This Healthy Pesto Pasta recipe is simple, ready in just over 30 minutes and is bursting with flavor from pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, broccoli and Parmesan cheese.

We also love ground turkey and broccoli pasta and penne with broccoli!

Healthy pasta recipe with tomatoes, broccoli and cheese in a skillet with a spoon.

This healthy pesto 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 favorite 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!

Why You’ll Love This 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 dish 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: Use your favorite gluten free pasta with crevices.
  • Simple and quick: With store bought pesto, you save time in the kitchen and it’s a 30 minute meal!

Ingredients for Healthy Pesto Pasta Recipe

Broccoli, grape tomatoes, pasta, pesto, parmesan cheese, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, red pepper flakes, olive oil, salt and pepper.
  • Pasta: I recommend to use medium size pasta with crevices like penne, fusilli or bow ties. It can be gluten free, whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa or kamut pasta.
  • 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 or even spinach pesto. Any pesto that you like!
  • Seasoning: Garlic cloves, minced. Salt. Red pepper flakes. Ground black pepper, to taste.
  • Oil: Extra virgin olive oil.
  • Parmesan cheese: Freshly grated is the way to go for the most flavor. Cheese in a shaker comes with additives like cellulose and pre-grated cheese is not mature and flavorful enough.

Recipe Tip

Fresh and high quality ingredients. It’s worth mentioning again that the freshest ingredients will add the most flavor including freshly grated Parmesan, garlic and a high quality pasta.

How to Make Healthy Pesto Pasta

Because this pasta recipe cooks fast, you want to gather your ingredients and have them ready to go, especially if you are using gluten-free pasta as it cooks faster.

Step by step process how to cook pasta in a pot and saute garlic in a skillet.
  • Salt your pasta water: When you salt your water and then cook your pasta in it, it will absorb the salt and add that extra touch of flavor to your dish.
  • Cook the pasta: Cook your pasta as per package directions undercooking by a few minutes. Timing is everything for al dente texture pasta. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water, and set both aside.
  • Cook garlic: While pasta is cooking, saute garlic in olive oil for a few seconds. Stir frequently.
 process how to saute vegetables with pesto and then mix with pasta and parmesan cheese.
  • Saute tomatoes: Add tomatoes and a bit of pesto, 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 broccoli: Add a bit of broccoli and pesto to the empty spot in the skillet and cook stirring once.
  • Combine: Remove skillet from the heat and add 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 flavors meld together, and watch how creamy and delicious this becomes.
  • Add cheese: At this point, you can add in half of the freshly grated Parmesan cheese and save the other half for sprinkling right before serving.
Pesto pasta in a skillet with a wooden spoon.

Tips for Best Results

  • Stir the pasta: Gently mix it with a slotted spoon 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, start testing your pasta. Remove from pot, place on plate, let it cool then taste it. If 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 or cornstarch.
  • 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.

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.
  • Protein: For added protein, throw in some grilled shrimp, turkey meatballs, fried tofu or add sliced baked chicken breast.
  • 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 flavor to this dish. A lovely balance to the earthy herbed pesto!
  • Dairy-free or vegetarian: Skip the Parmesan cheese or use a good quality vegetarian Parmesan that is able to be grated, such as Violife.

Serving Recommendations

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

How to Store

Store: This pasta dish will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

Freeze: I don’t recommend to freeze leftovers because pasta with vegetables. Everything will be very mushy upon thawing.

Reheat: Reheat on the stovetop on low-medium heat, add a bit more pesto if needed. Or enjoy it cold straight out of the fridge on a hot summer day!

FAQs

Is pasta healthy?

I’m sure if you ask millions of 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. And secondly, you can use any pasta you want packing this dish with extra fiber and protein.

Can I use vegetable pasta?

Obviously the taste will be a bit different than pasta but zucchini or spaghetti squash noodles could work. Because of the delicate nature of vegetable noodles, I would make the pasta sauce with veggies, then top your “pasta” with it.

What can I use instead of pesto?

Pesto is very flavorful and this recipe requires quite a bit of it, so I do not recommend to omit it. If you are allergic to certain ingredients in pesto, I recommend making your own with substitutes by finding alternative recipes.

More Healthy Pasta Recipes

Also browse this list of 45 healthy pasta recipes for more inspiration!

Pasta dish sprinkled with Parmesan cheese in a skillet. Linen napkin, jar with pesto and grated Parmesan cheese on a board next to it.

Healthy Pesto Pasta Recipe

Healthy Pesto Pasta recipe is simple to prepare in just over 30 minutes and is bursting with flavor from pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, broccoli and Parmesan cheese.
4.93 from 68 votes
Servings 6 servings
Calories 218
Diet Gluten Free
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes

Ingredients  

Instructions 

  • Cook pasta as per package instructions.
  • While pasta is cooking, get all ingredients ready – chop veggies and grate cheese.
  • Reserve 1 cup of pasta water, draining the rest. Set aside.
  • Preheat large deep skillet or a dutch oven on medium heat, add olive oil and garlic. Sauté for 30 seconds, stirring frequently.
  • Add 1 tbsp pesto, tomatoes and stir. Cook for 1 – 2 minutes, stir and cook another 1 – 2 minutes.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Sprinkle with remaining half Parmesan cheese. Serve hot.

