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This Simple Pesto Pasta is a must-have pasta recipe for your easy dinner idea! It’s a vibrant, satisfying vegetarian main or side dressed in a light basil pesto made with pistachios, Parmesan, and lemon juice, and then tossed with kale. It can be ready to serve in just about 20 minutes for an easy weeknight dinner win!

Pesto pasta in a white round bowl served with a lemon wedge.
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This quick & easy pesto pasta is fresh and flavorful and it can be on the table in just about 20 minutes. Yes, that’s quick!

While the pasta is boiling, you can whip up the tasty, homemade basil pesto. Then, simply combine the pesto with the pasta and kale leaves. This pesto pasta recipe is super versatile, so feel free to add other favorite ingredients and even chicken for a boost of protein.

Why you should make this recipe

  • Quick & easy: This pesto pasta salad recipe is pretty much effortless! The only chopping needed is for the kale and this meal can be on your table in less than 30 minutes.
  • No chilling required: This dish is best served warm or at room temperature, so you don’t have to take the extra time to chill it beforehand!
  • Versatile: You can customize this with any of your favorite mix-ins. It’s great on its own as either the main course or a side dish, but it’s flexible enough to add in chicken, shrimp, or even roasted vegetables.
  • Make ahead: This is a great recipe to make in advance! Simply, bring it to room temperature or heat it up before serving for hassle-free hosting and lunches or dinners that can be ready to serve super quick.
  • Great leftovers: It keeps well and is deliciously served immediately or after several days!
Pasta tossed with a pesto sauce and kale.

Ingredients needed

  • Pasta: Any type of pasta works well. Rigatoni, penne, fusilli, rotini, spaghetti, elbows, and farfalle (also known as bowtie pasta) are good options. To make this recipe gluten-free, use gluten-free pasta.
  • Pesto: The homemade pesto is a simple combination of shelled pistachios, garlic cloves, lemon zest, lemon juice, fresh basil leaves, grated Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and extra-virgin olive oil.
  • Kale: Adds freshness, nutrients, and color. You could sub with spinach leaves if preferred.
Uncooked pasta, fresh kale and basil and other ingredients divided into small portions.

How to make this easy pasta recipe

This pesto pasta recipe is SO easy to make and comes together super fast! Here’s the simple process:

  1. Boil the pasta: Cook the pasta in salted water according to the package directions. Once done cooking, reserve 1/3 cup of pasta water, drain, and transfer to a bowl.
  2. Make the pesto: While the pasta cooks, make the pesto sauce. In a high-speed blender, add the pistachio, garlic, lemon zest, juice, parmesan, salt, and pepper. Pulse a few times until finely chopped. With the blades running add in the oil. Pulse until a bright green sauce is formed. You can make it a bit chunky or smooth, as preferred.
  1. Toss pesto with pasta: Add the pesto over the pasta and kale together with the reserved pasta water. Stir well to coat and serve while warm.
Pasta combined with pesto and kale in a large white bowl.

Expert Tips

  • Scrape down the sides of the bowl: For an extra creamy pesto sauce, without any chunks of garlic or basil, be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl while processing the ingredients, before you add the olive oil.
  • Add olive oil slow & steady: To properly emulsify the pesto, keep the food processor running while you pour the oil in a slow, steady stream.
  • Reserve some pasta water (not regular water): The salty, starchy pasta water is great for loosening the pesto, so it combines easily with the pasta without watering it down like regular water will.
top view pesto pasta in a white round bowl

Frequently asked questions

What goes well with pesto pasta?

This is the perfect side dish to serve alongside steak, chicken, or fish. You could even stir cooked chicken pieces or shredded rotisserie chicken into the salad. Another option is to serve this with roasted veggies like zucchini, mushrooms, and/or broccoli to increase the veggie goodness. As a main course, it pairs nicely with a fresh green salad or vegetables on the side.

Do you add pesto to hot or cold pasta?

Pesto can be added to hot or cold pasta. It’s a good idea to save ¼ to ½ cup of the pasta water and add some of it to the pasta as you’re tossing it in the pesto. It helps make the oils from the pesto cling to the pasta.

Why does my pesto pasta taste dry?

If your pesto pasta tastes dry, simply add a bit of the reserved pasta water to the mix to add moisture. The starchy pasta water allows the sauce to coat the cooked pasta perfectly and makes everything nice and creamy.

Storage recommendations

Place any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for about 5 days. Before serving again, give it a good stir and moisten it with olive oil or water, as needed.

We do not recommend freezing the pasta, but you may freeze the pesto for up to 6 months. Freezing pesto in ice cube trays works great.

Pesto pasta with kale served in a bowl with a wedge of lemon.

More pasta recipes to try

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5 from 1 vote

Simple Pesto Pasta

By: Rena
Servings: 4 servings
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 8 minutes
Total: 18 minutes
top view pesto pasta in a white round bowl
This Simple Pesto Pasta is a must have recipe for your easy dinner arsenal! It’s a vibrant, comforting vegetarian main or side dressed in a light aromatic basil pesto sauce made with pistachios, Parmesan and lemon juice, and then tossed with kale. It can be ready to serve in just about 20 minutes for an easy weeknight dinner win!

Ingredients

  • 10 oz pasta
  • 1/3 cup shelled pistachios
  • 4 cloves garlic peeled
  • 1/2 lemon , zest, and juice of
  • 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch of kale, stems removed and chopped

Instructions

  • Cook the pasta in salted water according to the package directions. Once done cooking, reserve 1/3 cup of pasta water, then drain and transfer to a bowl.
  • While the pasta cooks, make the pesto sauce. In a high-speed blender, add the pistachio, garlic, lemon zest, juice, parmesan, salt, and pepper. Pulse a few times until finely chopped. With the blades running add in the oil. Pulse until a bright green sauce is formed. You can make it a bit chunky or smooth, as preferred.
  • Add the pesto over the pasta and kale together with the reserved pasta water. Stir well to coat and serve while warm.

Notes

Place any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for about 5 days. Before serving again, give it a good stir and moisten it with olive oil or water, as needed.

Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 518kcalCarbohydrates: 54gProtein: 16gFat: 27gSaturated Fat: 4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 4gMonounsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 5mgSodium: 432mgPotassium: 382mgFiber: 10gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 6398IUVitamin C: 64mgCalcium: 241mgIron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Tried this recipe?Mention @healthyfitnessmeals or tag #healthyfitnessmeals!

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