Pasta with Peas is a quick 20-minute recipe for a bright flavor-packed dish of pesto pasta with veggies! This dish is fantastic as a warm entrée, or enjoy it cold, for the perfect rotini and pea pasta salad!
Using seasonal veggies is a simple way to elevate the flavors of any dish. You can use ripe summer tomatoes to make a rich marinara sauce, or pick fresh peaches to bring loads of flavor to a Bisquick cobbler.
This rotini recipe takes advantage of spring peas and fresh basil, making a 20-minute meal that will make your taste buds dance!
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reasons to Make Pasta with Peas
- Adaptable and versatile.
- Easy meal prep recipe.
Because it can be made in 20 minutes, it’s easy enough to make after a busy day. But it can also be made ahead and refrigerated for up to a week, so it’s super easy to have ready for lunches during the week.
- Delicious hot or cold!
This pesto pasta with veggies is a wonderful light meal on its own, or add baked chicken tenderloins or grilled shrimp for a protein-packed warm dinner.
Or, if you’re looking for a simple cold pasta salad, this is perfect for that, too! Vegetarian pea pasta salad is a favorite at summer potlucks and backyard cookouts.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
For the Pesto
- Toasted pine nuts
This is the base of our pesto, and we also use it as a garnish to add some crunch to the dish. If you can’t find toasted pine nuts in the grocery store, you can toast raw nuts yourself. *See our tips section, below for instructions.
Don’t skip this, because it adds a boost of flavor to the pesto pasta with veggies. If you need a substitute for fresh garlic, garlic paste is super convenient.
- Lemon juice
Citrus adds a bright freshness to the pasta with peas. Using fresh lemon juice is really important. Bottled juice is concentrated, but the flavor is dull. If you need a substitute, white wine vinegar and freshly squeezed lime juice are both good choices.
- Fresh basil
Be sure the basil is fresh, with bright green leaves, not wilted or brown.
- Parmesan – adds a salty nuttiness. Grated pecorino is a great substitute. If you want a vegan option, use a non-dairy cheese or nutritional yeast. Or, make this vegan pesto recipe.
- Olive oil
We recommend using high-quality, extra virgin olive oil. Its richness will enhance the flavors of the basil and parmesan.
For the Pasta
We use a twisty rotini pasta to give the sauce something to cling to, but you can use any small shape you like.
- Frozen Peas
If you can’t make your pasta with veggies straight from the garden or famer’s market, that’s fine. Frozen vegetables are a great way to get the flavor of fresh.
- Toasted pine nuts
These add crunch and nuttiness to the top of the dish. They can be expensive, so feel free to use chopped walnuts, almonds, or just some sunflower seeds instead.
Tips for Making Pesto Pasta Sauce
Making pesto sauce for the pasta with peas is simple. But, there are some important tips to create the right consistency:
- Wash, but do NOT soak the basil leaves.
It’s important to remove any dirt or debris, but do not immerse the leaves in water. Just give them a quick rinse, then immediately pat them dry with paper towels.
- Avoid over processing.
Add the basil and parmesan to the bowl of a food processor and pulse just until the basil is chopped into small pieces. You want the pesto sauce to have some texture. If you process it too much, you’ll end up with baby food.
- Add the oil very slowly.
Have you ever heard the saying, “oil and water don’t mix”? Well, creating the pesto for this pasta salad requires a special technique, called an emulsion. This is because there is water in the fresh basil that we need to combine with the olive oil.
Creamy sauces like homemade mayo, hollandaise, and pesto all require creating an emulsion so the water and fat molecules “stick” to one another.
The key to creating an emulsion is to add the oil VERY slowly. Keep the food processor running while you drizzle in the olive oil.
Tips for THE Best Pesto PASTA with Veggies
- Cook the rotini to al dente.
What cooking to “al dente” means is, you want the noodles to have a little bite to them. This gives the pesto pasta some structure. Just cook the noodles for 1 minute less than the time recommended on the box.
TFN Pro Time Saving Tip!
It doesn’t matter if you’re using frozen or fresh peas, just add them right into the pot of boiling water with the rotini during the final 2 or 3 minutes of cook time.
This will save you from having to dirty another dish, and save you time, too!
- Reserve some pasta water.
Before you drain the pasta and peas in a colander, fill a heatproof measuring glass or bowl with the pasta water. We’ll use it to thin the pesto.
Add the basil pesto and ¼ cup of pasta water to a large bowl. Whisk to combine, then add the pasta and peas to the bowl, and toss to combine.
If the pasta is too dry, add an additional ¼ cup of starchy pasta water.
- Toast the pine nuts for extra flavor.
Enjoy your pea pasta salad with a garnish of toasted pine nuts on top. You may be able to find them already toasted. If not, just place the nuts into a dry skillet over medium heat.
Cook them for a few minutes, tossing occasionally. When you notice a nutty aroma, pull them off of the heat.
How to Serve Pasta with Peas
Serve it chilled for a refreshing perfect summer pea pasta salad. You can add some cherry tomatoes and mozzarella cheese for even more flavor.
It’s a great potluck dish, or pack it up and serve it for a picnic or cookout at the park or beach!
You can store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days.
Need some other easy pasta ideas?
Other delicious summertime favorites of ours are tortellini caprese salad and zesty Italian pasta salad.
Another warm dinner that we love is pasta with meat sauce, or check out our huge collection of rigatoni pasta recipes!
Pasta with Peas FAQ
Some people shy away from pasta with peas thinking the dish is high in carbs. The truth is, peas are packed with fiber, vitamins and nutrients, and have antioxidant properties, too.
Rotini and other white pastas are rich in iron and fiber. For an even healthier pasta dinner, use a whole grain variety instead!
Quick Pasta with Peas
- food processor - (for pesto sauce)
- large sauce pan or stock pot - (for pasta)
- large serving bowl
For the Pesto
- ¼ cup toasted pine nuts *See notes
- 2 cloves garlic or 1 tsp garlic paste
- ½ large lemon juiced
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves tightly packed
- ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese or Pecorino
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
For the Pasta
- 16 ounces rotini pasta (or rigatoni, bowtie, or other small pasta)
- 2 cups frozen peas
- ¼ cup toasted pine nuts optional
For the Pesto
- Combine the pine nuts, garlic, and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the garlic and nuts are broken up into small pieces.
- Add the basil and parmesan and pulse until the basil is broken up into small pieces as well.
- With the food processor on low, slowly add the olive oil. Continue to pulse until the pesto is smooth and lump-free. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Set aside until ready to use.
For the Pasta
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 1 minute less than al dente (check the time on the box as different brands will have different cook times).
- Add the peas and cook for an additional minute, or just until al dente.
- Remove 1 cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta and peas.
- Add the pesto and ¼ cup of pasta water to a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the pasta and peas to the bowl and toss to combine. If the pasta is too dry, add an additional ¼ cup of starchy pasta water. Season with kosher salt and black pepper to taste.
- Garnish with toasted pine nuts and enjoy. This pasta can be enjoyed warm, at room temperature, or chilled.
- Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days.
- If you can’t find toasted pine nuts in the grocery store, you can toast raw nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, or just until fragrant.
- Garlic adds a delicious flavor to the pesto. Don’t skip it!
- We are using rotini pasta, but you could use any shape, like bowtie or cellentani – we recommend dried pasta, not fresh pasta.
- Frozen peas are a great shortcut for when fresh peas aren’t in season– if you have access to fresh peas, use those instead!
This post, originally published July 2022, was updated with new content March 2023.