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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 with Whole Wheat Pasta

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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!

Vegetarian Pesto with Whole Wheat Pasta, topped with fresh basil, served on a white plate

Pesto is one of my favorite things to eat – but it’s always loaded with tons of fat and calories (coming from oil, cheese and nuts). And while those are all good fats (and you should definitely be eating those ingredients) – the amount used in restaurant pestos is really excessive and you end up with a pasta dish that’s 1000 calories or more!

Most “healthy” pesto recipes either don’t taste very good, or they are super complicated to make – so almost aren’t worth the time. But this recipe for vegetarian pesto is really tasty, healthy, and super easy to make! Made with rotini, spinach, parmesan and pine nuts and tossed with whole wheat pasta for added fiber it’s a healthy and nutritious one pot meal.

Tools and Equipment You’ll Need for this Recipe

How to Make Healthy Vegetarian Pesto Pasta – Step by Step

Step 1: To make the pesto sauce, put basil, ricotta, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper into a food processor and blend until smooth.

healthy pesto in a blender

Step 2: Cook the pasta according to package directions, reserve 1-2 ladle fulls of pasta water to mix with the sauce.

Step 3: 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.

A bag of organic spinach

Step 4: Serve topped with 1-2 tsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a small sprinkling of pine nuts!

closeup of Vegetarian Pesto with Whole Wheat Pasta, topped with fresh basil, served on a white plate with a fork

What makes this Vegetarian Pesto healthy?

  • Low in Calories and Fat: One serving of this homemade pesto comes in at around 80 calories a serving and 6 grams of fat. With the pasta and the spinach, you still end up with an entire dish that is under 300 calories. Most pesto recipes are upwards of 1000 calories per serving. This lightened up version is just as tasty.
  • Added Fiber: Using whole wheat pasta provides extra fiber which helps with healthy digestion, regulates blood sugar, and lowers cholesterol.
  • Superfood Spinach: Spinach is loaded with vitamins and nutrients. Spinach helps with skin, hair, and bones. Not only does spinach have added vitamins, but it contains protein, iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

Will kids enjoy this Vegetarian Pesto?

This pesto recipe is a family favorite in our house. My kids love pasta and creamy sauces, and I love the added spinach and fiber. It’s mild, nutty, and full of flavor so my husband and I don’t feel like we’re eating bland kids food. It’s an all around family friendly dish that we make regularly.

top view of Vegetarian Pesto with Whole Wheat Pasta, topped with fresh basil, served on a white plate with a fork

Is homemade pesto healthier than store bought?

This homemade vegetarian pesto is much healthier than store bought. It’s lower in calories, and fat, and unlike jarred sauces, it’s not loaded with salt, sugars and preservatives. It’s also quick and easy to pull together and much better tasting.

How do you store and keep Vegetarian Pesto?

Keep in an air tight container in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. I recommend preparing the pasta fresh if making the sauce in advance. 

If freezing, store in an air tight freezer bag. Sauce will keep for 2-3 months. 

What do you serve with Vegetarian Pesto?

This pesto recipe is a healthy and filling meal all on its own. With healthy grains, spinach, basil and creamy cheese it’s a complete, one pot meal. However this pasta would taste great with the following sides…

  • Caesar Salad
  • Whole Wheat Garlic Bread
  • Fresh Green Salad
  • Steamed Green Beans
  • Olives
  • Brushetta 
Vegetarian Pesto with Whole Wheat Pasta, topped with fresh basil, served on a white plate

Top tips for making Healthy Pesto Pasta with Spinach

  • Cook the pasta al dente (with bite).
  • Use whole wheat pasta for additional fiber. For a gluten-free option that has even more protein, try this lentil penne.
  • Be sure to reserve some pasta water to add to the finished dish.
  • If you don’t have spinach, you can add any veggies you have in the fridge. Zucchini, squash, peppers, and even broccoli would all taste great in this recipe.

Be sure to check out these other healthy and vegetarian pasta recipes!

If you have tried this Vegetarian Pesto recipe, or any other recipe on my blog, then please rate it and let me know how it turned out in the comments below! You can also FOLLOW ME on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, INSTAGRAM and PINTEREST to see more delicious, healthy, family friendly food!

top view of Vegetarian Pesto with Whole Wheat Pasta, topped with fresh basil, served on a white plate with a fork
Print Recipe
5 from 5 votes

Vegetarian Pesto with Whole Wheat Pasta

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
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 74.3kcal
Author: Anjali Shah

Ingredients

  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup part skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp chopped garlic
  • 1/4 tsp salt or more to taste
  • 1/4 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!

Notes

Top tips for making Healthy Pesto Pasta with Spinach
  • Cook the pasta al dente (with bite).
  • Use whole wheat pasta for additional fiber. For a gluten-free option that has even more protein, try this lentil penne.
  • Be sure to reserve some pasta water to add to the finished dish.
  • If you don’t have spinach, you can add any veggies you have in the fridge. Zucchini, squash, peppers, and even broccoli would all taste great in this recipe.
Notes: 
Nutritional values are based on one serving of pesto and does not include pasta & spinach. With the pasta and spinach, the nutritional information for one serving is:
  • 295 Calories
  • 8g Fat (1.7g Saturated)
  • 6.7mg Cholesterol
  • 282.7mg Sodium  
  • 600mg Potassium
  • 46.2g Carbohydrates
  • 8.6g Fiber
  • 2.6g Sugar 
  • 13.2g Protein 

Nutrition

Calories: 74.3kcal | Carbohydrates: 1.9g | Protein: 3.6g | Fat: 6.1g | Saturated Fat: 1.6g | Cholesterol: 6.7mg | Sodium: 212mg | Potassium: 97mg | Fiber: 0.6g | Sugar: 0.2g

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19 responses to “Vegetarian Pesto with Whole Wheat Pasta”

  1. The best, you won’t even miss the meat in this pasta! Love the use of ricotta cheese with the homemade pesto! So tasty!5 stars

  2. I’ve been looking for a healthier pesto recipe for ages! This one turned out perfect, everyone loved it too. Thanks so much for sharing it.5 stars

  3. Hello:

    Nancy and I were on Wine Tour w/ you and your husband. Have a few pics to share. Drop a line with your email address.

    Best,

    Gary D. Murfin, Ph.D.
    Seattle area

  4. Sounds delicious! The ricotta is a great idea.
    I make pesto with spinach for my (9 year old) daughter all the time … and occasionally add edamame as well for a little protein. 🙂

  5. Welcome back! Looking forward to hear everything about the trip! And thanks for sharing this pesto recipe. I love pesto and too many people think it’s hard to make while it’s not. Have a good week!

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