Penne with pesto sauce is such a satisfying dish, whether it’s peak summer when fresh basil is bursting out of every garden and farmers market, or anytime of year when you need a quick and easy dinner.
Pesto is already full of flavor from the fresh basil and garlic, toasted pine nuts, olive oil and good Italian cheese. If you add a little extra cream and cheese to it, the pesto becomes a silky sauce that adheres to just about any pasta shape. Fresh cherry tomatoes give the dish a nice acidic boost and sweetness. Here’s how to make it.
Key Ingredients for Penne with Pesto
Pesto: While traditional basil pesto is the go-to for this dish, you can use so many other pesto variations. Once you learn the basics of how to make pesto, you can swap in different nuts; add leafy greens, like this spinach pesto or kale pesto; or mix in other herbs, like in this parsley pesto. You can make a vegan pesto or nut-free pesto for those with dietary restrictions. And of course you can always use store-bought pesto if you don’t have time (or ingredients) to make your own.
Pasta: Penne and pesto go great together because the sauce sticks well to the tube shape. But you can try any pasta shape you want, from farfalle to fusilli, gemelli twists and more. Strands like spaghetti or linguine are good, too, but if you’re sticking with tomatoes or any other chopped add-ins, the smaller shapes work best so you can get a little bit of everything in one bite.
Parmesan cheese: Because pesto is made with only a few ingredients, you want to use the best you can—and that includes the cheese. To make perfect pesto, skip the powdered Parmesan in a can. Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano are the most traditional. There’s already cheese in the pesto, but adding more will amp up the cheesy umami flavor and add some body to the finished pasta dish. Save a little extra for one final sprinkle before serving.
Pesto Penne Pasta Recipe
1 package (16 ounces) penne pasta
1 cup prepared pesto
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, optional
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Step 1: Cook the pasta
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, but reserve 1 cup of pasta water. The starchy water helps incorporate everything when you toss the sauce and the pasta together.
Step 2: Combine pesto and pasta
In a large bowl, whisk the pesto and, if using, the cream. Add the penne and halved tomatoes, and toss everything together so the pasta gets coated with the sauce. Add a little pasta water to reach the desired creamy consistency. Right before serving, sprinkle with more cheese.
Tips for Making Pesto Penne Pasta
What are some variations of pesto penne pasta?
Penne with pesto is great on its own or simply tossed with tomatoes, but you can add so much more. Add protein, like shredded rotisserie chicken, sausage or chickpeas for a more well-rounded dish; or try shrimp, like this shrimp pesto pasta. Pop in more vegetables, such as asparagus or broccoli. Or try different seasonings, like dried herbs or red pepper flakes.
This is also where you can have some fun with different pestos and pasta shapes. Think: ziti and kale pesto, spaghetti with vegan pesto, or gnocchi with pesto sauce. The combinations are endless!
How do you store penne with pesto?
Like a lot of pesto recipes, you can store penne with pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days. Reheat it in the microwave or on the stove; add water, a little extra cream or olive oil to loosen it up, if needed. You can also eat the pasta cold. Instant pasta salad!
What can you serve with pesto pasta?
You can serve many Italian-inspired appetizers and side dishes with pesto penne pasta. Think: tomato bruschetta, a big Caesar salad or this delightful radish and asparagus salad. Serve any combination of roasted vegetables for a side dish, or make the penne with pasta a side dish to any of these grilled chicken recipes.