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Hello! I’m Anjali. I’m a board certified health coach, author, wife, mom and food lover from the SF Bay area (now living in Seattle, WA!); with a passion for delicious food and a desire to make healthy eating easy, tasty and fun! Learn more about me here and stay for a while!

Anjali Shah

Vegetarian Pesto Pasta Recipe With Basil

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This healthy vegetarian pesto pasta recipe is easy to make and perfect for a fuss-free weeknight meal. Ricotta gives this sauce a creamy texture, fresh basil provides a bold flavor, and the added pine nuts gives it a nice crunch! Ready in just 30 minutes, it’s a quick dinner recipe for the whole family!

vegetarian pesto pasta recipe with spinach, basil and pine nuts on a white plate

I love homemade pesto: there is something so satisfying about the fresh herbs and luscious mouthfeel of pesto when compared to marinara sauce. But, I consider it more of a guilty pleasure because normally pesto is loaded with tons of oil, cheese, and fat – which makes it a less healthy alternative to marinara sauce.

While you can sometimes substitute other greens (kale, spinach, etc.) for some of the fat, I’ve never quite found a recipe that tastes perfect. However, I’ve finally done it!

This vegetarian pesto pasta recipe tastes just like the original pesto, but with more nutrition, and less than half the calories of the original. It’s a great way to enjoy this summery herbal pasta sauce guilt-free!

Latest Recipe Video!

The sauce is thick, almost an emerald green, and still has that richness of a traditional pesto. It coats the penne so that every bite is super tasty. Making your own pesto is so easy, and much healthier than store bought!

This is a wonderful healthy recipe to enjoy anytime of the year. The basil pesto pasta is lightened up with the addition of spinach, pine nuts and a bunch of fresh herbs. In addition it is served with whole wheat penne adding fiber to this dish too! Much healthier than regular pasta, you can also choose to serve it with lentil or chickpea pasta to amp up the protein.

The herbs were so aromatic, they filled up our house with the most wonderful smell! It’s a healthy vegetarian Italian recipe!

👩🏽‍🍳 Why This Recipe Works

  • Easy Recipe
  • Toss in your favorite summer veggies
  • Best way to use up basil
  • Vegan Option
  • Super creamy pesto pasta
  • Gluten-Free Option
  • Fresh and Seasonal

🥘 Ingredients

This simple dish requires just a few ingredients easily found at your local grocery store or farmer’s market! For details on ingredient quantities, see the recipe card at the bottom of this post.

ingredients for vegetarian pesto pasta recipe with spinach, basil and pine nuts

Spinach: This leafy green vegetable brings fiber, vitamins and minerals to this recipe, but also lends to its flavor and bright green color. I used frozen spinach to save time.

Basil: It wouldn’t be classic pesto recipe without basil, this fresh and fragrant herb is in season during the summer months. One tip: buy a bunch of fresh basil leaves during the summer when it’s in season, and freeze it in individual portions (in zip-top freezer bags), so you can use it all year round!

Pine Nuts: For a little crunch, and as a classic pairing with the fresh basil for this pesto sauce recipe. If you can’t find pine nuts, silvered almonds would also work well!

Spices: A combination of spices such as fresh garlic cloves, salt and black pepper enhance the flavor of the sauce. Feel free to add any of your favorite Italian spices for extra flavor, and add red pepper flakes for more heat.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Using a little olive oil combined with vegetable broth gives the pesto enough liquid to help all of the ingredients combine, and still have a creamy finish, while also reducing the total amount of oil used to decrease the calories and fat.

Ricotta Cheese: Adds necessary creaminess to this vegetarian pesto pasta recipe! To make this dish vegan, use a dairy free ricotta cheese (Kite Hill makes a great option).

Parmesan Cheese: This recipe calls for fresh parmesan cheese, not the grated type you find in the aisle with the pasta. Half will go in your sauce, and the other half on top of your pasta for serving. For a vegan version, leave the parmesan out or use vegan parmesan.

Whole Wheat Penne: High in fiber, using whole wheat penne increases the nutritional value of this dish! You can use any pasta shape you like – rotini pasta, linguine, or even spaghetti would all work!

