This pasta dish marries all of the best flavors of summertime from the bright cherry tomatoes to the creamy pesto sauce. Not to mention, it comes together in minutes and can be the main dish with seared chicken breasts on top or served as a side dish for your best smoked grilled chicken thighs.
I love a good and simple dish that can either act as the main event or step aside and fill bellies to make the meat of the plate stretch.
It is even better when it can, literally, be thrown together and add flavor and color to the dinner table with only a handful of simple ingredients.
Summer is a great time to eat simple pasta dishes as it keeps the oven from heating the house and once the pasta is cooked all that’s left is to throw in whatever fresh herbs or veggies are growing in your garden at the time!
This creamy pasta is a great recipe for those busy weeknights when you would rather be outside enjoying the weather instead of in the kitchen.
I love it when a family favorite is also super simple.
Why you’ll love this recipe
- I could share so many reasons why this is one of our favorite recipes, but one of the main reasons is that it uses the flavors of the season to take it to the next level.
- Kids love this simple dish and you can make it with whatever pasta you have on hand.
- Make your own homemade pesto by zipping the ingredients in your food processor or grab a jar from your local grocery store.
- If using a store bought pesto, grab a few fresh basil leaves and finely chop them and sprinkle them on top to bring in the fresh flavor.
- Eat it as is, or spice it up a bit with a few red pepper flakes and some black pepper.
- If you have veggies that need to be used, dice them and toss them with this dish!
- This easy recipe is great for vegetarian families. It is, essentially, a vegetarian pasta recipe that is screaming with summery flavor.
- You can add juicy chicken and serve a creamy pesto chicken pasta!
- Squeeze a lemon over top and let the lemon juice brighten the dish even more.
Ingredients for Creamy Pesto Pasta
- Pasta– Use whatever type of pasta you have on hand. I prefer a thin spaghetti (not quite as thin as angel hair pasta) for this dish, but we have also used penne pasta and bowtie pasta. This recipe also gives you the freedom to use a gluten-free pasta if you need to.
- Butter– Don’t substitute margarine for this recipe. You need the richness of butter to give it that flavor. If you must, use a high quality olive oil in the butter’s place.
- Minced garlic- You can use garlic powder if you’re in a pinch, but fresh garlic does lend itself to a better tasting pasta.
- Heavy cream- This paired with the butter helps make the creamy sauce rich and delicious.
- Fresh Basil Pesto- Fresh pesto comes together easily in a food processor, but store bought pesto will be fine, too.
- Grated Parmesan Cheese- This is optional, but it really is necessary. lol The creamy pesto pasta sauce tastes great as is, but add in some parmesan cheese and it elevates it. It also makes the cream sauce into a thick sauce that coats the tender pasta so well.
How to make this Creamy Pesto Pasta Recipe
- Cook the Pasta- In a large pot, bring water and a little salt to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook the pasta according to the package directions or until al dente. Drain, but reserve some of the pasta water in case you need it for the creamy sauce later.
- Make the Pesto Sauce- In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and sauté the minced garlic until fragrant, about 1 minutes. Add in the pesto sauce and mix well for 2 minutes. Add in the heavy cream in a slow, steady stream. Stir constantly for 1 minute. Turn the heat to low and add in the parmesan cheese. Stir until it is melted. If it is too thick, add in a tablespoon or two of the pasta water.
- Toss the Pasta- Add the cooked pasta to the creamy sauce and toss until coated. Serve immediately and add extra parmesan cheese to taste.
How do you thicken Creamy Pesto Sauce?
A great way to thicken any sauce is to add corn starch.
The pasta water already has starch in it from the pasta cooking, so take 2 tablespoons of the pasta water and in a small bowl mix in 1 teaspoon of cornstarch.
Whisk it until combined and add it to the sauce when it is warm, prior to adding the pasta to the creamy sauce. Keep stirring until it thickens.
How to store leftover Creamy Pesto Pasta
Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
When you are ready to eat it, drizzle olive oil over the pasta to bring it back to life.
Shred some parmesan on top and enjoy this delicious recipe again!
Optional Add Ins
- Skinless Chicken Breast
- Juicy Cherry Tomatoes- We love this dish with the bursting flavor of ripe cherry tomatoes. Slice in half and toss with the pasta.
- Cream cheese- This will make it even more creamy and thick. Use 3 ounces of room temperature cream cheese for this recipe.
- White wine- If you want even more flavor, add in a splash of white wine when making the sauce.
- Toasted pine nuts- Yes, pine nuts are in the pesto, but they are also a great garnish and give a nice crunch.
Pro Tip for this easy Creamy Pesto Pasta Recipe
This dish is perfection when it is made with al dente pasta.
Don’t overcook your pasta.
You want it to still have a slight chew to it and not be mushy after you toss it with the pesto sauce.
Can you just add pesto to the pasta without cooking the creamy sauce?
Yes! If you don’t have a few minutes to whip up the creamy sauce, you can absolutely toss the cooked pasta with a jar of pesto or homemade pesto.
The dish won’t be as filling or have as much flavor, but it will still be delish!
Frequently Asked Questions
Creamy pesto sauce starts with a base of either store bought pesto or homemade pesto. Fresh garlic, heavy cream, grated parmesan, and al dente pasta are then adding to round out this dish.
Pesto sauce is full of nutrients and unsaturated fats, but should be enjoyed in moderation.
Creamy Pesto Pasta Recipe
Creamy Pesto Pasta
- 1 large saucepan
- 1 pound thin spaghetti, or other pasta
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup pesto
- ½ cup grated parmesan
- In a large pot, bring water and a little salt to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook the pasta according to the package directions or until al dente.
- Drain, but reserve some of the pasta water in case you need it for the creamy sauce later.
- In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and sauté the minced garlic until fragrant, about 1 minutes.
- Add in the pesto sauce and mix well for 2 minutes. Add in the heavy cream in a slow, steady stream. Stir constantly for 1 minute.
- Turn the heat to low and add in the parmesan cheese. Stir until it is melted. If it is too thick, add in a tablespoon or two of the pasta water.
- Add the cooked pasta to the creamy sauce and toss until coated.
- Serve immediately and add extra parmesan cheese to taste.