This creamy pesto pasta sauce is so simple and uses a minimal amount of ingredients! This easy creamy pesto pasta recipe will be a weeknight staple, the perfect sauce to go on your favorite pasta.
I have bought pesto pre-made at the store many times, but nothing beats freshly made pesto. Homemade pesto comes together quickly and can be easily stored for future meals.
When prepping the basil for pesto, use the leaves and the smaller/softer stems. Discard the big stalks because, unlike cilantro where the stems are just as delicious as the leaves, the thick basil stems are bitter and will affect the taste of the pesto.
If you have the time, try lightly toasting your pine nuts in a small skillet. It gives the pesto an extra depth of flavor and enhances the nutty flavor. I also always freshly grate the parmesan cheese, a lot of pre-shredded cheese has anti-caking agents to keep it from clumping.
Making the pesto
The traditional way to make pesto is to use a mortar and pestle (hence the PEST-o). For time and ease, I just put it in my food processor. I pulse the basil, pine nuts, cheese, and garlic first, then proceed to pour in the olive oil as it’s blending through the spout. In between blending, open and scrape the sides with a silicone spatula to ensure all the basil leaves get blended and uniform in size. Give it a taste and adjust salt/pepper if necessary.
You can use the pesto immediately for this recipe, store it in the fridge for 2-3 days, or a great way is to freeze it to use at a later date. My favorite way to freeze pesto is in an ice cube tray. Once frozen, you can remove from the tray and place in a freezer bag for easy storage.
Creamy pesto sauce
- Melt butter in a large skillet, once melted add the freshly made pesto
- Stir to combine with the butter
- Add in the heavy cream and optional red pepper flakes
- Whisk until fully combined and taste to adjust seasoning if necessary
Pasta water is liquid gold when making pasta sauce. Always reserve some pasta water prior to draining the pasta. The starches that are released from the pasta while cooking, naturally help thicken sauces and make them silky smooth in texture.
You can use whatever pasta shape you would like with this recipe. I love this recipe with long pasta such as tagliatelle, bucatini, linguine, or spaghetti. You can pair the creamy pesto pasta sauce with short pasta as well.
Using tongs (silicone if you have), gently toss the pasta noodles in the sauce to coat. Add a few tbsp of the reserved pasta water until the consistency is silky.
Serve with freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese over the top and additional crushed red pepper flakes if desired. For presentation, use tongs to grab a heap of pasta, lower onto the plate while turning to make a delicious mound of pasta.
Looking for other pasta recipes?
- Penne alla vodka
- Beef bolognese
- Stuffed shells
- Lentil bolognese
- Spinach and beef lasagna
- Pesto stuffed manicotti
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Creamy Pesto Pasta
- 3 cups fresh basil leaves see note #1
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup pine nuts see note #2
- ¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese + more for serving
- 4 cloves garlic peeled
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 pound tagliatelle or pasta of choice
- ⅓ cup reserved pasta water see note #3
- Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil, cook pasta to al dente according to package instructions. Reserve ⅓ cup of pasta water and drain pasta.
- While pasta is cooking, in a food processor add the basil leaves, garlic cloves, pine nuts, cheese, salt/pepper. Pulse until all ingredients are chopped. On high, slowly pour in the olive oil through the spout. Open and scrape the sides with a spatula to get any leaves that might have been stuck. Blend again and add additional 2 tbsp olive oil. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. (To stop here and store pesto, see note #5)
- In a large skillet with high walls over medium heat, melt 2 tbsp unsalted butter, add in the pesto, and stir to combine. Add in the 3 tbsp of heavy cream and crushed red pepper flakes (optional, if you do not like spicy then omit). Whisk together until the sauce is smooth and fully combined. Lower heat to simmer.
- Add in the cooked/drained pasta into the pesto sauce and using tongs, carefully toss to coat the pasta. Add in 2-3 tbsp of reserved pasta water until the pasta is fully coated with the sauce and silky.
- Serve with additional cheese over the top (optional). Enjoy!
- Basil: When prepping the basil for pesto, use the leaves and the smaller/softer stems. Discard the big stalks because, unlike cilantro where the stems are just as delicious as the leaves, the thick basil stems are bitter and will affect the taste of the pesto.
- Pine nuts: If you have the time, try lightly toasting your pine nuts in a small skillet. It gives the pesto an extra depth of flavor and enhances the nutty flavor.
- Reserved pasta water: Always reserve some pasta water prior to draining the pasta. The starches that are released from the pasta while cooking, naturally help thicken sauces and make them silky smooth in texture.
- Heavy cream: If you want the sauce more creamy add 1 additional tbsp of heavy cream. Do not substitute half and half for heavy cream or the consistency will not be the same.
- Storing pesto: You can use the pesto immediately for this recipe, store it in the fridge for 2-3 days in airtight container, or freeze it to use at a later date. My favorite way to freeze pesto is using an ice cube tray. Once frozen, you can remove from the tray and place in a freezer bag for easy storage. Thaw in refrigerator overnight or melt on low heat on stovetop, then can proceed with rest of recipe making it creamy.
- If you want to make vegan, substitute olive oil for the butter and use coconut cream (not milk) in place of the heavy cream.