Quick, simple and brimming with tomatoey, garlicky, herby yumminess, my red pesto pasta recipe is perfect for a speedy lunch or dinner. Make you own homemade pesto from scratch or toss on store-bought pesto if you're in a hurry. Whether you're already a red pesto fan or green pesto person who's looking to change things up this versatile recipe is sure to be a new favourite.
The post contains additional information and helpful tips to ensure the recipe turns out great the first time. Please use the link above to jump to the recipe card at the end if you are in a hurry!
✅ 4 reasons why you'll love this recipe:
- Tasty and versatile
- Quick and easy
- Can be made with store-bought or homemade pesto
- Make ahead and freezer friendly
🛒 Ingredients and variations:
This recipe uses simple everyday ingredients that are all easy to find in your local supermarket. You are likely to have a few of them at home already. If you're in a hurry you can skip the homemade pesto and use fresh or jarred store-bought pesto instead.
My pesto requires 10 everyday ingredients:
- Toasted pine nuts - can be swapped for the same volume of toasted almonds or walnuts.
- Roasted red peppers and sun-dried tomatoes - these are usually jarred and should be easy to find in most supermarkets.
- Basil leaves - I recommend using fresh basil, but you can use a thid of the amount of dried basil.
- Balsamic vinegar - lemon juice can be used instead but you might want to add a little sugar to taste.
- Tomato puree - optional, but great for deepening the tomato flavour
- Parmesan or Pecorino - these are the best cheeses for pesto but another hard cheese like cheddar or Comte would be a passable substitute. You can also use nutritional yeast to make it dairy free.
- Garlic powder - you can use 1-2 cloves of fresh garlic instead but you will need to sauté in a little oil first to mellow the bitter flavour of raw garlic.
- Olive oil
- Salt and black pepper
- Pasta - There isn't really a bad choice here so choose the shape you find most appealing. I often go for rigatoni or fusilli, but spaghetti or linguine also work well. Pesto sauce is also a great way to jazz up some store-bought (or homemade) ravioli or tortellini.
- Creamy red pesto pasta (optional) - Add a dash of single cream or creme fraiche and enjoy a richer sauce with a mellower pesto flavour or skip the cream and get a bright unmuted tomato taste.
- To serve (optional) - I highly recommend topping the finished dish with chopped fresh parsley. You might also want to add some more fresh Parmesan or Pecorino and freshly ground black pepper.
🧑🍳 Red Pesto Pasta in 4 easy steps
1. Toast the pine nuts
Place a small frying pan on a medium to high heat and toast the pine nuts for a few minutes until they begin to brown and set them aside.
2. Make the pesto
Use a food processor or pestle and mortar to combine all the pesto ingredients.
3. Cook the pasta
Bring a pan of generously salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to packet instructions. Make sure you save a little pasta water before draining.
4. Toss in the pesto sauce & serve
Add the pesto sauce and cream (if using) to the pasta and toss together, adding a tablespoon or two of pasta water if the sauce needs additional moisture. Serve immediately topped with fresh parsley, black pepper and more freshly grated Parmesan/Pecorino.
👍 Top tips
- Keep an eye on the pine nuts - they will go from nicely browned to burnt in a matter of seconds.
- Salt the pasta water generously - it should be salty like the sea. Remember that most of the salt will be poured away when you drain the pasta.
- Save a little pasta water - starchy and salty pasta water is great for adding additional moisture to the pesto sauce.
Red and green pesto contain nuts, Parmesan or Pecorino and garlic but otherwise, the core ingredients are very different. Green pesto is made with basil leaves, and red pesto is made with a blend of sun-dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers.
The core ingredients in red pesto are red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan/Pecorino, garlic and nuts like pine nuts, walnuts or almonds. Sometimes red pepper flakes are added to bring a little heat.
Ideally, pesto should be eaten raw. While heating pesto certainly won't ruin it, it will alter some of the fresh and bright flavours. Adding pesto to hot freshly cooked pasta with 1-2 tablespoons of pasta water will sufficiently warm it.
A food processor is the easiest and quickest way to combine pesto ingredients. However, some would argue that a pestle mortar is the right way to go if you're after ultimate flavour and texture. This will of course take longer and require some elbow grease.
