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.
There has been quite a bit of roasted tomatoes and homemade basil pesto coming out of my kitchen lately. And I've been having so much fun finding different ways to use them up.
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 craving a straight up vegetarian pesto dinner, like my pesto lemon orzo soup or creamy pesto ravioli, today's recipe is for you! No chicken needed!
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 (or burrata!), 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
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Pesto Pasta Recipe with Tomatoes and Mozzarella
- Sheet Pan
- Cooking Pot
- Large bowl
- 2 lb small tomatoes halved
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 lb thin spaghetti
- 1 cup basil pesto I used this homemade pesto recipe
- 6 oz fresh baby mozzarella
- Fresh basil for garnish
- 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.
I only have 3 regular sized tomatoes... can I still roast?
Sure! I would just reduce the rest of the ingredients accordingly.
I made this with my homemade pesto and tomatoes from my garden. It was so delicious! I used about 10 oz of regular spaghetti, My tomatoes weren’t paste tomatoes, and they completely broke down when I roasted them. No worries though, I picked out the skins and mixed the tomato pulp, along with the accumulated juice, with the spaghetti. I added garlic slices to the pasta cooking water and mixed those in too, This is a wonderful recipe!
Sounds fabulous!! Thanks, Pamela!
I wish this recipe had turned out better. It tasted wonderful, but a pound of thin spaghetti was way too much. Even using my giant pasta bowl and the pasta water, it was impossible to toss everything evenly, and I ended up with a very tasty but ugly, gloppy mess. Since it tasted so good, I’ll make this again but use less pasta.
Thanks for sharing, Laurie. We have not had this issue here, but if you need to, definitely you can reduce the amount of pasta or toss in batches?
This pasta is yummy and easy and amazing, what's not to love? We gobbled up every bite!
So glad you enjoyed it, Wilhelmina!
We love this so much! I ladies anything with pesto! Thank you!
Made this last night exactly as described in your recipe. It was fantastic! Thanks for another great recipe.
So glad you enjoyed it, Debbie!
Delicious! I LOVE pesto! This is a great dish for pesto lovers!
I agree!!! Thanks, Betsy!!
Love this delicious recipe. All the best flavors.
So glad! Thanks, Laura!
The best pasta! Love the homemade pesto sauce and how simple this was to put together!
pesto pasta is my go-to meal when I'm in a rush and the kids are starving! Everyone loves this version.
Yay! Thanks, Beth!
This is so good! A new addition to our weeknight favorites!
Yay! Thanks, Toni!
Oh yum!! This is amazing!!! I've got all the ingredients, right in my yard!
This is such a beautiful, healthy meal perfect for summer. My family will love it!
This is exactly what I was craving. The roasted tomatoes make this really special! Thanks for such a great recipe!
My pleasure, Sue!!
So easy and delicious -- definitely making it again!!
Yay! Thanks, Tara!
Thanks so much for the tip to not heat the pesto!!! My pesto always turned a drab green - still tasted great, but didn't look so great. This recipe comes out perfect every time!
So glad the recipe worked well for you, Pam!
I love tasty pasta recipes! This is a great one! Loving it!