by Olena

Healthy Pasta with Pesto and Broccoli

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Olena Osipov
4.9 from 50 votes

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Turn that craving for carbs into a yummy meal with this Healthy Pasta recipe that is simple to prepare! Ready in just over 30 minutes this pasta dinner recipe is bursting with flavor from pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, broccoli and Parmesan cheese.

We love this meat-free pasta recipe as much as we love mushroom stroganoff, penne with broccoli and pasta with zucchini and tomatoes.

Healthy Pasta

Healthy Pasta Recipe

This healthy pasta is one of the most popular recipes on iFOODreal. And there is a good reason for that – it’s fresh, light, flavorful, loaded with veggies and then topped with fresh Parmesan cheese for balance! It comes together in less than 30 minutes from prep to clean up, just like our Tuscan chicken pasta and healthy chicken alfredo.

Part of what makes this pasta recipe so quick and easy is using your favourite store-bought pesto sauce. If you have a jar of homemade or you don’t mind taking the time to make your own, go for it! Save your leftover pesto for this turkey zucchini or pesto chicken. Because carbs one day equals low carbs the next!

Why Make Pesto Pasta Dinner Recipe?

  • Creamy sauce: Using some of the pasta water combined with pesto makes a creamy flavorful sauce that isn’t loaded with calories!
  • Fresh ingredients: This healthy pasta swaps heavy meat and dairy for light and fresh vegetables.
  • Enjoy year round: Summer inspired but ingredients are easily found year-round!
  • Versatile: Swap vegetables and pasta shape for what you have on hand.
  • Gluten-free and dairy-free friendly: Use your favorite gluten free pasta and skip the parmesan for dairy free!
  • Simple and quick: With store bought pesto, you save time in the kitchen and dinner is ready in just over 30 minutes.
healthy pasta in a skillet

Ingredients for this Healthy Pasta Recipe

  • Pasta: Any shape noodle, any type, uncooked.

Is Pasta Healthy?

So, this question. I’m sure if you ask the millions Italians if pasta is healthy they may have a thought or two! I know it’s white pasta and it might seem like an oxymoron to show up in “a healthy pasta recipe,” but here’s the scoop.

  • First, you’re loading it up with veggies: You can never go wrong with including more vegetables in your diet.
  • Second, you can use ANY pasta you want: Gluten free, whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa, kamut pasta. You name it! Pictured is my kids’ favourite (organic if I can find) Garofalo brand from Costco. It’s one of the best quality pasta I ever tried.
  • Third, cook your pasta only until it reaches al dente. As is durum pasta has a low glycemic index, which is retained if only cooked to al dente. Overcooked pasta causes the GI index to rise. 
  • And fourth, please friends, don’t forget that “health” has many components: Getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, exercise and avoiding stress.  So, go have a nap, drink a glass of water, do some yoga, then reward yourself with a bowl of pasta for dinner 😉

  • Veggies: Broccoli florets, coarsely chopped. Sun-dried tomatoes (dry or packed in oil), thinly sliced. Grape tomatoes halved.
  • Pesto sauce: Store-bought or homemade pesto, divided. Pasta water, reserved.

Is Pesto Healthy?

It can absolutely be incredibly healthy, especially if you use homemade pesto or spinach pesto. If using store-bought, try to find one with as fewer additives as possible. All there is to a basic pesto is olive oil, basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts and salt. I like Costco brand because it doesn’t contain GMO canola oil and has clean simple ingredients. Not to mention is a good deal!

  • Seasoning: Garlic cloves, minced. Salt. Red pepper flakes. Ground black pepper, to taste.
  • Oil: Extra virgin olive oil.
  • Cheese: Freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
broccoli pasta pesto tomatoes garlic parmesan for healthy pasta

What Is the Best Parmesan Cheese?

As with any cheese, freshly grated is the way to go. Pre-packaged usually comes with a lot of extra junk. So, forego the shaker-faker, it’s full of additives like cellulose (a fibre extracted by wood fibre, if you can believe it) and other garbage.

Buy a hunk of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano, grate a good amount at a time and then refrigerate in an airtight container for a few weeks. Freeze the rest of the hunk and use grated cheese to sprinkle on ground turkey pasta, spaghetti and minestrone soup.

How to Make Healthy Pasta

  • Prep: Cook your pasta as per package directions. Because this tomato pesto pasta dish cooks fast (like a stir fry), you want to gather your ingredients and have them ready to go, especially if you are using gluten-free pasta as it cooks faster. Timing is everything for ultimate flavour and an al dente texture to the pasta.

Salt your pasta water: As the saying goes ‘salt the pot, not the pasta’. When you salt your water – just as it is coming to a boil – and then cook your pasta in the salted water, it will absorb the salt and add that extra touch of flavor to your pasta dinner recipe! 

 

What if you forget to salt your pasta? Toss the salt right in after draining, it won’t be the same, but the salt will melt and be absorbed by the pasta.

