Why you’ll love it
This creamy pesto pasta is a very simple pasta-in-sauce recipe for those nights you want something that’s easy with minimal fuss. It’s loaded with flavour thanks to the basil pesto and lemon, and is wonderfully creamy. This recipe does not pretend to be a fully balanced meal, just a simple and delicious one that sure is satisfying.
This pesto pasta really is so quick and easy to make; once the water is boiling for the pasta, the whole thing takes around 15 minutes. And while it’s already extremely delicious, it’s versatile enough to be able to add to it and build up with other ingredients like some cooked chicken or prawns (shrimp).
Flavour-packed and delicious, pasta dishes like this one are an easy meal for the days when you don’t have the time or energy to put together an elaborate meal.
You’ll love this chicken pesto pasta as well – similar to my creamy pesto pasta but without the cream and it has bacon and chicken too!
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Ingredients you’ll need
Detailed quantities and instructions in the recipe card below.
- Pasta: I typically reach for linguine or spaghetti for creamy pesto pasta. That said, feel free to use your preferred dried pasta noodle or whatever you have on hand. Penne, rotini, fusili, spirals, elbows – they’ll all work too. If you want to make your creamy pesto pasta gluten-free just use a good quality gluten free pasta.
- EVOO: A staple in Italian-inspired recipes, I use extra virgin olive oil to pan-fry the garlic. It adds phenomenal flavour but you can get away with a good vegetable oil too if that’s what you have on hand.
- Garlic: Pan-frying a few cloves of garlic acts as the base for your pesto and cream sauce.
- Basil Pesto: I highly recommend making your pesto from scratch — it takes 5-10 minutes max and is worlds above store-bought pesto in flavour but do what works for you.
- Thickened Cream: Also called heavy cream, it gives the pasta sauce the creamiest consistency.
- Parmesan: Please don’t use shelf-stable parmesan for this creamy pasta sauce. Get yourself a block of real Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) or even pecorino — you deserve it. A little goes a long way, and the flavour makes it so worth it.
- Lemon: I’m using the juice (1 tablespoon worth) and the zest from one lemon. It brightens up the creamy pesto linguine, cutting through the cream and adding a touch of tartness.
- Salt & Pepper: Just a bit to taste.
- Pine Nuts: For serving. Toast them to really bring out their nutty flavour.
How to make creamy pesto pasta (step-by-step)
This creamy pesto pasta recipe is made up of 2 components – pasta and that easy creamy pesto sauce. It’s all so simple to throw together.
Detailed quantities and instructions in the recipe card below.
- Cook the pasta: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and follow the cooking instructions on the packet. When it’s al dente, drain it and be sure to keep ½ cup of the pasta water for later.
- Start the creamy pesto pasta sauce: Add the olive oil to a large skillet and heat over medium. When it’s hot, add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute (photo 1).
- Add the pesto and cream: Slowly pour the pesto sauce and cream into the pan and stir (photo 2).
- Bring to a simmer: Bring the pesto and cream mixture to a simmer, stirring often so it doesn’t stick (photo 3).
- Add the Parmesan and lemon juice: Once the sauce is simmering, incorporate the Parmesan cheese and lemon juice (photo 4). Remove the skillet from the heat and stir to help the cheese melt.
- Add the pasta: Transfer the cooked pasta to the skillet (photo 5) and stir through a few times.
- Final touches: Add the pasta water (photo 6), salt, pepper, lemon zest, and half of the toasted pine nuts to the creamy pesto pasta and use tongs to toss everything together. Garnish with extra zest and the remaining pine nuts and enjoy!
What goes with pesto pasta?
Again, this creamy pesto linguine is simplicity at its finest. But, there are many things that you can add directly to the skillet before serving.
While this creamy pesto pasta recipe is meatless, you can add pre-cooked shredded chicken or even fry up some bacon or sausage meat before beginning the sauce. Just make sure to use a paper towel to remove any excess fat or oil, then make your sauce right in the same pan.
Feel free to stir in a couple handfuls of baby spinach right at the end of cooking too — the residual heat will wilt it perfectly. The flavours also work wonderfully with asparagus, but you’ll need to add that earlier.
