Grab a jar of pesto, pasta, and a few veggies to make this simple but satisfying vegetarian pesto pasta. This meal comes together in just about 15 minutes and is perfect for lunch or dinner!
Now that it's almost summer I can't seem to stop making homemade pesto, and what better way to serve it than with pasta?
That's where this vegetarian pesto pasta recipe comes in. Like hummus pasta, this recipe features an extremely simple sauce that packs a punch of flavor. And don't worry: it works with both homemade and store-bought pesto.
Toss your favorite pasta shape with pesto, sauteed vegetables, and chickpeas for a well-rounded 15-minute vegetarian meal.
- Quick & easy: Vegetarian pesto pasta takes just about 15 minutes to make and it's even quicker if you use storebought pesto instead of homemade.
- Homemade pesto: This recipe uses my go-to homemade pesto made with pecans and fresh basil, but it works just as well with jarred pesto.
- Veggie-forward: Zucchini sauteed in Italian seasonings goes well with pesto and pasta. Not a fan of zucchini? Use mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, peas, broccoli, or whatever you have on hand for the veggie component of this meal.
- Convenient and versatile: You can use any kind of pasta to make vegetarian pesto pasta. I like to use chickpeas for convenience, but this recipe is also great with tofu cutlets or air-fried tofu.
- Pesto: I like homemade pesto because it tends to be brighter and more flavorful than storebought, but either kind works in this recipe. Delallo and Barilla make my favorite jarred pesto.
- Pasta: I used bowtie pasta for the photos but really any shape of pasta works. Whole wheat pasta, gluten-free pasta, and even protein or veggie pasta are great options.
- Chickpeas are added for a vegetarian protein source. Use canned chickpeas or Instant Pot chickpeas cooked from dry. White beans also work well here.
- Zucchini: Slice zucchini into half-moons and saute with Italian seasoning until golden brown for a flavorful way to add veggies to this pasta.
How to make
Before you begin: Cook pasta to al dente in well-salted water. Reserve at least ½ cup of the cooked pasta water.
- Make the pesto: In a blender, pulse together the nuts and parmesan until mostly broken down. Add the basil (I recommend blanching it first, but this is completely optional), lemon juice, and salt. While the blender is running, drizzle in the olive oil.
- Make the pesto sauce: Combine pesto with 3-4 tablespoons of pasta water to thin. When cooking the pasta, make sure to reserve at least ½ cup of the starchy pasta water before draining it.
- Saute the zucchini: Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the sliced zucchini, Italian seasoning, and chickpeas. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until the zucchini is softened and golden.
- Put it all together: Toss the al dente pasta with the pesto sauce, zucchini, and chickpeas. Enjoy immediately for warm pesto pasta, or cover and chill for cold pasta.
Expert tips and variations
- Veggies: Feel free to get creative with the vegetables. I often use recipes like this as a way to clean out the fridge and cook any veggies that need to be used.
- Pasta water: Make sure to reserve pasta water when draining the cooked pasta. Pasta water is added to the pesto to thin the sauce. It also helps the pasta cling to the sauce.
- To chill the pasta: After tossing all of the cooked ingredients together in a large bowl, cover the pasta tightly and transfer to the fridge. It will take about an hour for the pesto pasta to fully chill.
- Garnishes: I happened to be testing my nutritional yeast kale chips when I was testing this recipe, and let me tell you: crushed-up kale chips on top of pesto pasta is amazing. I definitely recommend trying it if you like kale chips.
- A note on Parmesan: If using my homemade pesto, note that not all Parmesan is vegetarian. If it is important to you, choose Parmesan made with vegetarian rennet. If unable to find vegetarian Parmesan, vegan Parmesan blocks work just as well.
Leftovers are best within 3-4 days. Keep refrigerated in a closed container. Best served chilled.
A note on pesto color: The pesto will maintain its bright green color if using the blanched basil method. If making pesto pasta without blanched basil, just note that the leftovers will be duller in color.
More pesto recipes to try
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Vegetarian Pesto Pasta
- 8 ounces bowtie pasta or pasta of choice
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium zucchini sliced into half moons
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 15 ounce can chickpeas drained and rinsed
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 6 ounces pesto see below for recipe
- ¼ cup pasta water more as needed
- for garnish: freshly ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, basil, Parmesan
- In a blender, pulse together the nuts, Parmesan, and garlic until mostly broken down. Add the basil (I recommend blanching it first to preserve its color, but this is completely optional), lemon juice, and salt.
- While the blender is running, drizzle in the olive oil. Scrape down the sides of the blender as needed. Taste for salt, lemon juice, and garlic.
- Cook the pasta until al dente in well-salted water. Reserve at least ½ cup of the cooked pasta water.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Once hot, add the sliced zucchini, Italian seasoning, chickpeas, and salt.
- Cook zucchini for 8-10 minutes, or until golden and cooked through. Stir as needed.
- Combine 6 ounces of pesto with 3-4 tablespoons of pasta water to thin it into a pourable sauce.
- Toss the pesto sauce with the cooked pasta, zucchini, and chickpeas. Garnish with freshly ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, fresh basil, and Parmesan to taste. Serve hot or cold.
- Dairy-free option: This recipe can easily be made dairy-free by using a wedge of vegan Parmesan in place of regular Parmesan.
- Leftovers: Leftovers are best within 3-4 days. Keep refrigerated in a closed container. The pesto will maintain its bright green color if blanched, but if not the leftover pesto pasta will be duller in color.
- Blanching basil: I like to blanch basil for pesto to preserve its green color. To do this, simply add basil to boiling water for up to 10 seconds then quickly transfer it to a bowl with ice-cold water.