Pesto Rigatoni is perfect for a quick and easy weeknight dinner. Just toss some rigatoni pasta with homemade basil pesto sauce, and enjoy this flavorful pasta dish on its own or paired with your favorite protein and vegetables. It takes just 20 minutes to make!
During the summer, when my garden is overflowing with basil, you can be sure I'm making lots and lots of homemade pesto. In just a few minutes, I can whip up a large batch of fresh pesto to use immediately or freeze and save for later.
Homemade pesto is one of those ingredients that immediately takes a dish from 'bland and boring' to 'the best thing I've ever eaten' with very little effort. And this pasta dish is no exception.
To make this easy pesto rigatoni, you simply make homemade basil pesto and toss it with tube-shaped rigatoni pasta. It's perfect for a quick weeknight meal when you only have 30 minutes to get dinner on the table.
Keep it simple by serving this dish as-is or pair it with your favorite protein and vegetables for a more satisfying meal.
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What is Pesto?
Pesto is a sauce made with fresh basil, garlic, nuts, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. Blended together, these ingredients create a fragrant and flavorful sauce that pairs perfectly with pasta, pizza, grilled meats, seafood, and more.
And while you can buy store-bought pesto to make this creamy pesto rigatoni recipe, I highly recommend making your own. It's super easy, tastes better, and allows you to customize the flavors to your liking.
Why You'll Love This Recipe
- Homemade Basil Pesto- Making pesto from scratch takes only a few minutes and tastes so much better than store-bought pesto. Plus, it's perfect for using up excess basil from your herb garden this summer.
- Ready in 20 Minutes- This recipe takes only about as long as it takes to make a box of rigatoni.
- Customizable- I kept this rigatoni with pesto sauce recipe simple, but it can easily be customized to fit your taste preferences. Add some roasted vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes, or shredded chicken for a more hearty and satisfying meal.
Here are some notes on the key ingredients. For the full list of ingredients, check out the recipe card below.
- Rigatoni Pasta- A large, tube-shaped pasta with ridges, rigatoni is perfect for holding onto lots of pesto sauce. My rigatoni pasta took about 14 minutes to cook to an al dente texture.
- Basil- Fresh basil leaves are a must for pesto. About 2 cups of loosely packed basil leaves (or about 2-3 ounces by weight) are perfect for this recipe.
- Parmesan Cheese- Grate your own fresh parmesan cheese from a block for the best flavor.
- Walnuts- I typically use walnuts in pesto because they're less expensive than pine nuts and I'm more likely to have them on hand. Of course, feel free to use pine nuts if you prefer.
- Garlic- Mince the garlic cloves before adding them to the food processor so you don't end up with large garlic chunks in your pesto.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil- The best oil to use for homemade pesto.
🌱 Sustainability Tip: Whether you have an outdoor garden or just a sunny windowsill in your kitchen, you can easily grow your own basil. Growing your own herbs helps reduce your carbon footprint by reducing food miles.
Substitutions and Variations
Here are a few ways you can try customizing this basil pesto rigatoni recipe to fit your diet and taste preferences.
- Rigatoni- Substitute the rigatoni for any pasta you like! Types of pasta that pair well with pesto include fusilli, farfalle, orecchiette, and fettuccine.
- Basil- Swap some or all of the basil with other leafy greens like spinach, kale, arugula, parsley, beet greens, or carrot tops.
- Parmesan Cheese- Replace the parmesan cheese with Pecorino Romano cheese, asiago cheese, or nutritional yeast. Alternatively, leave the cheese out entirely and toss in a few extra walnuts instead.
- Walnuts- Classic pesto typically calls for pine nuts. You can also try using raw pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pistachios, or almonds. Or leave the nuts out for a nut-free pesto.
- Garlic- Substitute the fresh garlic with ½ teaspoon of garlic powder. Or try using garlic-infused olive oil in place of both the garlic and regular olive oil.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil- Extra virgin olive oil is the best oil for pesto. However, swap the EVOO for light olive oil, avocado oil, sunflower oil, walnut oil, or canola oil in a pinch.
- Nut-Free- Add an extra ¼ cup of grated parmesan cheese in place of the walnuts to make nut-free pesto.
- Dairy-Free- Use extra walnuts, vegan parmesan cheese, or nutritional yeast for a dairy-free pesto.
- Gluten-Free- Swap the wheat-based rigatoni pasta for your favorite gluten-free pasta variety.
- Sun-Dried Tomato- Add a few sun-dried tomatoes to your pesto for some rich and savory flavor.
- Spicy- A few shakes of red pepper flakes would give this simple pesto rigatoni a spicy kick.
- Buttery- Make this pesto pasta recipe using homemade pesto butter.
Here are some notes on any special equipment I used to make this recipe.
- Food Processor- A food processor makes blending up some homemade pesto a breeze. I love my KitchenAid 7-Cup Food Processor, but a smaller food processor or even a blender work just as well for this recipe.
Step by Step Instructions
Here is how to make this homemade pesto rigatoni recipe.