Red pesto pasta is wonderfully versatile. Here are a few things you can add if you want to jazz it up.
- Cooked chicken
- Olives and/or capers
- More toasted pine nuts
- Parmesan crumbs
Other uses for red pesto
Other pesto recipes to try
📦 Storage tips
Leftover red pesto can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days. Ensure it's kept airtight in a glass jar or plastic container.
Red pesto pasta can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days and can be eaten cold or reheated on the stove or in the microwave.
❄️ Freezing instructions
Homemade red pesto can be frozen for up to 6 months and is perfect for batching. Simply portion it into jars, pour a little olive oil on the top to prevent it from browning and place it in the freezer. You can also freeze the pesto in an ice cube tray if you want smaller portions. Defrost slowly in the fridge when you want to eat it.
Note, these instructions are for freezing the red pesto only and do not apply to the pasta or the red pesto sauce once the cream has been added.
😋 Check out my other speedy pasta recipes
Pasta is a top choice because it doesn't take too much time or effort to make it utterly delicious and even a little decadent. If you liked this red pesto pasta, you should check out my other pasta recipes. They all use simple ingredients and most can be made in 30 minutes or less.
Did you try this recipe? It would be really great if you could leave a comment and a star rating ⭐️. I would love to receive your feedback and know that other readers find it helpful too.
Don't forget to tag #knifeandsoulrecipes on Instagram or @knifeandsoul on Pinterest!
Red Pesto Pasta
- 1 small frying pan
- 1 food processor or pestle and mortar
- 1 saucepan
- 30 g (4 tbsp) pine nuts Note 1
- 100 g (3.5 oz) roasted red peppers Note 2
- 100 g (3.5 oz) sundried tomatoes Note 2
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 10 g (½ cup ) basil leaves Note 3
- 2 tsp balsamic vinegar Note 4
- 2 tsp tomato puree (optional) Note 5
- 40 g (1.5 oz) Parmesan or Pecorino
- ½ tsp garlic powder Note 6
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
Red Pesto Pasta
- 400 g (14 oz) pasta of choice (Note 7)
- Salt For the pasta water (Note 8)
- Homemade pesto or store bought red pesto (Note 9)
- 3 tbsp single cream or creme fraiche (optional) (Note 10)
To serve (optional)
- Chopped fresh parsley
- Grated Parmesan or Pecorino
- Freshly ground black pepper
Homemade red pesto
- Place a small pan on a medium to high heat and toast the pine nuts until they begin to brown and set aside.
- Add the remaining ingredients to a food processor or use a pestle and mortar to combine them.
- Cook the pasta according to packet instructions in a large pan of generously salted water. Reserve a few tablespons of pasta water before draining.
- Pour the red pesto onto the pasta, add cream (if using) and a tablespoon or two of reserved pasta water if it needs additional moisture.
- Toss together and serve immediately topped with chopped parsly, Parmesan/ Pecorino and freshly ground black pepper.
- Pine nuts: Can be swapped for the same volume of toasted almonds or walnuts.
- Red peppers and sun-dried tomatoes: These are usually jarred and should be easy to find in most supermarkets.
- Basil: I recommend using fresh basil, but you can use ⅓ of the amount of dried basil
- Balsamic vinegar: Lemon juice can be used instead, but you might want to add a little sugar to taste.
- Tomato puree: Optional, but great for deepening the tomato flavour
- Garlic: You can use 1-2 cloves of fresh garlic instead but you will need to sauté in a little oil first to mellow the bitter flavour of raw garlic.
- Pasta: There isn't really a bad choice here so choose the shape you find most appealing. I often go for rigatoni or fusilli, but spaghetti or linguine also work well. Pesto sauce is also a great way to jazz up some store-bought (or homemade) ravioli or tortellini.
- Salting the pasta water: be generous, pasta water should be salty like the sea If this concerns you, remember that most of the salt will be poured away with the pasta water.
- Store-bought red pesto: allow 50g or 2 ounces per person.
- Cream: this is optional. Add a dash of cream and enjoy a richer sauce with a mellower pesto flavour or skip the cream and taste bright unmuted tomato flavour.