Vegetable Pesto Pasta

Root formula for vegetable pasta pesto, a vegan plant-based hearty meal

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This is a Root Formula, a simplified recipe that shows which ingredients are core and which can be changed to create different flavor combinations or use what you have on hand.
See our Variations on this Pesto Pasta Formula below.

Dinner is a good place to get your daily dose of vegetables, so Vegetable Pesto Pasta is a regular on our menu. Cauliflower is an easier sell—especially with kids—when tossed with cavatelli. When making Vegetable Pesto Pasta, the following are just a few tips and tricks to ensure your success.

Vegetable Pesto Pasta is one of the Formulas I use most in the Capsule Kitchen. I am never without pesto, either one of our four versions or even store-bought. I am also never without several boxes of pasta in the house. Pesto adds so much flavor and interest to one of my kids favorite foods: pasta. The fact that I can sneak a vegetable in there for a complete ‘meal in a bowl’ is a bonus. Sometimes it can be difficult to make a meal that all four of us will eat and enjoy, but this is a meal our whole family loves.

Four Different Pestos

We have four different pestos in the Essentials category of the Capsule Kitchen: Lemon Pesto, Sundried Tomato Pesto, Kale-Walnut Pesto, and Basil Pesto (which has a twist to it!). For me, these pestos, which are so quick to make, are like my children – it would be impossible to choose a favorite. They each offer such a different flavor experience, but I will say I most often make the Sundried Tomato version. In a pinch, I will pick up some good quality pesto at the grocery store.

We have created a variation on this root formula for three of the pestos. But, as always, feel free to create your own! Our Variations are Sundried Tomato Pesto Pasta with Broccoli and Spinach, Kale Pesto Pasta with Brussels Sprouts and Winter Squash, and Basil Pesto Pasta with Asparagus and Peas.

What Kind of Pasta To Use?

For Vegetable Pesto Pasta, I always use bite-sized pasta shapes simply because it’s easy for my kids to fork and eat. Though truth be told, I don’t have much use for spaghetti in general. My favorite shapes are gemelli, fusilli, and bowties. But you can use any kind of pasta with this recipe.

Why Save Pasta Water?

We save some of that starchy cooking liquid because it helps the pesto to create a ‘sauce’ that coats every piece of pasta. If you forget to save a cup or two of pasta cooking liquid (as I have been known to do on a hectic weeknight) you can use water or I have even used oat milk, but the starchy liquid gives the pesto ‘sauce’ nice body.

Using Gluten-Free Pasta

If you’re using gluten-free pasta, your cooking liquid might not be as starchy as If you’re using gluten-free pasta, your cooking liquid might not be as starchy as it would if you were to use standard pasta. standard pasta. It depends on what type of gluten-free noodles you’re using- some types are starchier than others. If your pasta water appears murky, it’s starchy and will give you the same result as standard pasta water. If your pasta water appears clear, it probably doesn’t have a lot of starch. In that case, you’ll get the creamiest results from using oat milk in place of pasta water.

What Veggies Should I Use?

There are a number of vegetables that work well in Vegetable Pesto Pasta. You can use what you have, what’s in season, or – as is often the case at my house – what’s in the freezer. It’s so easy to toss in peas! I often resort to that, especially for my kids. Personally, my favorites are broccoli and brussels sprouts.

Topping Your Vegetable Pesto Pasta

I have said many times that cheeses like parmesan and pecorino are one dairy product that I could never really give up. I don’t always use it, but just a sprinkle of cheese adds so much flavor to the dish. If you’re vegan or lactose-intolerant, there’s plenty going on in this bowl of goodness without adding it.

A bowl of pasta with basil pesto and asparagus and peas

Vegetable Pesto Pasta (A Root Formula)

Cook time: 10 mins
Total time: 10 mins
Yield: 6 servings

Recipe Notes

Boil the pasta in just 2 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of regular table salt. The boiling pasta (which is just flour, after all) offers body and the vegetables add flavor to the relatively small amount of water, good for moistening the cooked pasta dish.
To bulk up any Vegetable Pesto Pasta, stir 1 can (15 to 16 ounces) drained white beans when tossing the pasta, vegetables, and pesto.
We like using frozen spinach and kale because their volume has been reduced, but you can use fresh if you prefer.


  • Salt
  • 1 pound bite-size pasta (such as rotini, penne, or ziti)
  • 1 pound Prepared Vegetables, your choice (see list below)
  • 1 pound frozen green peas, leaf spinach, or kale
  • 1 cup Pesto (Basil, Sundried Tomato, Lemon, or Kale)
  • Pecorino Romano or Reggiano Parmegiano for sprinkling, optional

Prepared Vegetables (1 lb total)

  • Asparagus. For pencil-thin asparagus, whack off the tough bottom 1 1/2 or 2 inches. For thicker asparagus hold the spear in one hand and snap off the bottom with the other hand, letting it break naturally at the tender part. Cut thin asparagus into 1-inch lengths. Halve thick asparagus lengthwise and cut it into 1-inch lengths. 
  • Broccoli. Cut florets from the stalk and then into bite-size pieces. Use a paring knife to remove the tough outer peel from the stalk and then slice 1/4-inch-thick. Or, buy broccoli crowns and cut florets into bite-size pieces. Or buy packaged broccoli florets
  • Brussels sprouts. Trim root end and halve lengthwise
  • Butternut and other winter squash. Peel and halve, seed, and cut into bite-size chunks.
  • Cabbage: halve, core, and thinly slice. 
  • Carrots. Peel and slice (on the diagonal, if you like) 1/4-inch-thick.
  • Cauliflower. Remove core. Snap florets from the head, cutting into bite-size pieces. Or, buy packaged cauliflower florets 
  • Green beans. Trim ends and snap into bite-size pieces.
  • New or red potatoes. Quarter if small or cut into bite-size chunks if large.
  • Snow peas. Stem(and string, if necessary). 
  • Sugar snap peas. Stem (and string, if necessary).


  • Bring a generous 2 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of table salt to boil in a large pot. Using back of the box cooking times as a guide, add pasta to the water, stirring several times at the beginning to prevent sticking. The last 4 minutes of the pasta cooking time add the Prepared Vegetables; cook until bright green and tender-crisp. The last minute, add the spinach, peas, or kale and return water to a simmer.
  • With a large bowl under the strainer to catch the liquid, drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add Pesto and up to 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid; toss to combine. Serve with grated cheese, if you like, and serve immediately.

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