Video

Notes

  • Store: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 – 5 days. Reheat on stovetop on low-medium heat. Add a bit more pesto if needed.
  • Freeze: Up to 3 months. Thaw before reheating.
  • 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.
  • Parmesan cheese: Freshly grated is the way to go.
  • Frozen broccoli: If you are using frozen broccoli, you don’t need to thaw first. Keep an extra eye out so that it doesn’t get overcooked and mushy.

Nutrition

Serving: 1.5cups | Calories: 218kcal | Carbohydrates: 26g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 9g | Saturated Fat: 3g | Cholesterol: 8mg | Sodium: 459mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 6g
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Olena Osipov
Did you make this recipe?Mention @ifoodreal or tag #ifoodreal!

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About Olena

Welcome! I grew up in Ukraine watching my grandma cook with simple ingredients. I have spent the last 11 years making it my mission to help you cook quick and easy meals for your family!

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Comments

  1. Looking forward to making this!! Are the 4 cups broccoli frozen or fresh? Does not specify in the recipe.

  2. 5 stars
    It was very easy to make and tasted very good, I used all organic vegetables and brown rice pasta. I added in some chopped walnuts in for some crunch which tasted amazing.

  3. 5 stars
    I made this for dinner last night and, oh my goodness, so yummy!! I used bow tie pasta, frozen broccoli, and a few pieces of chicken for added protein. This was seriously one of the best meals I’ve had in a while. And the best part is it is healthy and loaded with veggies! Thank you Olena. Your recipes are awesome. ?

  4. 5 stars
    Hi…i cooked this dish today and followed the recipe to a tee. Im eating it now…very delicious…i was concerned about the broccoli but it was cooked perfect. Thank you!

    1. Hi Peter. Yay! You shouldn’t be concerned about broccoli because you can eat it raw. I would only be concerned to overcook it which isn’t possible with the little cooking time I recommend.

  5. 5 stars
    Hi Olena,
    I enjoy your blog and your recipes so much, and I share them on (the dreaded) Facebook on my Fitness page often. I have always loved pasta and it is the one thing I have refused to convert completely to whole grain as I have improved my nutrition. It just isn’t the same! It was fate that brought this recipe to my email inbox as I sat down at my desk to eat my own dish of radiatore pasta with cherub tomatoes, spinach, fresh basil, and mushrooms. It’s so nice to see a healthfood blogger who doesn’t condemn white pasta. I eat mostly whole grains, and I keep my carb servings small – usually 1/2 cup (unlike when I was younger and inhaled piles and piles of it). But I don’t see anything wrong with having white pasta as a treat. Oh – and I also have had a similar journey to yours with pesto. I recently bought it to serve over pasta with shrimp that I found on sale (typically very expensive in Pittsburgh) as a treat for my husband. I stopped buying it years ago, even though I LOVE it, because it is so heavy on calories. I’ve decided to allow it back into my life once more. As a fitness coach and mom, I am also working up to blogging regularly, and yours serves as inspiration and guidance. I set up my blog page months ago, and it has collected dust ever since. Would love to change that! Thanks for your free thinking, your authenticity, and your love of flavor!
    Margie Young,
    Pittsburgh, PA

    1. Hi Margie. You have brightened my Canada Day even more! As I mature and become a more seasoned parent, wife and human being in general, I find inner piece and balance quite important. I find myself less and less involved in drama and black and white stuff. So, yes white pasta is OK as a treat. Organic preferable when I buy it. At a restaurant I won’t forbid my kids to order white pasta once a month. I am honestly over with extremes because that life is not real.
      I will try to stay true to myself as much as possible because that is what makes blogging fun. If blogging inspires you then do it. If reading other blogs inspires you then do it. If you don’t feel like working out for a week don’t do it. Whatever makes you happy. Have a great weekend! xoxo

  6. Hi there, first timer here, saw this on Pinterest thought looked so tasty so making it tonight for dinner, thank you for sharing. Also have you thought of making your own pesto, look at anoregoncottage.com I freeze mine and it’s not too fiddly to make. It tastes unbelievably good and Jami uses sunflower seeds which makes it cheaper to make. Only has in it what you put in. I top mine with olive oil as she suggests and it stays a beautiful bright green. After you’ve made it once, there’s no going back!

    1. Thank you! I started to think about that because my basil plant is going crazy which is a good thing. I will definitely do that this summer! I miss quality pesto in winter.

  7. 5 stars
    We love this!! I want to make and freeze it for a family with a new baby – how do you suggest it be re-heated? (Baked, thawed and microwaved???). Thanks for the yumminess!!

    1. Hi Barbara. Yes, fully cooked, thawed and microwaved. They would really appreciate it. I remember being so hungry while breastfeeding and having no time to cook. First time I had time and energy though to stock my freezer with cooked meals. It was a blessing.

  8. 5 stars
    What a Great Recipe – I Made it for lunch today with wholemeal spaghetti, was Fantastic!! Thanks Olena!

  9. When I entered this recipe fir calculation of smart points, it came out to 10 smart points per serving. Not as low fat as I wanted. I’m going to to eliminate the olive oil as unnecessary and reduce the amount of sundried tomatoes to 3 tbsp and the parmesan cheese to a fat free variety to see if that makes a difference.

    1. You know, you could do that but fats are not our enemy. Healthy plant-based fats like olive oil and even grass fed organic butter in moderation. Fat doesn’t make us fat. But it is up to you. Look it up.

4.93 from 68 votes (10 ratings without comment)

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