  • Saute veggies: While pasta is cooking, saute garlic in olive oil for a few seconds. Stir frequently. Add a bit of pesto and tomatoes and give it a stir. Continue cooking for a couple of minutes and stir again. Move ingredients to one side of the skillet, making sure the empty spot is right above the heat. Add a bit of pesto and broccoli to the empty spot in the skillet and cook stirring once.
  • Drain pasta: When pasta is finished cooking, drain and reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Set pasta aside.
  • Combine: Remove the skillet from the heat and add the remaining pesto. Toss in the sun-dried tomatoes, salt, black pepper, red pepper, flakes, pasta, and pasta water. Stir gently to combine and let the flavours meld together, and watch how creamy and delicious this becomes. At this point, you can add in half of the freshly grated Parmesan cheese and save the other half for sprinkling right before serving.

Optional Add-In’s and Variations

  • Fresh basil: A delicious basil pesto sauce is an awesome start, but why not throw in a few fresh basil leaves for an added burst of fresh herbs!
  • Serve a crowd: Easily double this recipe to serve a larger crowd. Summer BBQs have a new star of the show!
  • Protein: For added protein, throw in some grilled shrimp, baked turkey meatballs, chopped up turkey burger or plant-based protein such as cooked chickpeas.
  • Veggies: Instead of, or in addition to, the broccoli, you can add in some kale, bell peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms.
  • Frozen broccoli: If you are using frozen broccoli, you don’t need to thaw first. Just toss it in and cook until thawed right in the skillet. Because it was frozen, keep an extra eye out so that it doesn’t get overcooked and mushy.
  • A burst of citrus: Squeeze a little lemon juice in with your pesto sauce and enjoy a little extra bright flavour to this dish. A lovely balance to the earthy herbed pesto.
  • Dairy-free/vegetarian: Skip the parmesan or use a good quality vegan parmesan that is able to be grated, such as Violife.

Added presentation: This dish is already stunning. The pop of red tomatoes, the green in the pesto, it’s all so pretty! What if you had a variety of cherry tomatoes? Add in some yellow tomatoes for a burst of yellow and a subtle sweetness!

Tips for Best Results

  • Stir the pasta: Usually within the first 2 minutes of cooking. This will prevent it from clumping.
  • Cook, then test: The best timer is your mouth! A minute or two before your pasta timer goes off, starting testing your pasta. Remove from pot, place on plate, let it cool then taste it. If it it retains a slight firm bite, your pasta is al dente and ready. 
  • Don’t drain all the pasta water: Using some of the pasta water in the sauce adds flavor and helps glue the pasta and sauce together. It’s a great way to thicken your sauce without the use of flour, cornstarch etc! 
  • Skip rinsing your pasta after it cooks: The starch on the surface of the pasta helps the sauce adhere and gives the pasta dinner dish additional flavor! If you rinse the pasta, all that starch goes down the drain! 
  • Do not cover your skillet: Unless you like mushy broccoli…but this dish really tastes better with broccoli that is tender yet has a slight bite.
  • Freshly and high quality ingredients: It’s worth mentioning again that the freshest ingredients will add the most flavor including fresh grated parmesan, garlic and a high quality pasta. 

 

FAQs

Could I use vegetable noodles?

They taste will be a bit different than pasta obviously especially as you will not have the salted starch water for flavor, but zucchini or squash noodles could work and you could try to use vegetable broth for the liquid. Because of the delicate nature of vegetable noodles, I would make the pasta sauce with veggies, then top your noodles with it.

What are healthy pasta alternatives?

It really depends on what you consider healthy! For those avoiding gluten, using a red lentil or chickpea pasta is a great healthy pasta alternative. For those avoiding white pasta, whole wheat pasta is a great alternative.

Is pasta good to eat, when in a diet?

Life is about balance and moderation and this healthy pasta dinner recipe is full of a great mix of vegetables and carbs, so yes, I say go for it!

What is the best cooking method for pasta?

Using the tips in this recipe post will give you amazing perfectly cooked al dente pasta!

Is whole grain pasta a better option?

It can be depending on your healthy lifestyle goals! I always try to look for/purchase authentic pasta made with durum wheat flour – organic if possible.

What can I substitute for pesto?

This really depends on what ingredient it is in pesto that you can’t eat/or dislike. The sky is the limit when it comes to pesto and you can swap out basil for another herb (or even carrot tops!). You can swap pine nuts for another type of nut (cashew, walnuts etc). You can skip the cheese for nutritional yeast. Pesto (however you make it) is what gives this dish it’s signature pesto pasta flavor, so I don’t recommend omitting it entirely.

Serving Recommendations

As much as my family loves this as a main pasta dinner recipe, there are many other ways you can enjoy it!

When I feel like making olive oil bread dip or charcuterie as a starter, no one ever complains!

