-4 days.
Freezing: Portion the pesto pasta into freezer-safe airtight containers. Freeze for up to 3 months.
Defrosting: Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating to help preserve the texture and flavor.
Reheating: Warm in a microwave-safe dish or on the stovetop over medium heat. Consider adding a splash of cold water to prevent the pasta from drying out.
WEIGHT LOSS TIP: Spaghetti Pasta al Pesto can be enjoyed as part of a healthy balanced diet. The fiber in whole wheat pasta keeps you feeling fuller for longer, while the healthy fats and protein in pesto aid in satiety. Just be mindful of portion sizes to keep on track with your weight loss goals.
More Delicious Pasta Dishes
Craving more healthy pasta recipes? Here are some of my favorites for you to try next:
- Creamy Chorizo Pasta
- Green Goddess Pasta
- Ground Beef and Zucchini Pasta Casserole
- Mediterranean Vegetable Pasta
- Healthy Spaghetti Carbonara
- Whole Wheat Pappardelle with Sundried Tomatoes
Thinking of making this recipe? Share your thoughts in the comment section and provide a star rating! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ I always LOVE hearing from you.
Printable Recipe Card
Spaghetti Pasta al Pesto
If you love this recipe, rate it with 5 stars below!PRINT PIN RATE
- Garlic Press
- Small Food Processor
- Box Grater or Microplane Grater
- 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
- 10.5 ounces (300 grams) whole wheat spaghetti
- 2 cups (60 grams) fresh sweet basil leaves, discard thick stems
- 1 cup (30 grams) fresh baby spinach
- 4 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- 2 cloves garlic, minced/crushed
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt flakes
- 7 tablespoons (100 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup (45 grams) freshly finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano, (parmesan cheese)
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground, or more to taste
- Prepare: Gather and prepare your ingredients
- Spaghetti: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the whole wheat pasta and cook until al dente ~ about 11 minutes. Once cooked, drain the pasta, reserving ½ a cup of pasta water.
- Pesto: Meanwhile, make the pesto. Add the basil, spinach, pine nuts, minced garlic, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped, stopping 2-3 times to scrape down the sides with a spatula. With the machine running, slowly add extra virgin olive oil until the pesto is smooth. If you prefer some green specks in your pesto, blend it for less time; blend longer for a completely smooth texture. Pour the pesto into a bowl and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Season with black pepper to taste. Your pesto will be quite thick but don't worry. We will thin it out with starchy pasta water.
- Pesto Pasta: Add the drained pasta to the pesto bowl and toss so the cheese melts under its heat. Add the reserved pasta water, a little at a time ~ just enough for the pesto to coat the pasta evenly, with an almost creamy texture.
- Serve and Enjoy! I love serving Spaghetti Pasta al Pesto on a platter, topped with toasted pine nuts, red pepper flakes, and parmesan shavings. Eat right away while the pasta is warm.How do you like to serve yours? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Nutrition Information (Per Serving)
Nutrition Disclaimer: Nutritional information is estimated using an online nutrition calculator. For accuracy, we recommend you calculate using the exact ingredients and brands you used.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, pesto pasta can be healthy when eaten as part of a varied and balanced diet. This recipe is made using nutritious real food ingredients and contains plenty of complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. However, as several ingredients in this recipe are high in fat, albeit healthy fats, portion control can help keep things balanced.
Pesto can turn brown due to oxidation when basil leaves are exposed to air. To prevent this, use fresh, high-quality ingredients and use the pesto immediately after preparing. When making pesto ahead, quickly transfer it to a container that’s airtight and top it with a thin layer of olive oil before storing it in the fridge. An optional extra (although not worth the hassle, in my option) is to blanch the basil leaves in boiling water for a few seconds, then plunge them into an ice bath before blending. The heat destroys the enzymes that cause the oxidation and keeps the leaves nice and green.
Absolutely. Store your homemade pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerator, covering the surface with olive oil to help keep it fresh. It will keep for 3 to 4 days. If you need it to keep longer, freeze small portions in ice cube trays or a freezer-safe container. When needed, thaw the frozen pesto in the refrigerator overnight.