Pesto Pasta Bake made with a delicious homemade vegan basil pesto. This fresh, zesty sauce also contains a great big handful of spinach, perfect for pint-sized Popeyes!
Pesto Pasta Bake
This super simple pesto pasta has appeared on our family dinner menu almost every week for the last 25 years of my parenting journey!
More often than not I make it with a shop-bought pesto, usually because I need to get it on the table five minutes ago because someone needs to be somewhere RIGHT NOW!
If that is your situation too, just go for it. Unscrew a jar, stir it into cooked pasta, chuck some tomatoes on top, maybe a handful of fresh spinach leaves on the side and you’re done!
If, however, you have a few more minutes do have a go at making this pesto pasta bake from scratch.
Homemade pesto is a whole other taste and texture sensation. Added to that you can hide all manner of veg in there and, if yours are like mine, no one will be any the wiser!
It is also worth popping it into the oven to bake rather than plonking it straight onto a plate. The flavours have time to develop as the pasta absorbs the sauce and turns a little crunchy on top. My one word of warning with this is that you may have fights breaking out over who gets the crunchy bits. If you do, pull rank and claim cook’s perks!
Secret Spinach and Hidden Veg
Sneaking spinach into basil pesto makes an indiscernible difference to the taste but adds extra goodness.
Here I simply added fresh spinach to all the other pesto ingredients and whizzed it up in my food processor.
Adding hidden veg to pasta as a raw pesto ingredient keeps more of their nutrients intact than when you cook them in a sauce – extra Superchef points if you’re cooking for kids!
Making Pesto Pasta Bake – Tips and Tricks
This recipe is super simple, you can just nip on down to the recipe card at the bottom for the ingredients list and method and ignore the following if you like!
If you want a few tips and tricks and photos of the process to help you on your way, read on!
Add your pesto ingredients to the bowl of a food processor fitted with its blade.
Pop the lid on and pulse until you have a textured sauce.
What If I Don’t Have A Food Processor?
You can make pesto without a food processor!
- Making pesto in a blender: Super simple but don’t over blend! You’re aiming for a textured sauce, not a smooth soup.
- Using a stick blender: Again, don’t overdo it. A couple of quick whizzes and walk away!
- In a pestle and mortar: Start with the nuts, garlic and salt. Chop the leaves finely before adding and pulverise them a bit until you have a chunky paste. Transfer to a bowl, whisk in the oil with a fork, add the lemon juice, nutritional yeast and season to taste.
- I don’t have any of these gadgets, what can I do?! Chop everything choppable very finely and pop into a bowl. Add the oil and lemon juice, salt, pepper and nutritional yeast and whisk in with a fork. Your pesto will be chunky and delicious – perfect for a pasta bake!
Cooking Pasta for Pasta Bake
Bring a large pan of water to a boil, add your pasta and cook it for half the recommended time on the packet. The pasta will continue to cook in the sauce in the oven so it is important not to overcook it first. No one wants mushy pasta in their bake!
When you are draining your pasta keep some of the cooking water so you can add it to the pesto to make the sauce!
I used rigatoni because those lovely ridged tubes welcome the saucy goodness of my pesto with open arms! You can also use penne, fusilli or any shaped pasta which will provide nooks and crannies for sauce.
Stir the pesto along with some of that reserved cooking water to your cooked pasta. You need just enough water to make a runny sauce that coats the pasta.
Transfer the pesto pasta to a baking dish and top it with halved baby plum tomatoes.
Pop it into a preheated medium temperature oven for 10 – 15 minutes until piping hot. Add a little extra pasta water if it looks too dry.
Serve it with a sprinkle of homemade or shop-bought vegan ‘parmesan’ style cheese.
Making Vegan ‘Parmesan’
This isn’t parmesan, it isn’t cheese but it is savoury umami deliciousness. In a blender or food processor whizz together equal parts of cashew nuts and nutritional yeast. Add salt and a little garlic pepper if you can find it or use garlic powder and black pepper if you can’t. I always have a big jar of it to hand and my family sprinkle it liberally on pasta, pizza, stews etc!
A couple of ideas for easy ingredient swaps and I’m done waffling, honestly!
- Pine nuts are expensive, you can easily swap them for almonds or hazelnuts if you don’t want to take out a second mortgage.
- Use any shaped pasta which encourages sauce to cling to it. This is the perfect recipe to use up those odd packets at the back of the cupboard!
- If you don’t have/can’t find nutritional yeast use grated vegan cheese instead. Or leave it out completely, your pesto will still taste fabulous.
- Top your bake with grated vegan cheese if you like – I didn’t bother this time simply because I didn’t have any!
More Easy Vegan Pesto Possibilities
If you like this you might also like my:
- Red Pesto Pasta – made with sundried tomatoes, yum!
- Nasturtium Pesto – if you have nasturtiums in the garden use their leaves to make this peppery pesto for your bake!
- Pea Pesto Pasta – more hidden veg pasta!
Pesto Pasta Bake with Hidden Veg
- 180 g rigatoni pasta
- 20 g basil leaves
- 50 g spinach leaves
- 1 -2 cloves garlic
- 20 g pine nuts
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast optional
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 lemon juice only
- 40 ml olive oil
- 10 baby plum tomatoes
To serve (optional)
- fresh basil leaves shredded
- grated vegan 'parmesan' style cheese
- Preheat oven to 180C/350F
- Bring a large pan of water to a boil, add pasta and cook for half the recommended time on the packet. Drain, keeping a cupful of the cooking water.
- While the pasta is cooking place all the pesto ingredeints into a food processor and pulse until you have a textured sauce.
- Stir the pesto into the cooked pasta and add enough of the resevred cooking water to make a thin sauce to coat the pasta.
- Transfer to a baking dish, top with halved baby plum tomatoes and bake for 10 - 15 minutes until piping hot and the tomatoes are just soft.
- Serve topped with shredded fresh basil leaves and a little homemade or grated shop bought vegan 'parmesan' style cheese (see my blog post for more information)