This pesto pasta is a quick, easy, and tasty dish you can make all summer using fresh tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. Perfect for Meatless Monday!
This pasta dish is my go-to for a quick and easy Meatless Monday dinner, especially during the summer when fresh basil is abundant for homemade pesto and vine-ripe cherry tomatoes. It’s a great way to use your summer harvest.
Basically, this pasta is like a Caprese salad with warm fluffy pasta. I make this pesto pasta recipe all the time, and David and I never tire of it.
Ingredients You’ll Need For This Easy Pesto Pasta
Pasta: I almost always use spaghetti unless I don’t have any in the pantry. There is no best pasta, so feel free to use your favorite pasta. Fusilli, rigatoni, penne, or farfalle are all great options. You’ll need about ½ pound for two servings.
Salt: I use Kosher salt to heavily salt the pasta water and to season the tomatoes. Adding salt to the pasta water adds flavor and reduces starchiness, so the pasta isn’t sticky after the water is drained. Adding salt to the tomatoes will take out the bitterness and concentrate the flavor of the tomatoes.
Tomatoes: Cherry or grape tomatoes are delicious.
Pesto: fresh homemade basil pesto is the best, but you can use store-bought pesto if you don’t have time to make the pesto yourself.
Pepper: freshly cracked black pepper adds depth of flavor and spice to the dish. Add to suit your taste.
Cheese: All forms of mozzarella cheese work beautifully. From shredded pearls or burrata, you cannot go wrong! Add the cheese just before serving.
Optional Ingredients For Serving: really good extra-virgin olive oil, seasoned olive oil, and crushed red pepper flakes can be added for extra flavor and some heat.
How to Make Pesto Pasta
Cook the Pasta: Heat a large pot of salted water and cook the pasta per package instructions until al dente—reserve ½ cup of the pasta water, then drain.
Chop and Marinate the Tomatoes: Quarter or half the tomatoes and them to a bowl and toss with kosher salt.
Toss Everything Together: Stir in the pasta, pesto, and tomatoes in a skillet. Add some reserved pasta water to the skillet and toss the pasta to coat with a loose pesto sauce (you may not need all of what you reserve). Add pasta water until the pasta is the consistency you like. Toss pasta over the heat until the tomatoes are warm, about 3-5 minutes. Any longer, and the pesto becomes dark and looks unappetizing.
Serving: Serve the pesto pasta with mozzarella cheese, seasoned olive oil, and crushed red pepper flakes, if desired.
Helpful Recipe Tips
- Reserve Pasta Water: pasta water is starchy and more flavorful than plain water. It also makes a thicker sauce. Add about ¼ cup of the pasta water to the skillet and toss the pasta to coat with a loose pesto sauce (you may not need all of what you reserve). Add pasta water until the pasta is the consistency you like. We tend to like this pasta dish a little dry.
- Don’t overcook the pesto: Overcooking the pesto will make it turn dark. You only want to warm the tomatoes through.
- Roasting the tomatoes: If you have the time, you can go the extra mile to roast them to concentrate and intensify their flavor. However, I feel like adding salt to them works well with instant time savings.
- Add Protein: To keep this dish vegetarian, you can add mushrooms to give the dish more protein. If it’s not Meatless Monday, add grilled or rotisserie chicken, cooked Italian sausage, or steamed shrimp.
- Other Veggies: to give this dish more veggie power add olives or artichoke hearts
- Taste and Adjust: all pesto is not created equal. They vary in flavor, color, and intensity. It’s a good idea to taste the pasta after all the ingredients are combined and adjust them as necessary.
No. The heat from the pasta in the skillet warms the pesto.
Overcooking the pesto will cause it to become dark. Only toss until everything is warmed through.
Yes, store leftover pasta sealed in the refrigerator inside an air-tight container with a lid for up to two days.
Making this recipe? We’d love to hear your feedback. Leave us a comment and a star rating below, and tell us what you think.
See ya on the mountain!
Easy Pesto Pasta
- ½ pound spaghetti
- Kosher salt
- 1 pint tomatoes cherry or grape
- ¼ cup pesto fresh
- Black pepper freshly cracked
- ⅓ cup mozzarella cheese shredded, pearls or burrata
- extra virgin olive oil seasoned, optional
- Crushed Red Pepper Flakes optional
- Heat a large pot of salted water and cook the pasta per package directions, until al dente—reserve ½ cup of the pasta water before draining.
- Meanwhile, quarter or half the tomatoes. Add them to a bowl and toss with kosher salt.
- Combine the drained pasta, tomatoes, and pesto in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add about ¼ cup of the pasta water to the skillet and toss the pasta to coat with a loose pesto sauce (you may not need all of what you reserve). Add pasta water until the pasta is the consistency you like. Toss pasta over the heat just until the tomatoes are warmed through, about 3-5 minutes. Any longer, and the pesto becomes dark and looks unappetizing. Taste and adjust seasoning as you need.
- Serve with mozzarella cheese, seasoned olive oil, and crushed red pepper flakes, if desired.