Creamy, cheesy and delicious, this red pesto pasta with spinach is a quick and easy pasta dish. Great for a tasty weeknight dinner this will quickly become a family favourite!
Quick and easy pasta dishes are the backbone of my weekly dinner rota. Whether it's Pasta with Spinach and Olives or a Creamy Garlic Mushroom Pasta a quick pasta dish is a lifesaver when your weekdays are busy! This creamy red pesto pasta dish is a regular on my weekly rota! It's such an easy weeknight dinner.
Ready in just under 30 minutes this vegetarian red pesto pasta is perfect for when you get home after a long day at work or school. This extra creamy pasta dish is warming, satisfying and very tasty and is a firm family favourite.
The creamy, cheesy sauce is silky smooth and honestly, I could probably just eat that on its own! The toasted pine nuts add a delicious earthy warmth and the sundried tomatoes add some extra zing to the finished dish!
📝 What You'll Need
- Red Pesto - I recommend using a good quality vegetarian red pesto for this dish.
- Pasta - You can use any pasta you like for this, I use Mezzi Rigatoni which is shorter than regular Rigatoni. Mezzi Rigatoni is great with thick creamy sauces, the sauce can get inside the pasta and stick to the ridges.
- Spinach - Young or baby spinach in best for this dish, and fresh is best.
- Cheese - I use Mascarpone and Pecorino Romano. The Mascarpone is rich and creamy and the Pecorino is salty which helps balance the sauce.
- Sundried Tomatoes - qood quality semi sundried tomatoes from a deli or a jar are fine for this.
🥣 How To Make It
1. To get this done in a super quick time, start by cooking the pasta. Then toast the pine nuts in a dry pan, remove the pinenuts until you are ready to use them. Next, add some oil to a large saute pan. Cook the onion until it is translucent and a little spongy. Add the garlic and cook for a minute, then add the red pesto, stir that in and let it all cook for a minute.
2. Next, add the mascarpone, one large tablespoon at a time. Slowly stir that until it melts and you have a creamy sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
3. The spinach needs to go in next. I do this in two batches, add half the spinach to the sauce, carefully stir it until it has wilted then repeat with the remaining spinach. You now should have a lovely rich creamy sauce.
4. Add the finely grated pecorino. Stir everything together until the cheese has melted then pour in the pasta water and stir well. Stir in the chopped basil and sliced sundried tomatoes. Finally, add the cooked and drained pasta to the sauce and gently mix everything together until all the pasta is coated in the sauce. Top the pasta with the toasted pine nuts and add a couple of leaves of basil. Serve with extra grated pecorino and some freshly ground black pepper.
👩🍳 Top Tips
- Pasta - Cook your pasta according to the packet instructions, just make sure to reserve about half a cup of the cooking water. This will help to make your sauce and it will help the sauce stick to the pasta.
- Red Pesto - to keep this recipe quick and easy I use store-bought red pesto. Try and use a good quality red pesto if you can. If you fancy making your own red pesto then this recipe is great and easy to make too.
- Mascarpone - I use full-fat mascarpone for this, it really will give you the best results. I have tried it with reduced-fat mascarpone which does work but not as well as the full-fat version.
- Spinach - fresh spianch really is best for ths recipe but if you want to use frozen you can, just thaw it before you add it the sauce.
You can but you may need to add some liquid to the pasta to loosen up the sauce. A couple of tablespoons of water should do the trick. Reheat on the hob for best results.
This dish is best made and served fresh. I don't recommend freezing this due to the cheese and pasta. The cheese can split and the pasta can end up soggy.
Yes, you can. You will need to use a vegan red pesto, you can use vegan cream cheese and vegan hard cheese. There may be some adjustment to the flavour due to the vegan substitutes though.
📋 Variations and Substitutions
- Pasta - You can use any type of pasta for this. I have made this with penne and fusilli too and both work really well. Whole wheat pasta also works well in this recipe.
- Mascarpone - If you can't get mascarpone you can use ricotta instead, it may be a bit grainy though. If you want a lighter version of this then omit the mascarpone, you will miss out on that creaminess though!
