Jan 9, 2021

Creamy Pesto Pasta

Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 20 mins
With just a few simple ingredients this sauce has become a staple in my pasta rotation with the sharp taste of the Parmesan cheese, and the richness provided by the pine nuts, herby basil and just a touch of lemon juice.

The base of this pesto sauce is similar to this classic recipe here, but made creamy by blending it with the starchy pasta water until smooth and finishing it with a touch of heavy cream. To keep the quick and easy sauce a vibrant bright green, I blanch the basil leaves before combining them with the remaining ingredients.

With just a few simple ingredients this sauce has become a staple in my pasta rotation with the sharp taste of the Parmesan cheese, and the richness provided by the pine nuts, herby basil and just a touch of lemon juice.

Creamy Pesto Pasta

Key Ingredients in This Recipe

  • Basil – Italian large leaf basil is the variety typically found in grocery stores and most commonly used in pesto. Iy has a robust, herby basil flavor. Be sure to thoroughly wash the basil leaves before using them in the pesto; pesto is no place for dirt.
  • Parmesan – Parmesan-Reggiano is definitely one of my favorite cheeses. It’s a hard cow’s milk cheese aged for different lengths of time. I’d recommend buying a roughly cut piece of wrapped cheese from the grocery store – it’s typically a higher quality cheese.
  • Pine nuts – The pine nuts are first toasted in a pan to round out their flavor in this creamy pesto pasta sauce.
Homemade Handkerchief Pasta with Creamy Pesto on marble board

How to Make Creamy Pesto Pasta

  1. Toast the pine nuts. Add the pine nuts to a small nonstick skillet and toast them over medium-low heat until they are golden brown and fragrant, about 4 minutes total time. Remove and set aside.
  2. Blend the pesto. Pick the basil leaves off the stems then rinse and pat the basil dry. Place the basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice in a blender or food processor fitted with a blade attachment and blend on high until the basil is chopped, about 1 minute.
  3. Season the pesto. Stop the blender and scrape down the sides occasionally with a spoon to make sure all ingredients are combined. Season to taste with salt.
  4. Cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of water to the boil; add the salt and bring back to the boil. Pour in the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 10 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and set aside. Drain the pasta and return to the pot.
  5. Blend the pesto with pasta water. Add ½ cup of the reserved pasta water to the pesto and continue to blend until smooth. Add the cream and blend once more.
  6. Serve. Ladle in the desired amount of pesto to coat the pasta. Stir and serve.

Tips and Tricks for This Recipe

Substitutions/ Swaps
  • If you do not have pine nuts, try substituting walnuts instead, as the oily nuts work well in the sauce, complements the basil and are high in Omega-3’s (plus they’re much cheaper).
  • Add red pepper flakes prior to blending, for a slightly spicy sauce
  • Add grilled chicken, shrimp or scallops to this dish for a more complete meal. Pesto chicken pasta is a great pairing, simply serve with cheesy garlic bread and a salad like this endive and arugula mix for a dinner party menu.
Why you should reserve pasta water

I always recommend reserving some of the pasta cooking water before draining your pasta. The salty, starchy water that the pasta is cooked in adds flavor and helps to bind the sauce to the pasta, making a rich and silky sauce. 

Best Pasta to Serve with Creamy Pesto Pasta Sauce

Handkerchief pasta is a natural pairing for this cream and pesto blend (Mandilli di Seta). For a more traditional pasta shape, try pairing with twisted or corkscrew shapes that hold the sauce like trofie or fusilli and longer shapes like fettuccine.

How to store the pasta sauce

Store the sauce refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days. If you don’t have pasta water to thin the sauce you can use additional cream or a bit of water to thin the sauce.

How to Make this Sauce Dairy Free

Parmesan cheese actually contains negligible amounts of lactose so it’s often safe to eat for those who typically avoid dairy. I recommend substituting pasta cooking water for the creamy in this recipe or substituting with coconut cream.

Homemade Handkerchief Pasta with Creamy Pesto

Other Recipes to Try

If you enjoy this creamy pesto pasta recipe, I recommend checking out these:

Creamy Pesto Pasta

Print Pin
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces pine nuts
  • 6 ounces fresh basil
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed
  • ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ medium lemon, juiced
  • Kosher salt, as needed
  • ¾ pound pasta of choice, I use homemade handkerchief noodles
  • ¼ cup heavy cream

Instructions:

  • Add the pine nuts to a small nonstick skillet and toast them over medium-low heat until they are golden brown and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Remove and set aside.
  • Pick the basil leaves off the stems then rinse and pat the basil dry. Place the basil, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice in a blender or food processor fitted with a blade attachment and blend on high until the basil is chopped, about 1 minute.
  • Stop the blender and scrape down the sides occasionally with a spoon to make sure all ingredients are combined. Season to taste with salt.
  • Bring a large pot of water to the boil; add the salt and bring back to the boil. Pour in the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 10 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water and set aside. Drain the pasta and return to the pot.
  • Add ½ cup of the reserved pasta water to the pesto and continue to blend until smooth. Add the cream and blend once more.
  • Ladle in the desired amount of pesto to coat the pasta. Stir and serve.

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