There is nothing quite like al dente pasta smothered in nutty homemade pesto. This pesto baked pasta is a healthy side dish or dinner that will make you start drooling as it slowly simmers on the stove.
Gluten-Free Pesto Baked Pasta
This baked pasta recipe is the perfect way to bust out of your pasta boredom. Sure, marinara and alfredo sauce is tasty, but just wait until you make this homemade pesto!
It won’t take long to convince you of the superiority of pesto as a pasta sauce – or that homemade is a billion times better than storebought. The aromas of the blended garlic, basil, lemon, and pine nuts are enough to make you drool before you even bake it.
This homemade pesto has a delicate dance of nutty, earthy, salty, and slightly-sweet flavors. The fresh lemon juice brightens it all up and the fresh basil leaves create the sweet notes that envelopes the pine nuts in a lip-smacking flavor.
The best thing about this recipe is that it is a naturally sugar-free side dish. It’s high in protein, fiber, and plenty of nutrients (especially if you use all whole or fresh ingredients).
If you need it to be gluten-free, just use gluten-free pasta! It’s so easy to change this recipe to suit almost any food allergy or sensitivity.
Keep reading and learn how simple it is to make a meatless pasta recipe that fills you up and nourishes your body at the same time.
This homemade pesto baked pasta is made with all whole and fresh ingredients. The aromas and flavors work so perfectly together that you’ll never go back to jarred pesto again.
Here’s a bit more about what I used:
- Fresh Basil: For the best-tasting pesto, use two cups of fresh basil leaves.
- Fresh Spinach: Spinach has a high water content, so you’ll need to use a lot of it in the pesto. I used an 8-ounce bag of fresh baby spinach.
- Pine Nuts: Nuts are a required component of pesto. I used one cup of pine nuts, but you can substitute with almonds or cashews.
- Garlic: You need 5 cloves of garlic to spice up the pesto.
- Parmesan Cheese: This kind of cheese has the perfect taste and texture to use in homemade pesto – I used 1/3 a cup of freshly shredded cheese.
- Salt: Add a teaspoon of salt to bring out all the other flavors in the sauce.
- Lemon Juice: Add the juice from one fresh lemon to brighten the pesto.
- Olive Oil: This is the healthy fat that emulsifiers and holds all the ingredients together, so add 1/2 a cup.
- Pasta: Boil your favorite type of noodles. I made enough sauce to cover 12 ounces of dry pasta after it cooks.
- Tomatoes: A 14-ounce jar of diced tomatoes adds some vitamin A and natural sweetness to the pasta.
- Mozzarella Cheese: I love how beautifully this cheese melts – use 1 cup on top of the pasta as it bakes.
Kitchen Tools Required
This recipe doesn’t require a lot of fancy kitchen gadgets. A food processor or high-speed blender is pretty much required though.
Gather the following items before you begin:
For measuring, you will need the following sized cups and spoons: 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/3 cup, and 1 teaspoon.
How To Make Healthy Pesto Baked Pasta
Now that you have all the ingredients and kitchen tools ready, it’s time to start making this delicious baked pasta!
First, preheat your oven to 425F. Then, grease a 9×13 dish or 10-inch cast-iron skillet.
Prepare the pasta according to package, then drain it and set it aside.
Blend it all together until it is totally smooth, adding in a little more oil if necessary. Scrape down sides as needed.
In a large bowl or the saucepan you cooked the pasta in, add the drained pasta back. Add the drained tomatoes and spinach to the warm pasta and stir to combine, allowing the spinach to wilt.
Pour the pesto over the top of the pasta and stir until it is all mixed together.
Add the pasta to a 9×13 dish or 10-inch skillet. Top with the mozzarella cheese.
Bake the pasta for 15 minutes at 425. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.
Below are some common homemade pesto pasta questions. Don’t see the answer you’re looking for? Leave a comment at the bottom of this post!
How do I make this without a food processor?
If you don’t have a food processor, then combine everything with a powerful blender. There really isn’t an effective way to chop up the nuts and combine everything without at least a blender or some kind of food processor.
Should I cook the pesto first?
No, do not cook pesto! If you try to cook it before you add it to the pasta and bake it, you will cause it to change colors and the basil aroma will deteriorate.
It is ok to bake the pesto in my recipe because I covered it in cheese and only baked it for 15 minutes. Be careful not to overbake pesto pasta because it could make the flavors less pronounced.
Why is my basil pesto bitter?
If you over-process your pesto, it might have a bitter taste. This happens because breaking down fresh basil too much releases bitter flavors. The same is also true for olive oil. If you overwork olive oil, it releases polyphenols that are also bitter tasting.
For this reason, I suggest processing the pesto just until it is well-combined, not longer.
Is this homemade baked pesto pasta gluten-free?
No, I did not use gluten-free pasta when I made this recipe. Making it gluten-free is really easy. Just replace wheat pasta with your favorite gluten-free alternative.
Store leftover pesto pasta in an airtight container, like a resealable pyrex dish, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
It works best if you store the pesto separately from the pasta.
If you liked this recipe, you’ll want to try these!
Here are some more of my favorite healthy pasta recipes to make. Enjoy!
- Buffalo Chickpea Pasta Salad
- One-Pot Chicken Parmesan Pasta
- Pasta With Creamy Vegan Walnut Tomato Sauce
- Veggie Skillet Lasagna
Recipe by Erin Morrissey and Photos by The Mindful Hapa
- 2 cups fresh basil
- 1 8oz bag fresh spinach (divided)
- 1 cup pine nuts (sub almonds or cashews)
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1/3 cup parmesan cheese
- 1 tsp salt
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 12 oz dry pasta
- 14oz jar diced tomatoes, drained
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- Preheat oven to 425F. Grease a 9×13 dish or 10 inch cast iron skillet.
- Prepare pasta according to package, then drain.
- To a high speed blender or food processor, pack in basil and spinach.
- Add pine nuts, garlic, parmesan cheese, salt, lemon, and olive oil.
- Blend until totally smooth, adding in a little more oil if necessary. Scrape down sides as needed.
- In a large bowl or the saucepan you cooked the pasta in, add the drained pasta back. Add the drained tomatoes and spinach to the warm pasta and stir to combine, allowing the spinach to wilt.
- Pour the pesto over top of the pasta and stir until all mixed together.
- Add the pasta to a 9×13 dish or 10 inch skillet. Top with mozzarella cheese.
- Bake for 15 minutes at 425. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.
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