Salmon Pesto Pasta
This salmon pesto pasta recipe comes together in 25 minutes for a comforting yet healthy one-bowl meal. Roasting the salmon delivers light flavor and texture, and using either homemade or jarred pesto makes this flexible and weeknight-friendly.
Are we ready for another quick and easy meal? They seem to be everyone’s favorite, especially over on Instagram, and it’s easy to see why. Who wants to cook something complicated at the end of the day?
You’ll love that this uses fresh, simple ingredients and approachable techniques to deliver a restaurant-quality meal in just a few minutes. Many similar recipes call for a cream sauce, but we prefer the simplicity of flaky, roasted salmon; vibrant pesto; and tangy Parmesan all on their own. A hint of lemon, salt, and black pepper are all you need to make these flavors sing.
A nice side benefit of this method is that, because the salmon is roasted separately, it can easily be added to some portions and not others, or left on the side — particularly helpful when cooking for littles!
Ingredients and shopping tips
Here’s all you’ll need to make this dish. You can click straight to the full recipe card for detailed amounts and instructions.
- Penne or another dried pasta you love. It helps to use something with twirls or ridges to hold the pesto.
- Salmon filet. You can buy salmon with the skin on or off. It doesn’t matter much for this recipe, because you’ll be flaking off pieces to serve with the pasta and can leave the skin behind then, in any case.
- Parmesan cheese.
- Olive oil, lemon juice, kosher salt, and black pepper.
- PESTO! The star ingredient here.
The case for homemade pesto
I love making this with homemade pesto, especially in the summer when fresh basil is plentiful. Our go-to basil pesto has a hint of lemon zest for extra flavor and tartness. However, the batch of salmon pesto pasta shown in the photos here was actually made with our favorite zucchini basil pesto, which is a terrific way to use extra zucchini. It tastes just like “regular” pesto but is stealthy healthy, with two whole zucchini and a generous handful of spinach.
Best of all, homemade pesto can be made and stored in the fridge until you want to use it in a recipe like this. It’s helpful to do that any time you have a bunch of basil, zucchini, or other greens on the verge of going bad.
That said, I definitely appreciate that some nights you just need your pesto to come from a jar — at least I do! DeLallo is always a reliable brand, if that’s available to you.
A toast to roasting
The method of making this pasta with salmon is very straightforward. First, roast the salmon filet. Roasting is a very simple, classic technique that uses high heat to bring out natural flavor and give a crusty exterior to meat, seafood, and vegetables.
Be sure to season the salmon filet before putting it in the oven. A key principle of cooking is to season every layer of a dish, and the salmon here is no exception! It doesn’t need much – a drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper are perfect.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta just to al dente. Be sure to use well-salted water — it should be salty like the sea. This is the same “flavor every layer” principle. Salting the water generously gives the pasta itself a luscious, subtle flavor.
Drain the cooked pasta, but scoop out a bit of the cooking water first. It’s starchy and perfect in case you want to thin out the sauce after adding the pesto and Parmesan.
Simply flake the roasted salmon with a fork. It will separately easily. Top bowls of the pesto pasta with pieces of salmon, and dinner is served.
What to serve with it
This is a great one-bowl meal, especially if you’re using a pesto that already contains veggies. You can always round things out with a simple arugula or spinach salad, or roast asparagus or broccolini right alongside the salmon for a healthy, no-fuss addition.
If you enjoy these flavors, you’ll love my recipe for smoked salmon pasta. It’s also very quick and easy, with a light yet creamy sauce and a hint of dill, which complements salmon wonderfully.
Salmon Pesto Pasta
- 1 pound salmon filet
- 1-2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice from 1/2 lemon
- kosher salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 pound penne or any other pasta shape you enjoy
- 1 cup pesto jarred or homemade
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and place the salmon filet on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle it with the olive oil and lemon juice, then sprinkle it lightly with kosher salt and black pepper. Roast salmon for 12-14 minutes. For a slightly crispy top, move the baking sheet to the top rack and turn the oven to broil for the last 1-2 minutes of cooking time, but watch it closely. Remove salmon when done and set aside.
- While salmon cooks, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook pasta to al dente according to package directions. Reserve a bit of the pasta water in case you want it to loosen the sauce, then drain.
- Return drained pasta to the pot and add pesto, Parmesan, 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 (you may want to add a pinch of salt or a squeeze of lemon juice, for example.)
- Using a fork, break up the cooked salmon into bite-sized pieces. Either mix into the pasta in the pot, or serve the pasta and top with salmon separately. Enjoy!
- Two of our favorite homemade versions are this classic basil pesto with lemon zest and this stealthy-healthy zucchini basil pesto with spinach. Both are excellent in this dish!
- As written, this recipe yields 6 generous servings. You can also reduce the amount of pasta to just 12 or even 8 ounces. In that case, just eyeball and use a little bit less of the other ingredients.