Pesto & Pasta Meals

by Hannah Wahlig
Add some green to your table with flavorful pesto pasta dishes.

Add some green to your table with flavorful pesto pasta dishes.

When traditional tomato sauces and heavy cheese sauces have worn out their welcome at your dinner table, light, fresh pesto delivers the flavor change your family needs to fall in love with pasta all over again. Pesto and pasta is a classic combination with ample space for adaptations and add-ins to satisfy everyone's tastes and preferences. Whether you make it yourself or opt for pre-made variety, pesto delivers big flavor with minimal effort and time.

Picking Your Pesto

Store-bought pesto is usually stocked alongside pasta's other favorite sauces. Ready-made pesto makes dinner a snap, but fresh, traditional pesto is a taste-bud treat that you can make ahead of time and refrigerate. Handfuls of fresh basil, grated parmesan cheese, toasted pine nuts and your favorite olive oil create a myriad of flavors once blended in your food processor. Experiment with additional ingredients to create your own custom pesto for pasta meals. Sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives or artichoke hearts all add distinctive flavor to your homemade pesto sauces.

Keeping It Light

Bright, festive pesto sauces look light and refreshing, but much of the distinctive flavor comes from parmesan cheese and oil. If you're looking to trim calories from your family's plates, get creative with your preparations and they won't even notice the difference. If you opt for store-bought pesto, the oil will collect on the top of the sauce. Pour off the excess before you add the pesto to your pasta, and you'll save ample calories without loosing flavor. If you make pesto at home, swap out the oil entirely for chicken or vegetable broth. You can also boost the nutritional value of your meal with pasta swaps. Opt for whole-grain, enriched or vegetable pastas instead of the traditional white pasta to keep your family feeling fuller after the meal is done.

Nutritious Add-Ins

Pesto and pasta are a treat on their own, but the pair is lacking in the healthy protein department. A range of nutritious add-ins turn pasta and pesto into a complete, well-balanced meal. Chicken is a traditional option. Opt for simple slices of grilled chicken breast and stir in some light feta cheese for additional protein and flavor. Cooked shrimp are also a low-calorie option that pair well with a range of vegetables (add color and flavor with squash, zucchini or sweet peas). If you're cooking for vegetables, black or cannelloni beans pair well with both pesto and pasta for a more protein-enriched and lightly filling meal.

Rounding Off The Meal

If pesto pasta is more of side dish than a main course, a range of healthful pairings come together to create a complete meal. Balsamic grilled chicken breast is a flavorful complement to bright pesto pasta, and a slice of thick, crusty bread topped with light butter and ranch seasoning mix is ideal for sopping up extra sauces and juices. Citrus-marinated salmon is a light, summery option for a chilled pesto pasta salad. To stick with an Italian theme, use pesto pasta as an accompaniment for sweet Italian sausage prepared on the grill or roasted. Incorporate some finger foods with skewers of grilled vegetables; bright yellow bell peppers, marinated mushrooms and sweet pearl onions balance the more robust flavor of the pesto.


  • "Pestos, Tapenades, and Spreads: 40 Simple Recipes for Delicious Toppings, Sauces & Dips"; Stacey Printz; 2009
  • "Pasta: William Sonoma Collection"; Erica De Mane; 2001

About the Author

Hannah Wahlig began writing and editing professionally in 2001. Her experience includes copy for newspapers, journals and magazines, as well as book editing. She is also a certified lactation counselor. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mount Holyoke College, and Master's degrees in education and community psychology from the University of Massachusetts.

Photo Credits

  • Eising/Photodisc/Getty Images