Easy Creamy Pesto Pasta with cream cheese is a super simple recipe you can make in under 30 minutes. Quick and easy dinner option for busy weeknights and lazy weekends.
This Creamy Pesto Pasta recipe is a delicious dinner you can have on the table in no time.
The simple creamy pesto sauce comes together with cream cheese, pesto, and Parmesan cheese, seasoned with garlic, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, and lemon juice and zest.
Tossed with freshly cooked pasta and fresh cherry tomatoes, it's an easy recipe the whole family will love.
Easily a full meal on its own, or serve it with grilled shrimp, baked chicken thighs, pan seared chicken breasts, or leftover rotisserie chicken.
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Why You'll Love This Recipe
Easy recipe with simple ingredients
Super creamy pesto pasta sauce you can make in minutes
Easy meal you can customize with your favorite proteins
Simple ingredient you can find in any grocery store. See the recipe card for the complete ingredient list.
Cooked pasta. Generally, a thin, flat, long pasta shape, like linguine or fettuccine, is best for tossing with rich, creamy sauces. But really, you can use any type of pasta.
Fresh garlic cloves. The pesto already has garlic, but some freshly sauteed garlic livens up the simple sauce.
Italian seasoning. When using dried herbs, add them in the beginning and cook them in oil to rehydrate them.
Red pepper flakes, optional. A pinch adds just the right amount of spice.
Basil pesto. Homemade pesto will always taste best, but you can definitely make this creamy pesto pasta recipe with store bought pesto -- either fresh or jar pesto.
Cream cheese. Cream cheese makes a really creamy sauce that has a bit of tang.
Parmesan cheese. Freshly grated Parmesan cheese adds rich flavor to the sauce and a delicious touch to the finished dish.
Pasta water. Save a cup of the pasta water and use half of it in the sauce. Keep the other half to loosen up the sauce as it cools, if needed.
Lemon juice and lemon zest. A little bit of lemon adds bright flavors to this simple dish.
Cherry tomatoes. Sweet cherry or grape tomatoes are tossed in right at the end to keep them bright and juicy.
Pesto. Sun-dried tomato pesto is a delicious alternative to basil pesto.
Shrimp or chicken. Add cooked chicken breasts, chicken thighs, shrimp, or leftover rotisserie chicken to this pasta dish.
Vegetables. Toss your favorite vegetables into the boiling pasta and cook both at the same time.
Step by step Instructions
1. Boil the pasta to al dente and reserve 1 cup of pasta water.
Cook the pasta according to the package directions for al dente pasta -- which is one minute less than the full cooking time.
Before draining the pasta, reserve at least one cup of pasta water. You'll need ½ cup to make the sauce -- and maybe more if the sauce needs loosening up.
For tips on how to boil the perfect pot of tender pasta, read this post.
2. Make the creamy pesto sauce.
In a large skillet, saucepan, or Dutch oven, heat the the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and Italian seasoning and stir for a couple of minutes.
Add the chili flakes, cream cheese, pesto, ½ cup of pasta water, lemon juice and zest, and ½ cup Parmesan cheese. Heat and stir just until the cream cheese melts -- do not bring to a boil.
3. Toss the pasta with the sauce and cherry tomatoes.
Remove the pot from the heat. Add the pasta and halved cherry tomatoes to the sauce and gently toss until completely coated.
4. Serve and enjoy!
Serve with freshly cracked black pepper, more grated Parmesan cheese, and fresh basil leaves, if desired.
Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
How to Reheat Creamy Pesto Pasta with Tomatoes
Bring next day pasta right back to life with these easy tips to reheat leftover pasta in the oven, stovetop or microwave.
Oven. Place pasta in an even layer in a shallow baking dish. Add a little bit of milk and cover the dish with aluminum foil. Heat for 15 minutes or until heated through, stirring halfway though and adding more milk as necessary until it is creamy.
Stovetop. Add a little butter to a saucepan or skillet over medium-low heat. Add the pasta and stir until warmed through, adding splashes of milk, as necessary, until the sauce is creamy.
Microwave. Place the pasta in a microwave-safe dish with al little bit of milk. Cover and heat in 30-second increments, stirring in between and adding more milk as needed.
Use a large pot, plenty of water, and generously salt the water when making pasta.
Cook the pasta to al dente for the perfect texture.
Cut the cream cheese into small cubes so it will melt quickly.
The sauce will thicken as it cools. Use the leftover pasta water or a splash of milk or cream to loosen it up.
Use freshly grated Parmesan cheese for the best flavor. The kind in the green can won't give you the same rich flavor.
No. Putting oil in pasta water doesn't keep the noodles from sticking together. It will just make the pasta slippery so the sauce won't stick to it. For more tips to cook the perfect pot of pasta, read this post.
As the creamy pesto pasta with cream cheese cools, it thickens, and can cause the pasta dish to become dry. This is very easily remedied by stirring in a little reserved pasta water or milk to loosen it up again.
No, pasta should not be rinsed if it is being used for a warm dish. You should only rinse pasta if it is for a cold dish like a pasta salad.
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Easy Creamy Pesto Pasta
- 16 ounces linguine
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes, optional
- 8 ounces cream cheese cut into small cubes
- ¾ cup basil pesto homemade or store bought pesto
- ½ cup pasta water
- 1 lemon, zest and juice
- ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese plus more for serving
- 2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
- Boil the pasta to al dente, about a minute less than the package instructions. Before draining the pasta, reserve at least one cup of pasta water.Read this post to learn exactly how to boil the perfect pot of pasta.
- In a large skillet, saucepan, or Dutch oven, heat the the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, and Italian season and stir it around for a couple of minutes.
- Add the chili flakes, cream cheese, pesto, ½ cup of pasta water, lemon juice and zest, and ½ cup Parmesan cheese. Heat and stir just until the cream cheese melts -- do not boil.
- Remove the pot from the heat. Add the pasta and tomatoes to the sauce and gently toss until completely coated. Serve with more grated Parmesan cheese and fresh basil, if desired.