Creamy Pesto Pasta Without Cream Recipe

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by Maggie Turansky

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This delicious, creamy pesto pasta is the answer to your weeknight dinner woes. It comes together in under 30 minutes from start to finish and only uses a handful of ingredients. And because it omits the heavy cream common in pesto pasta recipes, it’s also considerably lighter and can be consumed on the regular – not just for special occasions.

So if you’re craving a deliciously green and flavourful pesto pasta but don’t want to add a bunch of cream, then look no further.

Using similar techniques as I do in my Alfredo recipe, creamy tomato pasta or my mushroom pasta recipe, we can make a lovely creamy sauce using just the parmesan cheese in the pesto and a bit of starchy pasta water! Exactly like you would get when sitting at a bistro in Genoa.

This dreamy and creamy pasta is a cinch to make and will soon make the top of your weeknight dinner lists!

Pesto Pasta
Pesto Pasta

How to Make Creamy Pesto Sauce Without Cream

This pasta comes together in the time it takes to cook most types of dried pasta, so that’s what we’re going to start with.

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil and add your pasta. Go ahead and use whatever shape you have on hand here – this recipe works with everything from penne and rigatoni to spaghetti and linguine. Honestly, if all you have is elbow macaroni – then use that! It will be delicious.

Ingredients for this pesta pasta recipe
Ingredients for this pesto pasta recipe

Cook your pasta for a couple of minutes less than the package instructs – we will finish cooking it in the sauce! Make sure to hold onto a good amount of the pasta cooking water if you drain it in the sink – this is essential to building the sauce.

Once you’ve put the pasta on, go ahead and toast your pine nuts. Now, you can skip this step if you’re short on time, however, it only takes a couple of minutes and significantly elevates the flavour of the pesto.

Beginning to toast the pine nuts
Beginning to toast the pine nuts

Add your pine nuts to a cold, dry skillet and set over medium heat. Tossing constantly, gently toast the pine nuts until they are fragrant and golden, only about 2 minutes. Be careful not to burn them as this can happen very fast!

Toasted pine nuts
Toasted pine nuts

Now it’s time to make the pesto! To the bowl of a food processor, add the leaves of some fresh basil. Then, add in a couple of roughly chopped cloves of garlic, your toasted pine nuts and a healthy amount of parmesan cheese. This is the same process as in my pesto dip!

Adding the basil, pine nuts and cheese to a food processor
Adding the basil, pine nuts and cheese to a food processor

Pulse the food processor a few times just to chop up the basil and break up the pine nuts initially. This also ensures everything is well incorporated before we begin drizzling in our olive oil.

Scrape down the sides and then, with the machine running, slowly drizzle in a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. It’s important to use a flavourful, high-quality olive oil here as it’s such a major flavour in this pesto.

Incorporating the olive oil

Once your pesto is homogenous, scrape down the sides and season with salt to taste. Now it’s time to head to the stovetop.

Now, if you don’t have a food processor (or just can’t be bothered to get it out), you can very much still make a homemade pesto without a food processor and use it in this recipe.

Add the pesto to a large skillet and set it over medium-low heat. Add some of the pasta cooking water and whisk constantly to incorporate.

Adding the pasta water to the pesto
Adding the pasta water to the pesto

The head from the cooking water will gently melt the cheese in the pesto, creating a creamy sauce. Combined with the starch from the cooking water, this basically eliminates the need for heavy cream.

Whisking the pesto sauce
Whisking the pesto sauce

Once the water is incorporated, add the drained pasta and, stirring constantly, cook until the sauce is thick, glossy and coats the pasta – a few minutes longer. Use some more of the cooking water if you need to adjust the consistency of the sauce at all.

If you’re looking for a chicken pesto pasta, then this is the time to add some cooked chicken.

Pesto pasta ready to serve
Pesto pasta ready to serve

Now all that’s left to do is serve immediately! Go ahead and top with a bit more parmesan cheese if you’d like.

Pesto Pasta Without Cream

Creamy Pesto Pasta Without Cream

This dreamy pesto pasta uses an easy, fresh pesto and no addition of cream to make a luscious and crave-able sauce perfect for any night of the week.
5 from 3 votes
Servings 4
Prep Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes


  • 500 g (1 lb) dried pasta (see notes)
  • 75 g (½ cup) pine nuts
  • 50 g (2 cups) fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic roughly chopped
  • 30 g ( cup) parmesan cheese grated
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil


  • Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil. Add your pasta and cook for 2 minutes less than the package suggests – until just al dente.
  • While the pasta is cooking, add the pine nuts to a cold, dry frying pan. Set the pan over medium heat and toast the nuts, tossing frequently, until browned and golden – only about 2 minutes. Be careful not to burn as this can happen quite quickly.
    Toasted pine nuts
  • Add the toasted pine nuts to the bowl of a food processor along with the basil, garlic and parmesan cheese. Pulse a couple of times, just until the ingredients are incorporated and the basil and pine nuts are roughly chopped.
    Adding the basil, pine nuts and cheese to a food processor
  • With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until well incorporated and the pesto is relatively smooth. Taste to adjust for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste.
    Incorporating the olive oil
  • Add the pesto to a large skillet and set over medium-low heat. Pour over 125ml (1/2 cup) pasta cooking water and whisk to combine. Add the cooked and drained pasta (making sure to retain some of the cooking water) to the skillet and stir to coat in the sauce.
    Whisking the pesto sauce
  • Cook the pasta in the sauce, stirring constantly, until it coats the noodles and is thick and glossy, about 2-3 minutes. Serve immediately, topping with more parmesan cheese if desired.
    Pesto pasta ready to serve



Choose whichever pasta shape you choose – anything from spaghetti to rigatoni will work with this sauce.


Calories: 717kcal | Carbohydrates: 97g | Protein: 22g | Fat: 27g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 8g | Monounsaturated Fat: 12g | Cholesterol: 5mg | Sodium: 129mg | Potassium: 441mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 724IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 143mg | Iron: 3mg

Disclaimer: Nutritional information is automatically generated and provided as guidance only. Accuracy is not guaranteed.

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This creamy pesto pasta doesn’t need any cream to make a luscious and delicious pasta that is so quick and easy to make, you’re sure to want it weekly!

Are you planning to make pesto pasta? Have any questions about this recipe? Let us know in the comments!

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Maggie is the creator behind No Frills Kitchen. She is a world traveller, home cook and recipe developer who loves to experiment with new cuisines and techniques at every chance she gets. No stranger to improvising and making do with the equipment and ingredients she has available, she is passionate about sharing her knowledge with others. Read More

5 from 3 votes (3 ratings without comment)

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