Here is how you make the best pesto pasta, perfectly coated in sauce for maximum flavor and tossed with juicy, quick roasted tomatoes and fresh baby mozzarella. Keep it vegetarian or add in some shrimp, grilled lemon chicken or this quick Italian baked chicken.
Tips & make-ahead ideas included.
Earlier last week, I shared my 20-minute creamy pesto chicken. Many of you made it, doubling the sauce to toss in some pasta. Great idea!
But for days you're feeling straight up vegetarian pesto pasta--no cream and no chicken needed-- today's recipe is for you!
Pesto pasta & caprese pasta in one!
This recipe is basically a bit a hybrid pasta situation that is summer's best in a bowl. Think caprese pasta with tomatoes and mozzarella, tossed in bright, homemade basil pesto.
Sure, you could throw small raw tomatoes in, but for the wow factor, go the extra mile and roast the tomatoes (which you can do ahead of time) so they're super tender and bursting with intense, concentrated flavor--an extra layer of deliciousness.
Can you just add pesto to pasta?
How hard can tossing a bit of pasta with a little pesto be?! Not very hard at all, but a few things for best flavor and to help preserve the beautiful bright green color and fragrant aroma of your basil pesto:
- Do you heat pesto before adding to the pasta? NO! Pesto is not meant to be heated as it will turn color and lose its vibrancy.
- Do not add the pesto to your pasta in the hot cooking pot. For similar reasons, don't simply pour the pesto into the hot pot of pasta, instead transfer the cooked, drained pasta to a large bowl then add the pesto and toss. The heat from the pasta is enough to warm the pesto through.
- Use a bit of the pasta cooking water to help evenly distribute the pesto and coat your pasta well
- How much pesto do you need? Don't skimp on the pesto! You need to make sure the pasta is well-coated with it for maximum flavor. In this recipe, I use 1 pound of pasta and 1 cup of homemade pesto, sometimes more (in a pinch, you can use store-bought jar).
Which pasta is best with pesto?
You do have a few pasta options to work with here.
Yes, it's true that short and curvy pasta options like rotini and fussili, which I used in my earlier broccoli pesto pasta, do a great job holding on to as much of the sauce as possible. And broccoli pesto is a bit on the thicker side than what we have here. But today, I ended up using thin spaghetti because that's what I had on hand. Spaghetti is a great option for light oil-based sauces (like this earlier olive oil pasta) but works well in this recipe and makes for a fun presentation.
Save large pasta shells, thick pasta tubes, and things like lasagna noodles for a thicker ragu (like in this lasagna soup).
How to make pesto pasta
To make pesto pasta, you can go as simple as tossing your warm pasta with homemade pesto and a bit of the pasta cooking water (following my tips above). But if you like, turn it into a tasty vegetarian entree by adding some roasted tomatoes and fresh mozzarella balls. Here is the step-by-step:
- Roast the tomatoes. I like small tomatoes for this (campari or even grape tomatoes), cut in half and tossed with extra virgin olive oil salt and pepper. Arrange them on one large sheet, flesh side up, and roast in 450 degrees heated oven for anywhere between 25 and 35 minutes. (You can do this a couple days in advance).
- Cook the pasta. I went with 1 pound of thin spaghetti here and cooked it in salted boiling water to al dente (follow your package instructions). Drain, but make sure to keep about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water for later.
- Toss everything together. Transfer the cooked pasta to a large bowl. Add the pesto and toss well to make sure the pasta is well-coated (use a bit of that pasta cooking water to help distribute the pesto, if you need to). Give it a taste and add a pinch of kosher salt and black pepper to your liking. Add in the roasted tomatoes and baby mozzarella. Give it another toss to combine.
- Serve with a garnish of fresh parsley, if you like
Roasted tomatoes and homemade basil pesto can be made a couple of days ahead of time and saved separately in the fridge until needed. You can warm the already cooked tomatoes up in the oven while you cook your pasta. See my earlier quick roasted tomatoes recipe.
Basil pesto will last in the fridge a good week, if stored properly in a tight-lid mason jar. See how to make basil pesto for recipe and tips.
And if you're following a stricter Mediterranean diet, use whole grain pasta.
Related basil and pesto recipes to try:
Pesto Pasta Recipe with Tomatoes and Mozzarella
- Sheet Pan
- Cooking Pot
- Large bowl
- Heat the oven to 450 degrees F and arrange a rack in the middle.
- In a larger bowl, toss the tomatoes with kosher salt, black pepper, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. Transfer to a sheet-pan and bake in heated oven 25 to 35 minutes or just until the tomatoes collapse and develop some char (if you don't want them too soft, take the tomatoes out earlier). When ready, remove from the oven. (See notes)
- While the tomatoes are roasting, cook the spaghetti in boiling water according to the package to al dente (about 10 minutes). Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta.
- Transfer the cooked spaghetti to a large bowl (same bowl used earlier for the tomatoes). Add the pesto and toss to coat. If you need to, add a little bit of the pasta cooking water to help mix it evenly. Taste, and if needed, add a bit of kosher salt and black pepper to season.
- Add the roasted tomatoes and mozzarella to the bowl of pasta. Toss to combine. Serve warm. Garnish with fresh basil, if you like.
- Make ahead tips: Both the roasted tomatoes and homemade basil pesto can be prepared in advance. In this pasta. I often use my leftover quick roasted tomatoes, which I store in the fridge in a tight-lid mason jar for 3 to 5 days (make sure the tomatoes are at room temp before storing). Homemade basil pesto will typically keep in the fridge for 1 week (follow this basil pesto recipe for all the tips).
- For Mediterranean diet, use whole grain pasta
- Leftovers: store leftover pesto pasta in the fridge in a tight-lid container for 2 to nights or so (this will vary depending on whether you prepared any part of it ahead of time).
- To add protein: You can add simply seasoned grilled chicken or shrimp to this pesto pasta. Once you toss the pasta with the pesto, add in the protein (it needs to be cooked and warm), then add in the roasted tomatoes and mozzarella.
- Visit Our Shop to browse quality Mediterranean ingredients including extra virgin olive oil used in this recipe.