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Pesto sauce on rotini pasta in a dish

Italian Pesto Pasta Recipe: Bring Vacation to the Dinner Table

  • Author: Karen
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 6 1x
  • Diet: Vegetarian


Bring fresh summer flavors to your dinner table by adding the taste of the Italian Riviera through this authentic pesto pasta recipe. This simple and versatile basil sauce from the Mediterranean Coast is excellent on pasta and is an outstanding addition to many dishes.


Units Scale

Pesto Sauce

  • 2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves, stems removed and rinsed in a salad spinner
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts + 2 tablespoons for garnish
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan-Reggiano, grated
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil + 2 Tablespoons to top the sauce


  • 16-oz box pasta rotini pasta*
  • 1 tablespoons salt
  • 1 cup hot pasta water

Garnish, optional

  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, roasted
  • 1/4 cup grated cheese at the table


  1. Cook Pasta: Make pasta according to the recipe and add 1 tablespoon of salt to the water—reserve one cup of the salted pasta water just before straining in a colander.
  2. Blend Pesto: Dry basil leaves well and add to the blender or food processor. Add garlic, salt, pine nuts, grated cheese, and a little olive oil. Process the ingredients until they are smooth. Use a spatula to include the ingredients that stick to the sides. Slowly pour the remaining olive oil and blend for a second or two.
  3. Transfer the pesto sauce to a bowl and top with 2 tablespoons of olive oil to stop oxidation and help maintain the green color.
  4. Garnish: Heat a small skillet or cast-iron pan over medium heat. Place 2 tablespoons of pine nuts in the heated pan and roast until golden brown, stirring often. Remove nuts from the pan and place on a plate until ready to use.
  5. Pasta: Scoop one cup of pasta water from the pan before straining. Drain pasta and place back in the pan with ½ cup of pasta water. Add pesto to the pasta and mix using reserved pasta water a little at a time, if needed.
  6. Serve on a plate and garnish with toasted pine nuts and grated Parmesan Reggiano.


* Traditional and gluten-free pasta works well; the best shape is rotini, fusilli, or cavatappi since they hold the sauce well. Spaghetti can also be used.

Hold back one cup of hot, salted pasta water before draining.

Equipment needed: Salad spinner, mortar, and pestle or food processor.

  • Prep Time: 15
  • Cook Time: 15
  • Category: Pasta
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian

Keywords: basil, Italian sauce, Cinque Terre dish