Making Pesto Pasta Recipe in Advance

Store: This amazing pasta dish will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 5 days if it lasts that long!

Freeze: If you have leftovers or made more than enough, you can definitely freeze it for up to 3 months.

Reheat: To reheat, thaw in the fridge overnight and reheat on the stovetop on low-medium heat. Add a bit more pesto if needed. OR! Eat it cold straight out of the fridge and enjoy a pasta salad for lunch.

More Healthy Recipes

pesto pasta close up with a spoon dipped into it to show texture
Healthy Pasta with Pesto and Broccoli

Quick and Easy Healthy Pasta with Pesto Recipe

Turn that craving for carbs into a yummy meal with this Healthy Pasta recipe that is simple to prepare! Ready in just over 30 minutes this pasta dinner recipe is bursting with flavor from pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, broccoli and Parmesan cheese.
4.91 from 50 votes
Print Save Rate
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 6 servings
Calories: 218kcal
Author: Olena Osipov

Ingredients

  • 2 cups any shape pasta uncooked
  • 1 cup pasta water reserved
  • 2 large garlic cloves minced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil extra virgin
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp pesto divided
  • 2 cups grape tomatoes cut in halves
  • 4 cups broccoli florets coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup (2 oz) Parmesan cheese grated
  • 1/2 tsp salt more to taste
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Ground black pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Cook pasta as per package instructions.
    Healthy Pasta with Pesto and Broccoli
  • While pasta is cooking, get all ingredients ready – chop veggies and grate cheese.
    Healthy Pasta with Pesto and Broccoli
  • Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, draining the rest. Set aside.
    Healthy Pasta with Pesto and Broccoli
  • Preheat large deep skillet or a dutch oven on medium heat, add olive oil and garlic. Sauté for 30 seconds, stirring frequently.
    Healthy Pasta with Pesto and Broccoli
  • Add 1 tbsp pesto, tomatoes and stir. Cook for 1 – 2 minutes, stir and cook another 1 – 2 minutes.
    Healthy Pasta with Pesto and Broccoli
  • Move to one side of the skillet and make sure the empty side of is positioned directly over heat. Add 1 tbsp pesto and broccoli, stir and cook for 4 minutes, stirring once.
    Healthy Pasta with Pesto and Broccoli
  • Remove skillet from heat and add remaining 1/4 cup pesto, sun dried tomatoes, half Parmesan cheese, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, pasta and pasta water. Stir gently and let flavours marinate for a few minutes. Do not cover because broccoli will become a mushy mess.
    Healthy Pasta with Pesto and Broccoli
  • Sprinkle with remaining half Parmesan cheese. Serve hot.
    Healthy Pasta with Pesto and Broccoli

Store: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 – 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

    Freeze: If you have leftovers or made more than enough, you can definitely freeze it for up to 3 months.

      Reheat: To reheat, thaw in the fridge overnight and reheat on the stovetop on low-medium heat. Add a bit more pesto if needed.

        Video

        Notes

        • Pasta: Gluten free, whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa, kamut pasta. You name it! Pictured is my kids’ favourite (organic if I can find) Garofalo brand from Costco. It’s one of the best quality pasta I ever tried.
        • Al dente pasta: The best way to test your pasta, is to remove a noodle from the pot 1-2 minutes before cooking time is done. Let it cool slightly and taste, if it has a slight give and ‘bite’, it is al dente and ready.
        • Pesto: If using store-bought, try to find one with as fewer additives as possible. I like Costco brand because it doesn’t contain GMO canola oil and has clean simple ingredients. Not to mention is a good deal!
        • Parmesan cheese: Freshly grated is the way to go. Pre-packaged usually comes with a lot of extra junk. So, forego the shaker-faker, it’s full of additives like cellulose. Buy a hunk of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano, grate a good amount at a time and then refrigerate in an airtight container for a few weeks.
        • Protein: For added protein, throw in some baked turkey meatballs or chopped up turkey burger.
        • Veggies: Instead of, or in addition to, the broccoli, you can add in some bell peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms.
        • Frozen broccoli: If you are using frozen broccoli, you don’t need to thaw first. Just toss it in and cook until thawed right in the skillet. Because it was frozen, keep an extra eye out so that it doesn’t get overcooked and mushy.
        • A burst of citrus: Squeeze a little lemon juice in with your pesto sauce and enjoy a little extra bright flavour to this dish. A lovely balance to the earthy herbed pesto.
        • Serve with: As filling and delicious as this is as a main, a smaller portion can definitely be served as a side dish. It accompanies a juicy turkey burger or lemon butter baked cod very nicely!
        See recipe post for more tips and FAQs.

        Nutrition

        Serving: 1.5cups | Calories: 218kcal | Carbohydrates: 26g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 9g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 8mg | Sodium: 459mg | Potassium: 574mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 1138IU | Vitamin C: 64mg | Calcium: 155mg | Iron: 2mg
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