Step 1: Make the pesto. Add the basil leaves, parmesan cheese, walnuts, garlic, kosher salt, and black pepper to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times until all of the ingredients are coarsely chopped, scraping down the sides as necessary. Then, with the food processor on low speed, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the pesto sauce is creamy and emulsified. Set aside.
Step 2: Cook the pasta. Fill a large stockpot with water and one tablespoon of kosher salt. Cook the rigatoni to al dente according to package instructions. Reserve ½ cup of starchy pasta water before draining the pasta completely. Return the cooked pasta to the stockpot.
Step 3: Toss the pasta with pesto sauce. Pour the reserved pasta water over the cooked pasta and set the stockpot over low heat. Add the pesto and stir until all of the pasta is coated with pesto sauce and no water remains at the bottom of the pot. Remove from heat and serve.
Tips for Success
- Use fresh ingredients. Pesto is all about fresh flavors. Use fresh basil, freshly grated parmesan cheese, and fresh garlic for the best-tasting pesto.
- Don't over-mix the pesto. Homemade pesto should be creamy with a slightly rough texture. Over-blending the pesto may result in a bitter sauce that doesn't cling well to the rigatoni.
- Cook the pasta al dente. Overcooking the pasta results in a mushy, unappealing texture. Since we cook the pasta for a minute or two after draining, it's important to cook it just to al dente.
- Reserve some pasta water. The starches in reserved pasta water help the pesto sauce thoroughly coat and stick to the rigatoni.
What to Serve With Pesto Rigatoni
Pesto rigatoni is a flavorful pasta dish that pairs well with a variety of meats, seafoods, and vegetables. One of my favorite dishes to serve with pesto pasta is Salmon with Pesto Butter. Parmesan-Crusted Halibut, Seared Chicken Breast, and Meatballs in Tomato Sauce also taste delicious with this easy pesto pasta dish.
Storage and Reheating
How to Store
- Refrigerator- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. The pesto can be stored separately from the pasta for up to one week in the refrigerator.
- Freezer- While it may not be as delicious as fresh pesto rigatoni, you can freeze leftover pasta. Allow the pasta to cool completely before storing it in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. Homemade pesto can be frozen for up to 6 months.
How to Reheat
- Stovetop- Add leftover pasta and a small amount of water to a saucepan set over medium-low heat. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is fully warmed through.
- Oven- Preheat oven to 350℉. Place leftover pasta in a casserole dish and drizzle it with water. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and heat for about 10 minutes or until the pasta is steaming hot.
- Microwave- Place a single serving of leftover pasta in a microwave-safe bowl and drizzle with 1-2 teaspoons of water. Cover with a lid or a damp paper towel and microwave on HIGH for one minute. Stir and continue microwaving in 30-second intervals until fully warmed through.
Prepare the pesto and store it in the refrigerator for up to one week before making rigatoni pesto pasta. Alternatively, store homemade pesto in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Frequently Asked Questions
Pesto is typically made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt, and pepper. For this pesto rigatoni recipe, I use walnuts in the pesto because they're less expensive than pine nuts. I also add a little pasta water to the pesto sauce to help it stick to the rigatoni.
Any pasta with lots of ridges or texture is a great choice for pesto. The folds and ridges on pasta shapes such as rigatoni or farfalle are places where the pesto sauce can cling to easily.
Either! In this recipe, the pesto is quickly tossed with hot pasta for a warm pasta dish that can be served with other warm dishes. However, pesto can also be tossed with cold pasta like in this Orzo Pesto Salad recipe.
No, I do not recommend rinsing the pasta before adding pesto. We want to keep some of the starch on the pasta to help the pesto sauce coat the rigatoni more easily.
Yes! Pesto is a healthy pasta sauce filled with heart-healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. Enjoy pesto in moderation as part of a healthy, well-balanced diet.
More Pesto Recipes
For the Pesto
- 2 cups basil leaves loosely packed
- ½ cup parmesan cheese freshly grated
- ¼ cup walnuts chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
For the Pesto Rigatoni
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 16 ounces dry rigatoni pasta
- ½ cup reserved pasta water
Make the Pesto
- Add the basil leaves, parmesan cheese, walnuts, garlic, kosher salt, and black pepper to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times until all of the ingredients are coarsely chopped, scraping down the sides as necessary. Then, with the food processor on low speed, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the pesto sauce is creamy and emulsified. Set aside.2 cups basil leaves, ½ cup parmesan cheese, ¼ cup walnuts, 2 cloves garlic, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Make the Pesto Rigatoni
- Fill a large stockpot with water and one tablespoon of kosher salt. Cook the rigatoni to al dente according to package instructions. Reserve ½ cup of starchy pasta water before draining the pasta completely. Return the cooked pasta to the stockpot.1 tablespoon kosher salt, 16 ounces dry rigatoni pasta
- Pour the reserved pasta water over the cooked pasta and set the stockpot over low heat. Add the pesto and stir until all of the pasta is coated with pesto sauce and no water remains at the bottom of the pot. Remove from heat and serve immediately.½ cup reserved pasta water
- Storage: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- Make Ahead: Homemade pesto can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.