Spaghetti with Pesto Genovese

By Lee Jackson ↣ Published on: November 5, 2021

Last Updated: February 3rd, 20244 Comments on Spaghetti with Pesto Genovese

Pesto Genovese; one of Italy’s most successful exports. A perfect combination of floral, fragrant basil with nuts, cheese and garlic that creates a simple, no-fuss sauce for pasta. Homemade is best and this recipe shows you JUST how easy that is…

A bowl of spaghetti mixed with Pesto Genovese

Pesto Genovese is one of Italy 's most iconic recipes. A delicious blend of flavour that is pretty much perfection. Created in the Ligurian city of Genoa, pesto is a dreamy combination of basil, cheese, olive oil, garlic and pine nuts (pignoli). The sauce can be crushed in a pestle & mortar or blended by machine it has the most alluring and distinctive fragrance, texture and flavour.

A bowl of Spaghetti with Pesto Genovese. A fork twists around a few noodles.

What is Pesto Genovese?

Pesto Genovese an ancient dish, in that the Romans actually enjoyed a version using parsley. But when basil was introduced as the main ingredient some time in the mid 19th Century, Genovese pesto became the most popular version in Liguria Italy between the Italian and French Riviera (Pesto is enjoyed in France as Pistou).

Pesto in Italian means 'pou' so when we say pesto Genovese, we get specific by meaning it's pesto using basil. See below for other pesto suggestions.

The basil grown in the mountains above Genoa, is famed for its delicate floral flavour. It's no joke people, when you experience Pesto in Genoa you can't quite believe just how delicious it can be!

Pesto is a versatile ingredient, being an excellent addition to sandwiches, for finishing soups and stews and most commonly, being tossed through cooked pasta for a quick and easy hit of flavour.

Pesto and Pasta - a divine marriage

Pasta and pesto work so perfectly together. It's a super quick way to inject flavour to pasta for a quick, healthy lunch - a couple of spoonfuls and a little pasta water and you're good to go. This pesto pasta recipe uses spaghetti, but pesto works with pretty much any pasta you like. Don't just stick with noodles, try hand shaped pasta like orecchiette or garganelli or fresh egg pasta fettuccini or pappardelle. You can even add spoonfuls between layers of lasagne sheets with ricotta cheese and tomato sauce. The combinations are endless.

Homemade pesto is so easy and successful, you'll be hard pushed to find a store-bought variety that beats it. You can make it in advance and store in the fridge for a week or freeze it for months and just defrost when you need it - how's that for convenience! You'll appreciate the effort and certainly the flavour.

The ingredients for Pesto Genovese: Basil, cheese, pine nuts, olive oil and garlic

Say Cheese...

This Pesto Genovese Spaghetti recipe is simplicity! Here are the flavours that come together to create the magic!

  • Fresh basil - buy the freshest you can. It might not meet the magnificence of fresh Genovese basil, but your pesto will still be head and shoulders more delicious than store-bought basil pesto.
  • Extra virgin olive oil - a good quality oil will produce the best results.
  • Pine nuts - For a nutty, creamy consistency to your final pesto Genovese.
  • Pecorino Romano Cheese - A sharp, hard cheese with plenty of personality
  • Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese - A saltier, umami-laden hard cheese to balance out the flavour.
  • Garlic - for a bit of backbone to the pesto.
  • Salt & pepper

Step by Step

Making the pesto and pasta is simple. The pesto is simply stirred into the just cooked pasta and loosened with a little pan water. It creates the most sublime creamy sauce and it's ready in minutes!

  • Blend together the basil, cheeses, pine nuts, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and add a little salt & pepper. Create a smooth emerald green puree.
  • Cook the spaghetti in salted water (retain about 2 cups of the water just before draining)
  • Combine the pesto and pasta with the pan off the heat
  • Add a little cooking liquid to loosen the pesto and create a light and creamy sauce.
  • Serve!
A bowl of freshly pounded pesto Genovese

A Pesto Parade

Even though the Pesto Genovese Recipe is the most popular and well known throughout the World, the word 'pesto' translates simply as 'pounded' - this generic term means that any ingredients pounded or pureed together can be called a pesto. I cook and create many types of pesto for pasta and the combinations are endless. Here are some suggestions that you might like to try at home...

