Creamy Pesto Pasta

Creamy Pesto Pasta

Pasta with pesto is good. Pasta with creamy pesto is great.

Back in the late 80’s when Brian and I were first married, we went to an Italian restaurant and ordered pasta with pesto. I thought it was good. Brian thought it was like eating chopped grass with his pasta. So when I started growing basil and making pesto to keep in our freezer all winter long, I had to figure out a way to have pasta with pesto that wasn’t quite so “pesto-y.”

Now I suppose you could just heat cream until it thickened a bit and add the pesto, but I wanted a thicker sauce, so I hit upon the idea of making a simple white sauce (I was thinking of Alfredo) and adding the pesto to it right before tossing it with the pasta. And it’s become one of our family’s favorite dishes. It’s one of those things I always have the ingredients for and is so fast that when we are tempted to buy something to eat, say after church when we’ve spent more time talking than we realized, I always think “I could have Creamy Pesto Pasta made in the same amount of time it would take to get our food from a restaurant.”

And sticking to a budget means always having some of these types of recipes around for times like those. Heck, combined with a salad this comes in around $3.50 for the whole meal.

Making a white sauce is really very simple. I didn’t use to think so, back when I made everything with a can of cream-of-something soup. But once I learned there was no going back. Especially when I realized that a white sauce has four ingredients (butter, flour, milk, & salt) and the canned creamed soups have…well, a lot. Plus things I don’t recognize as food. It goes without saying that the taste is much better.

Melt 1/4 cup of butter in a medium saucepan. Add 1/4 cup of flour and mix well over medium heat (you can see it bubbling some in the picture). You just want it combined and bubbly a bit, but not brown (that’s becoming a roux, then!).

Slowly add 2 cups of milk, stirring with a whisk. Cook and stir over medium to medium-high heat until the sauce thickens. Add a teaspoon of salt or to taste. How easy is that- 1/4 cup each of butter and flour, two cups milk and some salt? I can’t believe I ever thought it was hard.

You can see the pasta also cooking in this photo. I always start the water boiling first, then start my sauce, adding the pasta to the water when it’s ready. In this dish, it’s the pasta that needs the most time to cook.

When the sauce has thickened, I add the pesto. I don’t really measure, I just add the contents of one of my frozen containers. This is probably about 2/3 to 3/4 cup, but some of my containers are just 1/2 cup. It all works.

Drain the pasta and reserve a little of the pasta water in a cup measure. Add the creamy pesto sauce to the pasta and toss until the noodles are coated, adding the reserved pasta water as needed if the sauce needs thinning.

There you have it. One more recipe in the arsenal against the last-minute “let’s just grab something to eat” scenario.


Oregon Cottage’s Creamy Pesto Pasta

  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1/4 c. flour
  • 2 c. milk
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 to 3/4 c. premade pesto
  • 1 lb. pasta
  1. Start the water boiling for the pasta. When it boils, cook as directed on the package.
  2. Meanwhile, make a white sauce by melting the butter in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until combined; cook for a couple minutes, stirring constantly. Slowly add the milk and stir over medium-high heat until thickened.
  3. Add the pesto to the white sauce, stir and remove from heat.
  4. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the water.
  5. Toss the sauce and pasta, using the reserved water to thin the sauce as necessary and serve.

Makes 4-6 servings

This is linked to:
Tempt my Tummy Tuesday
Tasty Tuesday
Real Food Wednesday


  1. Jenelle says

    You are making me hungry……..

    I also make a similer pasta as a go to dish. I take what ever random veggies I have in the fridge and saute them in a pan with some olive oil and basil (just dry, I don’t have pesto in my freezer 😉 Once the veggies are done I sprinkle about 2 tbs of flour over it and cook for a minute or two. Then I add my two cups of milk and cook unitl thick. It’s quick, easy, delicious and used up veggies that might otherwise have gone bad.

  2. says

    Jenny- That sounds yummy- my son loves ravioli so I would love to try it!

    Jenelle- oh, that is such a good idea to make it all in one pan like that! I love those “one pan wonder” meals, they’re right up my alley. :-)

  3. says

    That sounds so good, I’ve placed it on our Monthly meal plan for next month. But I think I’ll add leftover grilled chicken to make it more hearty for my hubs. He said he’d try it…he’s never had pesto anything…picky eater of mine :)

    • Diane Stecik says

      I had just made some pesto, over the weekend with my son, needless to say it is really delicious. I love pesto. My favorite is on grilled chicken either hot or cold. I also like pesto with pasta but I never thought of making a white sauce and adding to the pesto. I just use pesto and toss over pasta. While Troy (my son) and I were making this I said I had no pine nuts but I do have every other kind so we heated several handfuls of walnuts in the skillet then added this to the basil and also added lemon basil in the food processor. It is very good. This was the first time I ever tried lemon basil and I will surly plant that again next year.

  4. Teresa says

    I made this tonight and it was wonderful. Two days ago I made the homemade pesto from your recipe and froze some of it. I saved some for tonight for the white sauce, then I added sautéed shrimp to my thin spagetti with pesto and it tasted like a fine restaurant meal. Will def be making your recipe again. I actually love all your recipes that I have tried from this site:)

    • says

      Thank you so much, Teresa! It’s such a simple and good tasting recipe – and I bet it went great with the shrimp, I’ll have to try that!

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