White Pesto Pasta

5 from 1 vote

My white pesto transforms ordinary pasta into a deliciously creamy masterpiece. This easy-to-make vegetarian feast is made with simple ingredients and takes only 20 minutes of your time, pasta included. Be warned, though — make it once, and everyone will be begging for more!

closeup: a heaping plate of white pesto pasta with fresh herbs on top

This white pesto pasta is a rich, creamy, and comforting dish that you can whip up in almost no time at all. It is the perfect recipe to make on a busy weeknight and is also fancy enough to please any crowd. 

The star of the recipe is a walnut cream sauce, commonly called white pesto, or tucca de nuxe in Italian. Complete with toasted nuts, rich cheeses, zesty garlic, and lively lemon, this satiny smooth sauce delivers a complex flavor profile that teases every one of your taste buds.

overhead closeup: white pesto pasta recipe on a plate with nuts and fresh herbs on top

For more delectable dishes featuring walnuts, check out my Walnut Pomegranate Chicken, Red Pepper Dip, or this Easy Greek Baklava Recipe.

Tip From Kevin

So Easy to Customize

Whether for dietary restrictions or taste preferences, white pesto pasta is super easy to customize. For a gluten-free version, simply substitute gluten-free pasta. For a dairy-free or vegan version, choose plant-based alternatives for the ricotta and parmesan. You can also add in extra spices, herbs, protein, or anything your tastebuds require.

closeup: large white bowl full of white pesto pasta with wooden utensils

Ingredient Notes and Substitutions

  • Walnuts – Walnuts form the foundation of this white pesto recipe, giving it an earthy, nutty flavor and rich, sumptuous texture. Toasting the nuts gives the sauce a huge flavor boost. 
  • Oregano – Infuses the recipe with complex, grassy, and deeply aromatic flavor. 
  • Garlic – Gives the pesto a pungent, zesty blast of flavor. 
  • Lemon – Brightens the sauce with a sour lemon flavor, balancing some of the heavier flavors of the dish. This recipe uses both the juice and zest.
  • Ricotta – Contributes a rich creamy texture and mild, slightly nutty flavor to the dish. 
  • Parmesan – Adds a rich, cheesiness while perking up the dish with salty, tangy, and slightly fruity tones.
  • Kosher Salt Enhances and harmonizes all the flavors without overwhelming the dish with saltiness. 
  • Red Pepper Flakes – Offers just the right amount of fiery heat. 
  • Olive Oil – The natural yumminess of olive oil will really shine through in this recipe. I recommend using the highest quality you can get your hands on. 
  • Pasta – Use rigatoni, bucatini, spaghetti, or any of your favorites.

Watch the Video!

See how I make this delicious white pesto in the video below in the recipe card!

overhead: several plates of white pesto pasta

How to Make White Pesto with Pasta

  1. Toast the Walnuts. Place a small skillet over medium heat. Add the walnuts and toast them for several minutes. Once they become aromatic and slightly browned, remove from heat and allow them to cool. This step is optional but highly recommended for the richest, most robust flavor. 
  2. Boil the Water. Fill a large pot with salted water, place it over high heat, and bring to a boil. 
  3. Start the Sauce. Meanwhile, use a sharp knife to finely chop the toasted walnuts and oregano leaves. Zest the entire lemon and either mince or grate the garlic. Add the freshly chopped ingredients to a large mixing bowl along with the ricotta, parmesan, red pepper flakes, and kosher salt. Stir to combine. 
  4. Add Olive Oil.  Drizzle in the olive oil slowly, working 1 tablespoon at a time. After each spoonful, stir the sauce vigorously to fully incorporate. 
  5. Stir in Pasta Water. Add the pasta to the water, cook for 10 minutes, and then turn off the heat. Carefully scoop out 1 cup of the pasta water and stir it into the white pesto. The mixture will be loose at first but will emulsify and thicken as you continue to stir.
  6. Add the Noodles. Drain the pasta and transfer it to the bowl with the pesto. Toss together for about 2 minutes, giving the sauce enough time to thicken and cling to the noodles. Serve with extra parmesan cheese on top.
closeup: a plate of white pesto recipe with fresh herbs on top

Frequently Asked Questions

What is white pesto?