Try it as a side to my oven baked pork chops or these Italian chicken cutlets. Or, pair it with simple grilled chicken, beef, or prawns (shrimp). Pan-fried meats and prawns also taste great. Add a side salad of rocket and Parmesan to really round it out.
Tips and tricks
- Get all your ingredients prepared at the start — this pesto sauce moves very quickly once you get started.
- Always keep some pasta water. Pasta water has some amazing benefits. It adds seasoning plus an amazing silkiness to any sauce you add it to, due to the starch. It is also an easy way to adjust the consistency of your creamy pesto pasta sauce. I always sit a strainer over a bowl in the sink and strain my saucepan of pasta over it. The pasta water gets caught in the bottom so you can use as much as you need. ½ to ¾ cup (depending on the dish you’re making) is normally sufficient, though.
- Add some fresh basil as a garnish for a heightened herby flavour.
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator, where they will keep for 3-4 days. While best eaten fresh, the pesto pasta reheats surprisingly well. Whether you do it in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stovetop, I always find a splash of water really helps to rehydrate the creamy sauce, heat, then give it a really good stir until that sauce is emulsified again.
You sure can. While I do suggest trying your hand at my homemade pesto for this pasta with pesto cream sauce, if you don’t have time, store-bought is perfectly fine for creamy pesto linguine.
Pesto (or more correctly, the herbs in pesto) will oxidise when exposed to air. If you have some leftovers to store, make sure to pour a good layer of oil over the top of it before storing in the fridge — you can pour it out before using. You can also press a layer of plastic wrap directly onto the top of the sauce so no air is able to get in.
Spread pesto on crusty bread to eat on its own or as a base for bruschetta. It is phenomenal when stirred through pasta. Pesto doesn’t need to be cooked, though you may want to warm it before adding it to cooked pasta.
Try my pesto garlic bread too! So good. This pesto butter is great for adding to bread as it toasts or just on top of a beef or pork steak after cooking. Add at the end of pan-frying practically any protein. Use it as a pizza base (instead of pizza sauce). Stir it through pasta salad. Add ricotta for a creamy pesto dip like the one in my Italian chicken tray bake.
Did you try this creamy pesto pasta recipe?
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Creamy Pesto Pasta
- 300 g linguine or spaghetti (or any pasta you like)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¾ cup basil pesto (homemade or store-bought)
- ½ cup thickened cream (heavy cream ) (125ml)
- ¼ cup packed grated parmesan (25g / 1oz)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice (notes 1)
- ½ cup pasta water (plus more if needed) (125 ml)
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon each salt + black pepper
- 1 ½ tablespoons toasted pine nuts, for serving
- fresh basil leaves to serve
For best results, always weigh ingredients where a weight is provided
- Deep skillet or frying pan
- Fill a large saucepan halfway with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to packet instructions until just al dente.
- Heat the oil in a deep non-stick frying pan / skillet over medium heat and add the garlic. Gently sizzle for 1 minute, moving the garlic around so it doesn’t brown.
- Add the pesto and cream and stir well to combine. Bring it to a simmer, then add the parmesan and lemon juice. Remove from the heat and stir until the parmesan is melted through.
- Drain the pasta as soon as it’s ready, you can set it aside for a few minutes if you need to. Make sure to reserve ½ cup of the pasta water.
- Add the pasta, ¼ cup of pasta water, salt and pepper, some of the lemon zest and half of the pine nuts to the sauce and use tongs to toss it all together. Taste for seasoning and add more if needed. Add more pasta water if you need to loosen the sauce some more.
- Serve immediately with remaining lemon zest and pine nuts scattered over the top.
- Please take a moment to leave a comment & rating. It's appreciated and so helpful.
- Tablespoons: I use a standard Australian 20ml tablespoon (equal to 4 teaspoons). Check yours before measuring.
- Feel free to add some cooked shredded chicken or fry up some bacon or sausage meat before beginning the sauce. Remove excess oil before making the sauce right in the same pan.
- You can add a side salad if you like or mix through a couple of big handfuls of baby spinach at the end, stirring it in until the heat from the pasta and sauce wilt it.
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