I’m not sure why Penne Pesto has become such a classic combination, but I do know that it’s a damn fine pasta recipe.  I’ll end up making pesto every few months (generally in large batches and freezing some), as it’s really easy to make, tastes great, and can be used in a ton of different ways.  For this recipe, I’ll show you how to toss the fresh pesto sauce with some penne pasta, a bit of olive oil, and parmesan cheese to make a vibrant looking and tasty quick and easy meal.  Now, if you must, you can certainly buy pesto, and there are some decent options out there.  Simply follow the same steps below, and you’ll be good to go…but I hope you give homemade pesto a try!  Hope you enjoy this Penne Pesto recipe as much as I do!

Recipe Overview & Keys to Success
To make the best Penne Pesto, just follow these few cooking techniques:

  1. If you’ve seen my other pasta recipes before, you know my #1 rule is not to overcook the penne.  Make sure you taste it a good minute or two before the package says it should be done, and take it out right when it hits al dente
  2. If you can, make your own pesto.  Fresh will taste much better, be brighter color, and you can easily control the final taste by adding a bit more basil, olive oil, garlic…whatever you want
  3. Pesto is not a sauce that likes to be cooked over the heat.  The color will get dull, and the sauce may actually break.  So, combine the pesto and penne with the heat off (you can do it in heated pan as I do, or in a mixing bowl) and serve right away
  4. Taste the penne pesto right before serving and make any final adjustments. You may need to add salt/pepper.  Reserve a bit of pasta water, in case you need to thin it out.  And you’ll likely want to drizzle a bit of fresh olive oil and parmesan cheese over the top right before serving.

PENNE PESTO
Ingredients for Penne Pasta

  • 1/3 lbs of penne pasta
  • 1 bunch (3 – 4 cups) fresh basil
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons pinenuts
  • 1 lemon
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Penne Pesto

  • Bring a pot of water to the boil, and drop in the basil leaves
  • Cook the basil for 20 seconds, and then remove to a pot filled with ice cold water to set the color and stop the cooking
  • Remove the basil from the ice bath and dry between a few paper towels
  • In a blender, add the basil (it may help to give the leaves a quick, coarse chop) the pine nuts, cheese, and garlic, and drizzle a few tablespoons of oil, salt and pepper
  • Blend everything together (if you need more liquid you can add some more olive oil, and/or a bit of water
  • You don’t need to get perfectly smooth, but it should be nicely pureed.  Taste the pesto.
  • You can add more garlic, salt, pepper, etc if needed…one optional ingredient is a bit of lemon juice, which I sometime use to brighten up the flavor a bit
  • You can prepare the pesto ahead, cover and keep in the fridge
  • Bring a pot of salted water to the boil and drop in the penne, stir a few times, and then every few minutes
  • Once cooked to al dente, put a sauté pan over high heat to warm up, and then drain the penne, reserving some of the pasta water
  • Once drained, add olive oil to coat the sauté pan, and add the penne.
  • Season with salt and pepper, and toss to get the penne nice and hot
  • Kill the heat, and add a few tablespoons of the pesto; toss to coat evenly
  • Taste the penne. You can add more pesto, adjust the seasoning with salt or pepper, or add some of the reserved pasta water to thin it out if needed
  • Serve up the penne pesto in a bowl and drizzle with fresh olive oil, and garnish with a bit of grated parmesan cheese

Wine Recommendation:  I love the fresh, bright and herby taste of this penne pesto, and look for white wine that are austere and minerally to pair with it.   Of course, I also really love to serve regional wines with regional foods, so you can find an Italian white you love that would be great.  Try out Vermentino or even a simple Pinto Grigio.  Hope you enjoy the pairing with this Penne Pesto.