Also known as pesto bianco, it’s a rich creamy blend of walnuts, ricotta, and parmesan cheese with herbs and spices like garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, and lemon. 

It is believed that this walnut cream sauce was first created in the Liguria region of Italy.  Depending on the region, some versions of this white pesto recipe may also include other nuts like cashews and a variety of different herbs and spices.  

Unlike the green pesto you are likely familiar with, white pesto has no basil and no pine nuts.

What pairs well with this white pesto recipe?


Make white pesto pasta with rigatoni, bucatini, spaghetti, or any of your favorite noodles. Pair with some classic garlic bread and a fresh garden salad with balsamic vinaigrette. 

In addition to being a great pasta sauce, white pesto can be drizzled over your favorite rice or vegetable dishes. It also makes a phenomenal sandwich spread, dip, and all-around condiment.

How long does white pesto last in the fridge?


Kept in an airtight container, this sauce will stay good in the refrigerator for 5-7 days. However, once you have combined it with noodles, I recommend eating any leftovers within 3 days. 

When it is time to reheat, stir in a bit of hot water or milk to the pan. This will help loosen the noodles and get the dish nice and saucy again. 

If you want to make extra, freezing your pesto is also an option. Store in an airtight container or divide it into ice cube trays for smaller portions. Thaw in the refrigerator and stir well before using.

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White Pesto Pasta

5 from 1 vote
Creamy white pesto has toasted walnuts, ricotta and parmesan cheeses, lemon zest, garlic, olive oil and oregano that's ready in just minutes!
Servings: 4
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Total: 20 minutes

Ingredients 

Instructions 

  • In a small skillet over medium heat toast the walnuts for several minutes. They should give off an aroma and get lightly brown. Let cool. This step is optional, but it adds a robust walnut flavor.
  • Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to the boil.
  • Finely chop walnuts and oregano leaves. Mince or grate the garlic and zest the entire lemon. Add all these to a large bowl with the ricotta, Parmesan cheese and season with kosher salt and red pepper flakes.
  • Slowly add the olive oil a tablespoon at a time and vigorously stir to incorporate.
  • Cook the pasta for 10 minutes. Turn off heat. Scoop out 1 cup of the pasta water. Add the reserved pasta water to the white pesto and stir to emulsify. This will be loose, but keep stirring for a minute.
  • Drain the pasta and add pasta to the white pesto in bowl and toss to coat. Continue tossing until pesto thickens enough and clings to the pasta, about 2 minutes. Serve with more Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.
  • If there are any leftover, add a small amount of hot water or milk to loosen and and get saucy again as pasta will absorb white pesto sauce.

Video

Notes

Adapted from Carla Lolli Music.

Nutrition

Calories: 977kcal | Carbohydrates: 93g | Protein: 31g | Fat: 55g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 14g | Monounsaturated Fat: 25g | Cholesterol: 41mg | Sodium: 361mg | Potassium: 482mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 430IU | Vitamin C: 15mg | Calcium: 365mg | Iron: 3mg

The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

Course: main dishes
Cuisine: Italian
Author: Kevin
Have You Made This Recipe? Let Me Know on InstagramTag @keviniscooking or tag me #keviniscooking!
titled image (and shown): white pesto pasta

Kevin

I was bitten by the cooking bug as a kid cooking and baking along side my mom. After an ROP restaurant course in high school, I went to work in restaurants and catering. My love of travel and food has led me across the world and I love to share those foods with family and friends.

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Recipe Rating




2 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Just made this tonight and it is really good. The toasted walnuts give the sauce a nice texture and flavour. The only thing I changed – I had to use dried oregano as I forgot to buy fresh.