🍽 Equipment

📖 Variations

Vegan Pesto Sauce: Turn this into a vegan pesto pasta recipe by using vegan parmesan cheese and vegan ricotta cheese. You can also substitute the parmesan cheese with nutritional yeast. Use 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast in the pesto sauce, and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons on top of the pasta before serving.

Gluten-Free: Use a gluten-free pasta such as lentil, chickpea, or brown rice pasta instead of the whole wheat penne.

Veggie Pesto Pasta: Add some of your favorite fresh vegetables such as yellow squash, green beans, zucchini, or cherry tomatoes. Use vegetables that are in season.

Broccoli Pesto Pasta: Add 1 cup of broccoli florets to the food processor with the basil and other pesto ingredients! Blend to combine and then toss with your pasta!

🔪 Instructions

Make The Homemade Basil Pesto Sauce: Combine basil, ricotta, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper into a food processor and blend until smooth.

vegetarian basil pesto in a food processor

Cook The Pasta: Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta and reserve 1-2 ladle fulls of pasta water (about a half cup of pasta water) to mix with the sauce.

whole wheat penne pasta cooking in a stock pot

Cook The Spinach: In a large pan, heated over medium heat, defrost the frozen spinach for 2-3 min.

spinach cooking in a skillet

Combine With Pasta: Add in the cooked pasta and creamy sauce, stir until blended. Add the pasta water a little at a time until you like the consistency and taste.

vegetarian pesto pasta recipe with spinach, basil and pine nuts in a skillet

Serve Warm! Serve topped with 1-2 tsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a small sprinkling of pine nuts!

vegetarian pesto pasta recipe with spinach, basil and pine nuts on a white plate

❓Recipe FAQs

How Healthy Is Pesto Veggie Pasta?

Traditionally, pesto pasta isn’t often thought of as a healthy meal because it’s high in calories and refined grains. But in moderation, pesto can actually be quite healthy as it includes healthy fats, vitamins and nutrients.

This vegetarian pesto recipe is especially healthy because it is packed with whole grains, fiber, and each serving only has about 320 calories! If you want to make this recipe even healthier and gluten-free, you can use a lentil or chickpea based pasta. You can also make this a vegan dish by substituting or omitting the cheese.

Will Kids Enjoy This Pesto Pasta With Veggies?

Pesto is typically a kid-friendly sauce because it’s mild, slightly salty, and full of flavor. Paired with penne it makes for a meal that kids will love! My kids both gobbled this up and asked for seconds! And as an added bonus: picky eaters won’t realize they’re getting a healthy helping of spinach with their meal!

What Pesto is Vegetarian?

Not all pesto is vegetarian, because some pesto recipes and most store-bought pesto sauces will include animal-rennet-based parmesan (and animal rennet is taken from calves’ stomachs). But I was able to fine rennet free parmesan and ricotta at the grocery store, so this recipe is completely veggie-friendly! (Just look at the ingredients list of the cheese you buy to find an animal-rennet-free cheese for this recipe!)

❄️ How To Store

For The Pesto Vegetable Pasta All Together

Let the veggie pasta cool completely, and store in an air tight container in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. I don’t recommend freezing the pasta once it’s been mixed with the pesto sauce – it will get a little mushy once it’s defrosted. I recommend preparing the pasta fresh if making the sauce in advance.

For Just The Leftover Pesto Sauce

This pesto sauce will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 5 days. It actually tastes even better the next day because the flavors have more time to meld together!

Pesto freezes really well, and it’s a good idea to freeze fresh pesto in the spring and summer (when herbs are the most aromatic) so you can have it on hand all year long. You can make a big batch of this basil pesto and store it in individual portions to make defrosting super easy!

To freeze small amounts of pesto, put spoonfuls into ice cube trays. Once frozen, transfer the pesto cubes to freezer bags. These are perfect to use as flavor-enhancers in salad dressings, soups, or even to mix into a bowl of rice or pasta. To freeze large batches of pesto, transfer to a freezer storage container, cover the top with a thin layer of olive oil, then seal. Having larger batches on hand works perfectly for those times when you want to throw dinner together quickly.

👪 How To Serve

There are so many serving options when it comes to this vegetarian pesto pasta recipe. Some of our favorites include:

  • A garden salad with spring vegetables
  • Homemade garlic bread or these garlic bread grilled cheese sandwiches
  • Roasted vegetables
  • Alternative toppings like: Roasted grape or cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives, different cheeses, chickpeas, cannelini beans, more greens like arugula, spinach or kale!