Pesto suggestions (all blended into a puree with salt & pepper)

  1. Cavolo nero cabbage (cooked), garlic, almonds, Parmigiano, extra virgin olive oil
  2. Spinach (cooked), pistachios, Parmigiano, extra virgin olive oil
  3. Anchovies, walnuts, garlic, Parmigiano, parsley, extra virgin olive oil (cooked for a while wth pasta water)
  4. English peas (cooked), oregano, mint, Parmigiano, melted butter, extra virgin olive oil
  5. Cherry tomatoes, blanched almonds, Parmigiano, extra virgin olive oil

Serving & Storage Suggestions

On this occasion, I must say that I prefer to eat Pasta with Spaghetti Genovese hot, and right away. The flavours are so much better when you eat it this way. However, if you're using pesto as a dressing for a cold pasta salad, it's fine to eat it cold (and by that I mean at room temperature).

I don't really recommend reheating this dish as it'll be a bit dry and disappointing so for that reason I'm not giving any storage suggestions for the final dish. 

However, you CAN keep pesto in the fridge for a couple of days. I like to pour a layer of oil on the surface to stop any air getting to it and refrigerate in a far with a tight fitting lid. With that said, the BEST pesto Genovese is a dish best served as soon as it's been blended.

A bowl of spaghetti mixed with Pesto Genovese

Ready to get cooking?

So, if you're in any way curious as to how much more tasty a homemade pesto pasta might be, I very much urge you to try this recipe at home. I'm not a betting man, but I can pretty much guarantee that once you've tasted homespun pesto Genovese, you'll be a convert for the rest of your enlightened life. Buon Appetito!

A bowl of spaghetti mixed with Pesto Genovese
A bowl of Spaghetti with Pesto Genovese. A fork twists around a few noodles.

Any Questions? (FAQ)

Have a question about Pesto Genovese? Let me know in the comments.

What's the origin of Pesto Genovese?

Pesto Genovese hails from Genoa, Italy, tracing its roots to the Ligurian region. Its inception dates back to the late 19th century, known for its vibrant mix of basil, pine nuts, cheese, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil.

How do you serve Pesto Genovese?

Pesto Genovese is a versatile delight! Traditionally paired with pasta like spaghetti, trofie or linguine, it's also fantastic on bruschetta, pizza, or as a condiment for meats and veggies. The possibilities are endless!

What's the best way to store Pesto Genovese?

To maintain its vibrant flavor, store Pesto Genovese in an airtight container, covering the surface with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent oxidation. It stays fresh in the fridge for a few days.

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A bowl of Spaghetti with Pesto Genovese. A fork twists around a few noodles.

Spaghetti with Pesto Genovese

Rate this recipe

4.82 from 11 votes
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Recipe by Lee
Course Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time30 minutes
Servings (adjustable) 4
Calories (per serving) | 771


Pesto Ingredients

Other ingredients

  • 1 lb spaghetti (or other dried pasta) around 450g
  • Parmigiano Reggiano (for garnish - optional)


  • Using an immersion blender or food processor, blend all the pesto ingredients for 1-2 minutes into a smooth paste.
  • Cook the pasta in lots of salted water to the packet instructions, when done, drain, retaining some of the cooking liquid.
  • Add the pesto to the pan and then return the drained pasta along with about 1/3 cup of the cooking liquid. Stir well to combine and serve.
  • Serve with a little extra Parmigiana Reggiano to sprinkle.


Calories: 771kcal (39%) | Carbohydrates: 87g (29%) | Protein: 22g (44%) | Fat: 37g (57%) | Saturated Fat: 7g (44%) | Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 22g | Cholesterol: 15mg (5%) | Sodium: 283mg (12%) | Potassium: 343mg (10%) | Fiber: 4g (17%) | Sugar: 3g (3%) | Vitamin A: 785IU (16%) | Vitamin C: 3mg (4%) | Calcium: 264mg (26%) | Iron: 2mg (11%)
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