Pesto Rigatoni with Toasted Walnuts
This easy Pesto Rigatoni gets major flavor and texture from a mix of Parmesan, lemon, and buttery toasted walnuts. An easy and fast meatless meal that feels a bit elegant at the same time.
This is, without a doubt, a low-effort, high-reward recipe. At its core, you have a simple pesto pasta — make pasta, add pesto, done — but the seemingly small addition of garlicky, buttery, slightly peppery toasted walnuts elevates everything.
How to make it: tips and tricks
- Cook pasta to al dente. Be sure to add a generous pinch of salt to the water before pouring in the pasta – it adds a subtle layer of flavor you can’t get any other way. Also take care to reserve a small amount of the water before draining the pasta – I usually just scoop it out with a small liquid measuring cup. If you find that you want to loosen the sauce at the end of the recipe, this water is the best thing to use.
- Meanwhile, toast the walnuts. You’ll make a small mixture of melted butter, garlic, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes, which will season the walnuts as they toast. This is the secret sauce! I find that people can’t stop munching the walnuts and sometimes make extra for a little snack.
- Mix drained pasta, residual sauce, pesto, Parmesan, and more lemon. Scoop it up into bowls, top with the walnuts, more Parmesan if you’re into that, and serve. 🙂
Do I have to make my own pesto?
Honestly, no. I absolutely love using fresh pesto, but highly recommend keeping a jar of good-quality store-bought pesto in the pantry at all times, as well. If you have pesto and pasta on hand, you can always make a good meal. My favorite brand is DeLallo.
Favorite homemade pestos
If you would like to go the homemade route, which is terrific and really does not take much extra time, my two go-to recipes are classic basil pine nut and a stealthy-healthy zucchini basil pesto. Both are perfect for this pesto rigatoni.
I haven’t tried this recipe yet with my sun-dried tomato pesto, but it sounds pretty dang delicious.
What to serve with it
The beauty of this meal lies in its simplicity, so use simple sides to match! Try an easy Italian salad and some garlic bread, and grilled chicken if you want to add a protein.
More simple pesto pastas
- Salmon Pesto Pasta
- Gnocchi with Pesto and Charred Cherry Tomatoes
- Pesto Cavatappi (Noodles and Co. copycat)
- Pesto Pasta with Peas
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Pesto Rigatoni with Toasted Walnuts
- 8 ounces rigatoni or other pasta
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3/4 cup chopped raw walnuts
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup pesto jarred or homemade
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous pinch of salt, then add pasta and cook to al dente according to package directions. Reserve a scoop of the pasta water in case you want it to loosen the sauce, then drain pasta and set aside.
- While the pasta cooks, set a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the butter, walnuts, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and a pinch of kosher salt. Toast the mixture, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes, until the butter is lightly browned and the walnuts are fragrant and golden. Remove walnuts to a plate and set aside.
- Add drained pasta to the skillet. Stir well, then add pesto, Parmesan, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, and a pinch of black pepper. Stir well to combine. If you prefer a looser sauce, stir in reserved pasta water a splash at a time until it reaches your desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
- Scoop pasta into bowls, sprinkle with walnuts, and add extra lemon juice or Parmesan if you like. Enjoy!
- Store-bought pesto works fine for this recipe, but if you like to use homemade, two of our favorites are this classic basil pesto with lemon zest and this stealthy-healthy zucchini basil pesto with spinach.