Tender spaghetti noodles coated in a flavorful basil pesto sauce and topped with a rich lemon ricotta cream. This spaghetti pesto is the perfect way to enjoy a quick and easy dinner with fresh bold flavors!
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Easy Pesto Spaghetti
We are right in the middle of winter and spring. That time when baby greens, herbs and veggies haven’t yet started emerging from the earth; and the days are still cool enough that you want a little comfort food every once in a while. A flavorful pasta dish with a bit of creaminess is just the thing.
I love making pesto in the summer when there is basil growing everywhere. My go to basil pesto recipe is very straight forward. I use just basil, some pine nuts, Parmesan and garlic in just the right amounts for a fresh summer sauce. In these colder months for my winter spaghetti pesto, I mix the greens up and use only a little basil for flavor. It isn’t growing in my garden right now and can get a little pricey.
When you are craving all the greens and need something quick and easy this pesto pasta is the answer! It’s ready in only 30 minutes for the best weeknight dinner plus a nice change from my easy spaghetti recipe, marinara or bolognese!
I decided to make a dairy-free vegan pesto to be used in this spaghetti pesto recipe based on what I had on hand. It turned out so delicious!
- Pasta: Spaghetti noodles are my choice here but any noodle could be used in this pesto pasta dish.
- Greens and herbs: I mixed the fresh basil with some flat-leaf parsley and baby spinach. Both have lovely, simple flavors but add an herby green punch that’s just right for pasta.
- Frozen peas: Available and tasty all year, these add some sweetness to the sauce since I used less basil in this recipe because it’s winter.
- Raw almonds: Give the sauce that great texture in place of the usual pine nuts that are used.
- Lemon juice: Adds brightness to the sauce and balances out any bitterness from the fresh herbs.
- Garlic: Pesto sauce isn’t the same without a clove of fresh garlic. You can always add in more if you love garlic, but I’d recommend adding a little at a time so that it doesn’t taste too pungent.
- Olive oil: Helps give the sauce a smooth consistency, while adding a rich flavor. A fresh and high quality extra virgin olive oil will give your pesto the best taste.
- Lemon ricotta topping: Lemon zest and peppe are combined with ricotta and whipping cream for a genius way to top your spaghetti pesto.
Pesto Pasta Variations
Homemade pesto spaghetti is easy to customize, so feel free to get creative with the ingredients!
- Pasta: You can also use other varieties of cooked pasta, like penne or rotini.
- Healthier: Swap the pasta with cooked spaghetti squash.
- Only basil: During the summer when garden basil is at its peak, omit the parsley and spinach and use only fresh basil leaves.
- Nuts: You can also swap the almonds for pine nuts or walnuts in the pesto.
- Parmesan: Fresh Parmesan cheese is common in pesto dishes and would be delicious as a garnish or mixed into the pesto.
- Roasted garlic: To add more depth, try roasting your garlic before mixing it into your pesto.
How to Make Spaghetti Pesto
Pesto with spaghetti is a simple dinner that comes together quickly! Just follow these easy steps.
- Make lemon ricotta cream. In a bowl combine your ricotta, cream, lemon zest and pepper then use an electric mixer to whip it until it is light and fluffy.
- Make pesto. In the bowl of a food processor combine parsley, spinach, basil, peas, almonds, lemon juice, garlic and salt then pulse until finely chopped. Drizzle in olive oil while continuing to pulse and mix until all ingredients are smooth and combined.
- Toss spaghetti with pesto. Drain pasta and add to a seperate bowl. Toss your fresh pesto sauce with the noodles.
- Serve. Divide spaghetti pesto between bowls. Add a dollop of lemon ricotta on top of each bowl and garnish with extra lemon zest and pepper.
- Add a little pasta water to the pesto sauce as it will give it some extra coverage and ensure all the spaghetti noodles are covered in sauce.
- Remove pasta from the hot pot before tossing it with the pesto especially if you have used all basil in the sauce. Basil doesn’t like heat and will turn black.
- Bulk up this spaghetti pesto by adding some sliced chicken or shrimp on top.
- Mix in some sliced cherry tomatoes for a pop of color in this pesto spaghetti.
- If you save a little of the lemon ricotta topping, it tastes so perfect on toasted French bread!
- Add a drizzle of balsamic glaze before serving your spaghetti pesto for even more flavor.
If you are just using half of the pesto for dinner (little kid portions aren’t as big as the recipe yield), it keeps in a covered container in the refrigerator for about a week. Use the leftover sauce to make pesto chicken, sheet pan gnocchi or a grilled caprese sandwich.
There are so many delicious sides that would go well with this spaghetti pesto! A few favorites include Italian salad or a Caprese salad. Steamed vegetables tossed with Italian dressing would also be delicious. This pasta is vegetarian, but you could add a simple protein like baked chicken breast to make it more filling.
No! As mentioned above basil does not like heat and you could risk your sauce turning black if you heat it up. For best results, remove your noodles from the hot pot and toss the pesto with spaghetti in a separate bowl.
Craving more Italian food? Try my creamy pasta carbonara or this easy three cheese manicotti paired with a homemade Olive Garden breadstick!
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For the Lemon Ricotta:
- 1 cup ricotta
- ¼ cup whipping cream
- Zest of 1 lemon
- ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
For the Pesto Pasta:
- 1 cup packed flat leaf parsley , tough stems removed
- 1 cup packed baby spinach leaves
- ½ cup basil leaves
- ½ cup frozen peas , thawed
- ⅓ cup raw almonds
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 small clove garlic
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound spaghetti noodles , cooked and drained
- Combine the ricotta, cream, lemon zest and pepper in a bowl and whip with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about a minute. Set aside.
- In a food processor combine parsley, spinach, basil, peas, almonds, lemon juice, garlic and salt. Pulse until finely chopped. Drizzle in olive oil while pulsing and mix the pesto until quite smooth and combined.
- Toss pesto with hot, drained pasta and divide between bowls. Add a dollop of lemon ricotta on top of each bowl and garnish with extra lemon zest and pepper.
Nutrition provided is an estimate. It will vary based on specific ingredients used.
Did you make this recipe? Don’t forget to give it a star rating below!
Recipe contributed by Tara Teaspoon for I Heart Naptime.
Soooo yummy! Such a delicious & easy weeknight meal! We are big fans of pesto so we loved it!!
Yay, so glad it was a hit with your family Jen :)
I made this last night and my boys devoured it! My husband wanted a second helping and they ate it all :)
Love to hear that, Gina! So glad it was a hit with your family :)
This was a huge hit with my entire family, which was a pleasant surprise since my kids are sometimes deterred by dinners that are green. ;) It was easy to make and had so much flavor…thank you for a great recipe!