💭 Expert Tips

  • Cook the pasta al dente and don’t rinse it after you drain it.
  • If you have any left over pesto, keep in in a sealable glass jar and top it up with olive oil to keep it fresh.
  • Pesto freezes really well! Just portion it in ice cubes!
  • If you don’t have pine nuts, you can use walnuts or almonds instead. Both almond and walnut pesto have nice nutty flavors that work well in this recipe!
  • Make sure to choose a vegetable-rennet based cheese to keep this vegetarian friendly
  • Feel free to toss this pasta with any extra veggies you have on hand – zucchini, carrots, squashes, bell peppers and broccoli would all work well.
  • Swap the penne for a gluten-free chickpea based pasta (to make this recipe gluten-free), or any other whole wheat pasta of your choice. To add in even more veggies and reduce the carbs, you can use zucchini noodles instead of pasta itself!
  • For some extra protein, feel free to throw in some cannelini beans or chickpeas as you toss the pasta! Be sure to adjust the seasoning/amount of sauce if you do!
top view of Vegetarian Pesto with Whole Wheat Pasta, topped with fresh basil, served on a white plate with a fork

🍝 More Healthy Pasta Dishes!

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📋 Recipe Card

vegetarian pesto pasta recipe with spinach, basil and pine nuts on a white plate
Print Recipe
5 from 10 votes

Vegetarian Pesto Pasta Recipe

This healthy vegetarian pesto recipe is easy to make and perfect for a fuss-free weeknight meal. Ricotta gives this sauce a creamy texture and the added pine nuts gives it a nice crunch!
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Total Time25 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, Italian
Diet: Low Calorie, Vegetarian
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 323kcal
Author: Anjali Shah

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • ¼ cup part skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese make sure your parmesan has vegetarian rennet, not animal rennet
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp chopped garlic
  • ¼ tsp salt or more to taste
  • ¼ tsp black pepper or more to taste
  • 1 16oz bag Frozen Spinach
  • Freshly grated Parmesan to top your pasta dish
  • 8 oz Whole wheat penne pasta or any whole wheat pasta you like!
  • Pasta water save about 1-2 ladle-fulls after cooking the pasta – it helps to make the sauce even creamier!

Instructions

  • To make the pesto sauce, put all ingredients (basil through black pepper in the list above) into a food processor and blend until smooth.
  • Cook the pasta according to package directions, reserve 1-2 ladle fulls of pasta water to mix with the sauce.
  • In a large pan, heated over medium heat, defrost the frozen spinach for 2-3 min. Add in the cooked pasta and pesto sauce, stir until blended. Add the pasta water a little at a time until you like the consistency and taste.
  • Serve topped with 1-2 tsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a small sprinkling of pine nuts!

Video

Notes

  • Cook the pasta al dente and don’t rinse it after you drain it.
  • If you have any left over pesto, keep in in a sealable glass jar and top it up with olive oil to keep it fresh.
  • Pesto freezes really well! Just portion it in ice cubes!
  • If you don’t have pine nuts, you can use walnuts or almonds instead. Both almond and walnut pesto have nice nutty flavors that work well in this recipe!
  • Make sure to choose a vegetable-rennet based cheese to keep this vegetarian friendly
  • Feel free to toss this pasta with any extra veggies you have on hand – zucchini, carrots, squashes, bell peppers and broccoli would all work well.
  • Swap the penne for a gluten-free chickpea based pasta (to make this recipe gluten-free), or any other whole wheat pasta of your choice. To add in even more veggies and reduce the carbs, you can use zucchini noodles instead of pasta itself!
  • For some extra protein, feel free to throw in some cannelini beans or chickpeas as you toss the pasta! Be sure to adjust the seasoning/amount of sauce if you do!

Nutrition

Calories: 323kcal | Carbohydrates: 42g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 7mg | Sodium: 287mg | Potassium: 470mg | Fiber: 8g | Sugar: 2g

Posted In…

Pasta ·

Whether it’s a high-protein pasta salad or a gluten-free primavera, this versatile ingredient is a staple for easy, delicious meals.

If you’re feeling ambitious, you can even make homemade fettuccine the classic Italian way!

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