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The Perfect Pesto Pasta Recipe

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This traditional Italian pesto pasta is quick and easy while sacrificing none of the bright herbal flavors, the rich saltiness, or the smooth texture from good quality olive oil. This is so easy, you will never need a store bought pesto again. Pesto is my ultimate comfort food, and can be good on anything – but today, we’re making pasta.

fettuccine pesto with pancetta

As an adult with no kids, I am not ashamed to admit that I love animation. Some of my favorite tv shows are cartoons (Star Wars: The Clone Wars, anyone?) and I’m always the first to sit down and watch the latest Pixar, Dreamworks, or Disney movie. And one of my favorite movies so far of the year 2021, was Disney and Pixar’s Luca.

Luca is a beautiful film about acceptance and friendship, with some stunning visuals, but my favorite part? The setting. Any story set in Italy with a big dose of Italian culture is an automatic win for me. Luca comes with a pasta-eating contest and multiple bowls of pesto pasta. This movie both made me cry (per the usual with Pixar) and made me crave pesto. So make yourself a big bowl of this recipe, turn on Luca, and have a great evening 🙂

pesto pasta on fork

What pasta is good with pesto sauce?

Technically, the pasta in Luca was trenette al pesto. Trenette is a long pasta, similar to linguine or fettuccine, and not readily available where I live. If trenette is not available, I recommend using: fettuccine (this is what I used), linguine, spaghetti, or bucatini. If you want to use a short pasta, I recommend anything ribbed, and nothing with filling (like a tortellini or ravioli.) Pesto should be the star of this show.

What do I need to make pesto pasta?

pesto pasta ingredients
  • A blender or food processor.
  • 1/2 pound pasta of your choice (I used fettuccine)
  • Fresh basil leaves. This is the main ingredient and you will need a lot of them – but your house will smell divine.
  • Toasted Pine Nuts. Alternatively, you can use walnuts. If you are cooking for a large group, or for someone with a nut allergy, panko breadcrumbs are a good substitution.
  • Grated parmesan or pecorino cheese – I use a combination of both. If using all pecorino, you will probably not need to add salt, but that is up to your taste preference.
  • Garlic cloves.
  • Good quality olive oil.
  • Pancetta. This is totally optional, but this recipe uses it and I think it adds a great crispy texture to the pasta. Feel free to leave it out, or even try a different meat. Proscuitto would be good as well.
  • Any add-ins of your choice – some people like to make an extra basil pesto by adding in whole leaves at the end so they wilt in with the pasta, or maybe some arugula or cherry tomatoes for extra color and flavor.
fettuccine with pesto and pancetta

How do I make homemade pesto pasta?

Start with your pasta and pancetta (if using.) Take a large pot of water and boil with a generous pinch of salt, then cook the pasta according to package instructions. Because this pasta will continue cooking with the pasta and pancetta, just under al dente is perfect.

Heat up a small amount of oil in a separate pan, and once it is heated through, add in the pancetta. To test if the oil is hot enough, drop one piece of pancetta in the pan – if it sizzles, it is ready.

Meanwhile, take your basil, toasted pine nuts, cheese, and garlic cloves, and blend up in a blender or food processor.

pesto ingredients in blender

Once everything is well mixed and chopped, slowly pour in the olive oil with the blender still on. Blend or process until you get a nice thick sauce.

pesto ingredients in blender

By this point, the pancetta and pasta should be ready, or near ready. The pancetta will be smaller and crispier, and will have released it’s fat onto the pan.

Once both are ready, take the pasta out of it’s pot (using tongs, not draining the pasta) and move to the pancetta pan.

pasta in pan

Take a ladle-full of pasta water, and add that to the pasta and pancetta, and then add the pesto.

pasta in pan with pesto

Toss to coat all the pasta with the sauce, turning it a beautiful green color. Add salt and pepper if needed.

pesto pasta in pan

Tips and Tricks

pesto pasta
  • Toasting your pine nuts will add a greater depth of flavor. It is easy to do over the stove, in a small pan. Put them on a medium high heat, and keep them moving all the time so they don’t burn, and cook until it’s aromatic and they’ve turned a lovely shade of golden brown.
  • Always use the pasta water. Water that cooked the pasta is salty and starchy and exactly what the pesto needs – not normal water from the sink.
  • Serve immediately. This pasta is best eaten warm and fresh – and since it is so easy to make, I don’t recommend making it ahead of time. There are almost never leftovers, but if you have some I do not recommend keeping more than a day.
  • I like to top with fresh parsley, red pepper flakes, and more parmesan cheese.
  • Pesto is delicious on more than just pasta – try this pesto sauce on a panini like this.
fettuccine pesto pinterest

For dessert after your pesto, try my Absolute Best Brownies.

pesto pasta

The Perfect Pesto Pasta Recipe

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb pasta
  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 3 tbsp toasted pine nuts
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup parmesan or pecorino cheese
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 4 oz diced pancetta

Instructions

  1. Cook pasta according to package instructions.
  2. Heat some olive oil on a pan. Once oil is heated through, add pancetta (if it sizzles, the oil is ready.) Cook until smaller in size and cripsy, and fat is released onto the pan.
  3. While pasta and pancetta are cooking, place basil, pine nuts, garlic cloves, and cheese in a blender or food processor, and mix until finely chopped.
  4. With blender still going, slowly add in olive oil. Process until sauce is smooth.
  5. Once pasta and pancetta are both cooked, move pasta to the pan with the pancetta using tongs. Do not drain the pasta water.
  6. Take a ladle full of pasta water and add to pan with pasta and pancetta. Add in pesto sauce, and toss until everything is coated.
  7. Serve immediately.
Nutrition Information
Yield 2 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 1208Total Fat 105gSaturated Fat 26gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 73gCholesterol 77mgSodium 676mgCarbohydrates 43gFiber 3gSugar 1gProtein 26g

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