16 vibrant recipes that ring the changes on pasta + pesto

Fried gnocchi with watercress pesto

— See Brooke Blurton making pesto pasta with blistered baby vine tomatoes in the ‘Food on Tour’ episode of the new third season of The Cook Up with Adam LiawTuesday August 16 at 6pm on SBS and 7pm on SBS Food, and also at SBS On Demand —

From Silvia Colloca’s Sicilian red pesto with penne and Mark Olive’s warrigal greens pesto to walnut pesto salad, there’s a bounty of ways to enjoy the comforting combination of pesto and pasta (and if you don’t have a mortar and pestle or blender, don’ don’t worry, we’ve even got a pesto chopping board for you).


While there’s plenty of debate about what makes a great pesto, one of the acknowledged classics is Ligurian pesto (there’s even a pesto world championship, the Campionato Mondiale al Mortaio, held in Genoa). A proper Ligurian pesto usually has seven ingredients: basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pecorino, pine nuts, garlic, salt and olive oil, and is often served with trenette, a long thin pasta, or trofie, a short curly one, but other pasta make a lovely match too.

Silk handkerchief pasta with pesto (mandilli di seta)

If you love the idea of โ€‹โ€‹making pasta and pesto from scratch, this recipe, shared in that wonderful series Two Greedy Italians, with Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo, is for you. Tender pasta sheets are served up with a vibrant, fresh pesto, made in a mortar and pestle.

Trenette with pesto, potato and green beans

This simple, fresh combination of pesto, potato and green beans with trenette, shared by Lucio Galletto in Italian Food Safariis a classic dish from Liguria.

Trophy with pesto

Ever wondered if pasta alla Genovese is another name for pasta with pesto from Genoa? The answer, as Adam Liaw explains when he shares his recipe for trofie al pesto in the first season of The Cook Up, is no. Pasta alla Genovese is actually a specialty of Naples, in Campania, and is a dish where the sauce is made with braised beef or veal. Trofie al pesto, on the other hand, is a classic pasta dish from Genoa, pairing the city’s famous pesto with another Ligurian classic, a short, twisted pasta. This is Adam’s version (which can be made with any short pasta, if you can’t get your hands on trofie).


While Liguria’s bright, fresh, basil-based pesto is known across the world, it’s far from the only kind of traditional pesto. The word ‘pesto’ means crushed or pounded, and there are many variations on the idea of โ€‹โ€‹a sauce made by combining nuts, herbs, cheese and oil using a mortar and pestle. One popular version is Sicilian pesto, often known as pesto alla Trapanese.

Red lentil penne with Sicilian pesto

Sicilian pesto is made with tomato as well as basil, giving it a light red color. In this version, shared in Cook Like an ItalianSilvia Colloca has added ricotta, giving it a creamy texture.


If you like the idea of โ€‹โ€‹adding more veg to your pesto, read on for Donna’s Hay’s broccoli pesto, a walnut pasta salad, and a pea, basil and mint pesto with penne that celebrates the best of spring.

Mean green pesto with orecchiette

A pasta that brings to head broccoli, almond and plenty of herbs, this recipe from Donna Hay is a great one for family meals. The pesto is made in a food processor, with almonds, basil, mint, parsley, lemon rind and juice, parmesan and extra virgin olive oil.

Farfalle with zucchini

Another recipe from Silvia Colloca, this summer pasta salad combines a zucchini, basil and walnut pesto with pasta, chickpeas or beans, and zucchini flowers.

Spring vegetable penne with pea pesto

Here, the lovely fresh pesto is made with peas (fresh or frozen), basil and mint, along with pine nuts and olive oil. For the ‘cheesiness’ element, you can use either grated parmesan or for a vegan version, nutritional yeast.


Basil is classic, but the possibilities for using other things with, or instead of, basil are endless. We’re big fans of author Lindy Li’s idea of โ€‹โ€‹a basic formula that you can change up to suit what you like, or have on hand – various herbs or greens; grated hard cheese; and any toasted nuts or seed:

Here are some ideas to inspire you:

Thai basil pesto

Made with peanuts, Thai basil, Vietnamese mint, chilli, fish sauce, ginger and garlic, this pesto can be stirred through noodles, added to stir-fries or drizzled on a salad. You can experiment and play around adding your favorite Asian herbs to this recipe.

Gnocchi with cavolo nero pesto

This recipe from Myf Warhurst swaps out the basil and uses a bunch of cavalo nero instead. There’s no nuts in this recipe, so it’s a good one if you can’t have nuts, but it’s still full of flavour, with garlic, parmesan and (optional) chilli.

Gluten-free spiral pasta with walnut and rosemary pesto

If you love rosemary, this recipe from Loving Gluten Free host Helen Tzouganatos is for you. Her pesto uses walnuts instead of pinenuts, rosemary instead of basil, and adds extra savory deliciousness with a hint of anchovy.


The word pesto may be Italian, but the appeal of a salty, savory, herby paste is universal.

Peruvian-style spaghetti pesto (tallarines verdes)

This ‘green noodle’ dish is a Peruvian favourite, with both spinach and basil used in the sauce, along with queso fresco (a soft fresh cheese).

Crispy gnocchi with watercress pesto

There is SO MUCH deliciousness going on in this recipe, which comes from South African food writer and TV host Sarah Graham. She pan-fries the gnocchi after boiling to give them those gloriously crisp edges, and then tosses the golden gnocchi with a vibrant watercress pesto. You can use a range of nuts in this pesto – blanched almonds, hazelnuts or macadamias are all good.

Chopping board tomato and basil pesto pasta

This comes from lovely Irish chef Donald Skehan, and it’s perfect for times when you don’t have a mortar and pestle or food processor. The pesto is made simply by roughly chopping together tomato, basil, garlic and toasted pine nuts.


Bring native Australian flavors into your pasta bowl.

Fresh pasta with warrigal pesto

Chef Mark Olive cooked this recipe in On Country Kitchenusing sorrel leaves and warrigal greens instead of basil, and adding extra flavor with ground saltbush and ground native mountain pepper.


Okay, so not everyone. But for those who do, take a look here at how avo can add a lovely creaminess to a pesto.

Pesto pasta with blistered baby vine tomatoes

Up the pesto ante with some avo in this recipe from Brooke Blurton, which she shares in the new season of The Cook Up With Adam Liaw. The avocado is blended in with the other ingredients in the spinach and basil pesto, and roasted cherry tomatoes add sweet bursts of flavor to the bowl.


Pesto loves all kinds of pasta – including lasagna sheets!

Ligurian green lasagna (lasagna verde)

This recipe brings together homemade lasagna sheets (though you could use bought fresh lasagna sheets), a lemony basil pesto and creamy bechamel, with the pesto taking the place of the usual meat filling.




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