- Add more veggies - This is a very versatile recipe, you can add more veggies in here if you like, roast courgettes (zucchini) works well as do mushrooms and black olives.
🍽 How To Serve It
We love this on its own but if you are really hungry you could serve it with some good garlic bread. I usually top it with some extra grated cheese and some fresh basil leaves.
🍝 More Tasty Weeknight Dinners
If you need more inspiration for your weeknight dinners, then I have some great options for you! This Lemon Garlic Pasta with Kale is fresh and tasty and so easy to make! My Stuffed Shells with Spinach is another great weeknight dinner, it does take a little longer to make but is so worth the time! If you fancy a stir fry my Mushroom and Broccoli Stir Fry is really quick to make. And if you have more time you should try my Mushroom Lasagne, one of our favourites!
Red Pesto Pasta
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium white onion (150g) finely chopped
- 2 tbsp pine nuts optional
- 350 g (4⅓ cups) mezi rigatoni pasta dry weight
- 3 cloves of garlic put through a garlic press or finely chopped
- 4 -5 heaped tbsp red pesto
- 250 g (1 cup )mascarpone
- 90 g (4 packed cups) fresh young or baby spinach
- 30 g (¼ cup) pecorino cheese or any vegetarian style parmesan, grated. Plus more for serving.
- 6 sun-dried tomatoes from a jar
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- A small handful fresh basil leaves plus more for serving
- Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. Reserve ½ a cup of the cooking water then drain the pasta. Toast the pine nuts, if using, in a dry skillet over medium heat. Toss the pine nuts often then turn off the heat once the pine nuts are golden. Remove them from the pan and set aside until you are ready to use them.
- Add one tablespoon of olive oil to a large saute pan. Add the chopped onion along with a small pinch of salt. Cook the onion for about 10 - 15 minutes, until the onions are translucent and are a pale yellow colour.Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then add about 4 - 5 heaped tablespoons of red pesto to the pan and stir well. Cook for a minute.
- Next, add the mascarpone to the pan. I add the mascarpone one large tablespoon at a time.Gently stir in the mascarpone until it has melted down. Repeat until all the mascarpone has been added.
- Once the mascarpone has melted start adding the spinach. You will need to do this in batches. Add a handful of spinach at a time to the skillet. Carefully stir it in until it is wilted. Once the spinach has wilted add the remaining spinach and stir until that is wilted too.Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.Stir in the reserved pasta water. You should have a slightly watery sauce now.
- Next, add the grated pecorino cheese, the chopped basil and the sliced sun-dried tomatoes to the sauce stir until the cheese melted. Check the seasoning now, add more salt if needed.Then carefully add the cooked and drained pasta into the sauce and stir gently until all the pasta is coated in the sauce.
- Finally, scatter the toasted pine nuts over the pasta.Serve straight away with some extra grated cheese, some freshly ground black pepper and a couple of basil leaves.
- Nutritional Information - is approximate and is calculated using an online nutrition tool. It is based on a serving on four.
- Pasta - I use Mezzi Rigatoni for this recipe, it's perfect for this creamy sauce and when the sauce collects in the hollow tubes, that's just perfect. Fusilli or penne are also great pasta for this recipe, as is whole wheat pasta.
- Red Pesto - To keep this dinner quick and easy I use a store-bought pesto for this recipe. Try and get the best pesto you can, it really does make a difference. We use a vegetarian pesto. If you are looking to make a slightly healthier version of this then I can tell you that low-fat red pesto works well too.
- Mascarpone - I use full fat mascarpone but again if you are watching the calories a low fat version will work well too. If you can't get your hands on mascarpone then ricotta works well too but it does result in a slightly grainy sauce.
- Pasta Water - I add a half a cup of the water the pasta has cooked in to the sauce. The salty starchy water will help thicken the sauce and help the pasta stick to the sauce.
- Weights and measurements - For US readers, I use Cuisipro measuring cups and spoons, and a Pyrex measuring jug for liquids. These are the industry standard. Cup/spoon volumes can differ from brand to brand, for accuracy, I recommend weighing all ingredients if possible for best results.